Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Alex & Mike Day 5–Autumn Race Training–Tignes Glacier


Today was unfortunately Alex’s last day training for this period. His progress has been clear and consistent and I know that he would desperately now want this to continue – but it’s good to bear in mind that this is an endless process – it never stops – there is no rush. People only stop learning when the stop being curious.

Leg retraction was the theme yesterday in Giant Slalom so today it the goal was to cultivate leg retraction in Special Slalom – which would be tricky as it generates higher speed and so fast reactions are required. Alex did manage to retract and did go faster. We used a course in two sections – one with a mix of stubbies and full (World Cup weight) poles and another with lighter full (ski club weight) poles. Alex did manage a great wipe-out but the main reason for this was simply due to being caught out by the higher speed by not being used to it.

Here’s a good still image of Alex using leg retraction to get out of his turn (around the blue pole). The speed has caught him out though as he hasn’t managed to get over the skis yet and change edges but is almost already at the next pole. This is what led to his eventual fall.

For future reference…. This timing could have been improved by A: not allowing the clearing of the pole to push the upper body back a little and to remain more centred over the skis. B: More skating forward of the new upper ski and active leg extension – driving the centre of mass down and into the new turn. C: Looking for the edge of the upper ski earlier in the turn and actively generating the turn from increased dynamics instead of pivoting. D: Exaggerating the activity of the legs more to generate more angulation. E: More suppleness of the legs – including particularly the hip joints. Note the right hip is consistently less flexed than the left – so he turns more securely on the left leg. F: Sensing how to work with the rhythm (resonance) to generate even more speed (like bouncing on a trampoline)

Bear in mind that Alex is doing extremely well in being able to work on very complex skills with a minimum of actual time and practice.



Mike is getting enough control through the turn transitions now to start to look nimble in the course – whereas initially just staying in the course was a problem. The next stage is to increase dynamics more and take a line closer to the poles – so that the body begins to cross over to the inside of the poles. This isn’t just a “slalom” issue it’s about how the motion of the centre of mass is the key to edge control. Mike is generally vague about edge control and it’s a “chicken and egg” scenario – where not having much edge control to begin with discourages motion of the centre of mass.

In Mike’s case the problem has been created from two sources. First of all there is the instinctive defensive pattern of movement that all people initially adopt on skis but more significantly Mike has had those negative issues reinforced through his early coaching  - and then practiced over many years. In contrast Alex was trained directly away from those issues right from his first day ever on skis – with his coach, Philippe, using the MetaSki system.

Working on dynamics through the turn transitions during this week has clearly improved Mike’s edge control and reduced the defensive actions such as the rotation of the upper body into the turn, the stepping uphill to transfer weight to the uphill ski between turns, the turning of the skis (torque) and pushing out of the heels. The thing is that those issues vanish by themselves when better options are cultivated. They don’t have to be corrected (though we have to be aware of them – through coaching feedback). At the start of the week Alex was static on his skis, pushing his heels out and a actually moving his centre of mass in the wrong direction. We briefly mentioned this to explain that it was wrong and very undesirable (necessary due to his tendency to believe and be strongly influenced by peers and inappropriate adults) but after that all we did was focus on the correct and appropriate actions. Alex quickly recovered his previous skiing level and then moved further forward. The process is the same for Mike – but slower due to a stack of unlearning being required. My only actual criticisms of Alex were directed at the fact that he was aware of absolutely nothing that he had learned over the years and could not explain the first thing about a turn on skis and his use of  diametrically wrong explanations with phrases such as “turning your skis”! He admitted to thinking about nothing at all when skiing poles – which meant that there was no skill development process being engaged and no thinking. This simply encourages the infiltration of defensive and reactive mechanisms – the likes of which Mike is dealing with. When that process is allowed to develop too far then it just multiplies the amount of work required to sort it out again. Alex understood the messages on all levels and experienced a dramatic improvement in his skiing during the week – with the acid test being his increase in speed in the slalom. He must be encouraged to read this report – not once but regularly – to reinforce his awareness and limit the chance of being misled again by his peers and the adults who would assume authority in those subjects.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Alex & Mike day 4 – Autumn Race Training – Day 4


Today Alex had what he wanted all along – the chance to run a proper giant slalom course. In reality he needed the experience, especially for reading the course correctly (initially there were a few typical errors – when negotiating a ‘banane’). What was good to see was that Alex’s technical level made the GS look easy. This is why the hard technical skill is learned in slalom at lower overall speed. Alex loves speed so GS – at this level – is no problem to him at all. Steeper terrain and faster courses would however show immediately up technical limitations – which is normal. Progressing from here requires working on special slalom. However, with more time between turns and greater forces to deal with it was an ideal opportunity to introduce some more advanced aspects of technical skiing for the first time – namely to do with “leg retraction”. In the video from today Alex is using a small amount of leg retraction successfully and it helps him to keep a good line in the course. Later – free skiing on the piste he was working on the same movement pattern – though was a little inhibited by the poor light and visibility.

For the first few days we had worked at getting the body down and into the next turn – facilitated by coming out over the lower ski by the mid point between turns. This was aided by skating out the uphill leg through the start of the new turn. Today we were now working a different way to exit the turn – by retracting the lower leg and bringing the centre of mass downhill over the the ski without it popping up so much. When you cross over the skis the legs are both flexed so it enhances the skating out of the uphill leg at the start of the new turn.

