We started the day heading towards the glacier to try to break through the fog. The first run from the top of Solaise down the “L” gully would be a warm up and opportunity to revise and consolidate technique. After this run – we took the chairlift from the bottom of the “L” up to above the mid station at Le Fornet and then proceeded to ski down off piste – starting out on excellent snow and being able to pivot freely – but then ending up in dense fog and unable to safely advance. Due to my familiarity with the terrain we escaped without any lost time and made it back onto the piste without incident.
Inside the Signal restaurant with boots off we set about looking at how to use the feet properly. When standing facing me in socks and when asked to bend Luke bent his ankles and pushed his pelvis forwards locking the hip joints. It’s safe to say this was happening in his skiing too – with the weight on the front of the feet and the ankles collapsing. First of all I asked Luke to stand on his heels (toes still touching the floor) and then bend – with no weight shifting to the fronts of the feet. This forces the bending to take place at the knees and hips – causing the ankle joint to stiffen and the anterior tibialis to contract. From this stance the subtaler joints can be used beneath the ankles to rock the feet – in this case both onto their inside edges. While moving the bottom over to one side to place it on a bench (during the exercise) this showed Luke’s hip to once again be locked up. Actually relaxing the hip and sitting on the bench freed up the joint. This is the sort of freedom and relaxation required at the hip joints.
Off piste in good snow in the Pay’s Dessert Luke managed to ski some deep soft snow very well – with a good rhythm and improved mechanics. Leonie also managed well – perhaps her best yet. Unfortunately in the following video the snow was not as nice and this threw both Luke and Leonie back into survival mode and old habits. Luke is locking his hips and rotating into the turn, weight back. Leonie is just following the skis (passive rotation) and losing rhythm and has the skis too far apart to make a stable platform. Basically neither Luke not Leonie are using enough range of movement in the legs and hips. Correcting this would become the main focus of the rest of the session.
The window of opportunity for off piste was quickly over as fog once again engulfed us. With Luke’s problems proving intractable and Leonie struggling to break through to the next level the focus returned to technique for most of the day. (The last hour and a half of the day provided a lot of skiing where this work could be applied and appreciated)
It was apparent that both Luke and Leonie had trouble at the hip joints – but with some different issues. Luke was locking up the hips and Leonie was rotating. I first tried a skating exercise - skating straight downhill - but saw that it was going nowhere so changed plan immediately. We did a static exercise instead with skis off – right leg planted in the snow facing downhill – left leg placed behind the body and swung forwards in an arc – wile the hip was pulled backwards. This provides the full range of feeling of the leg completely changing from pointing outwards behind the body to inwards in front of the body and terminating with sinking down low driving the centre of mass down and into the imaginary turn ( simulating building up pressure before the very end of the turn).
Despite this exercise providing the full range of motion required at the hip joints it didn’t have a noticeable effect when returning to skiing.
Dropping Into a Turn
I explained that relaxation at the hip can be used to simply drop down the centre of mass rapidly into a turn at the initiation. The relax/drop action is rapidly met with a reactive pressure from the outside ski despite the initial moment of free-fall. This exercise seemed to be understood but had minimal results for the time being.
We worked a little on jumping on the spot – but Luke had a tendency to bend in preparation by bowing with a hollowed lower back and poor posture – instead of using the quads (as when indoors working on the feet). I explained that the jump was the end of a turn or traverse (not the start) and the subsequent swinging of the skis downhill would be just a mid-air pivot. Initially we did this just to make turn transitions but then the idea was to link the jumps with no hesitation almost in a bouncing action.
Leonie’s initial attempt at linked short swings was revealing as there was no pole use at all – which fits her main limiting issue currently – being unable to sink appropriately into the turn (thus avoiding rotation).
Luke’s attempts brought us closer again to fully understanding his anomalies – because he was clearly trying to pivot his skis around an axis somewhere towards the tails of the skis – so the tips were coming up high in the air and a strong active rotation of the body was being used. This issue clearly stems from many years of defensive leaning back and then forcing the skis around with a whole body rotation.
Leonie improved when making a determined effort to get down and over her ski pole and Luke worked at trying to bring his pivot axis forwards – also helped by determined pole use.
Pressurising the fronts of the skis
To help Luke discover the turning power of the fronts of the skis we played about with stance – hanging in the fronts of the ski boots. This was tried both by standing up on the balls of the feet (extended ankle) and when on the heels. We took this into “rocking” fore/aft during the turn – beginning the turn by tilting forwards onto the fronts of the feet and skis – and ending by coming back onto the heels. Gradually Luke started to feel that his skis actually had a front half that could be used for something.
Core Activation – upper/lower body separation
Leonie revealed – due to hip pain – that she was somehow falling short of understanding the “chi-hips”. It’s clear that Leonie also has trouble maintaining posture and neutral pelvis – which is probably why the issue became confusing. The pelvis must be held (usually up at the front) in “neutral” to allow the pressure reflexes from the feet to trigger contraction of the deep abdominal muscles and muscles surrounding the spine. Those reflexes cause a hydraulic sac to compress around the spine which then distributes any vertical shock load over this entire cross-section instead of just through the spinal column. When the hip is correctly primed – pulled back – there is an even more intense contraction of the abdomen.
When I altered the emphasis of my description Leonie could finally see the correct action. Taking the rib cage and immobilising that in space the idea is to allow the entire pelvic basin to rotate beneath. This twists the spine slightly up to the ribs (12th thoracic vertebra) – which is the true location of upper/lower body separation.