Alex was struggling with this and found it difficult – but this is advanced technique – very powerful – and children are seldom taught at this level. I reassured Alex that he was doing fine and to expect this to be difficult to master but very much worth the effort. Part of the reason it is difficult is that the forces in the turn tend to make the leg engage all the muscles strongly due to reflex. It takes awareness and discipline to be able to suddenly relax all those muscles under such conditions. Like most worthwhile skills it’s not easy to learn. Alex had to realise that the retraction was to let the body fall out of the turn – but that this was not yet the start of the next turn. Patience is required here! The next turn starts automatically with the centre of mass falling downhill – after it crosses over the skis. Those movements need to be separate and distinct, respecting the appropriate phases of the turn. Alex was rushing the retraction directly into a turn – confusing the loss of pressure with retraction (still in the turn – but coming out of it) with the start of the next turn. We worked on this and made solid progress – helped by the skating out of the leg at the start of the next turn. At first Alex thought this sounded like “pushing out the leg” – which he had been told not to do. Skating is about projecting the centre of mass away from the foot – the opposite of pushing the foot out sideways.


Mike was a bit distracted due to work requirements and so found it difficult to get into the day’s activities. Despite that Mike understood and executed leg retraction more effectively than Alex. This clearly helped to improve every aspect of Mike’s skiing. Despite this success Mike is still not connecting properly with edge grip. There is still a strong residual element of defensive actions going on to undermine his skiing overall – however bit by bit, with persistence and improved understanding this is changing.

A typical autumn day on the Tignes glacier…













Monday, October 26, 2015

Alex & Mike Day 3–Autumn Race Training–Tignes Glacier


Today we used a combination of stubby and long poles together in one slalom course – to encourage Alex to ski the same way in both. The course changed into a giant slalom towards the end. There were two verticales with long poles so that Alex could learn how to ski them properly and avoid over-turning. After face-planting and losing both skis on the first attempt at going straighter in the verticale Alex got it right – using the same hand to defend for all the poles.

We did static and free skiing exercises on skating the start of the turn – that is – skating the uphill leg forwards as the body goes over the downhill ski. Skating this leg forwards (but out to the side relative the the actual body) allows the body to sink down into the new turn without turning the upper body away from the fall line. Eventually this will give the sensation of skating straight down the hill and allow improved timing due to early pressure in the turn.

The body needs to be out of the existing turn by at least half way between the poles – so the exit of the turn has to start practically at the pole. Any body rotation (in defending against the poles or for any other reason) will make good timing impossible. Alex made significant progress and although still a bit late with his timing and losing speed his body started to be naturally placed for clearing the slalom poles – instead of reaching. There is still a lot more movement required.


Mike actually stayed in the course – so something must be improving! Outside of the gates he did the skating exercise more visibly than Alex – but the actual gates make it hard for him to hold that together and the stepping uphill returns. Still the same deal here – got to get over that lower ski!

Alex’s favourite video still image from yesterday… on his inside ski – but rock solid!

Good body positioning for clearing the slalom pole…

Some gymnastics!…

… and the reason why. But he kept it together.

First GS training – looking good but too late coming out of the turns over the lower ski. Perhaps we need to introduce leg retraction.

The mountains in the distance – seen from the summit of the Grand Motte (where we were free skiing – working on dynamics away from the race gates)


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Alex & Mike Day 2–Autumn Race Training–Tignes Glacier



Today’s slalom was still a struggle for Alex due to his unconscious habit of reaching across his body with this hand to hit the slalom pole. We worked by using the stubby poles, with the ski poles held in front of the body and with a lot of focus on the need for a mindful approach – so that gradually Alex could become aware of his habit and  combat it by training more appropriate movements of the centre of mass. Part of the problem is just realising there is an unconscious program already at work – and part of it is learning the alternatives and being able to focus on them. Mental discipline is needed because the unconscious process always tries to dominate when emotions (anxiety) are involved. Alex also has a technical issue at the start of each turn – not being proactive enough in moving his centre of mass rapidly down and into the turn. The consequence is that it makes his timing late in the gates and then he has a whole repertoire of compensations to try to cope – which we won’t go into. We worked on this later by using a wide stance to get Alex to find the inside edge of his new outside ski right at the start of the turn. This creates a strong and early sensation of pressure and encourages more proactive dynamics. Alex was told to exaggerate the width of his stance – as if riding a horse. This type of exaggeration is needed to overcome the strength of the unconscious programming and just to achieve an appropriately wide stance. In the video during his wide turns Alex is sure his skis are ridiculously wide apart – but they are just right – and he did manage to grip from the start of the turn.


Mike’s skiing is characterised by a reluctance to complete the exit of his turns on his downhill ski – which makes flowing from one turn to another impossible. This generates compensatory movements such as upper body rotation into the turn – which in turn generates a stack of other problems. There’s no point trying to eliminate those other problems because they will all vanish when he can accept moving over that lower ski at the end of the turn. The visible lifting of the lower ski however was visibly diminished as Mike worked on those turn transitions. In the photographs below the outcome of the problem is very visible when comparing with Alex – who was getting it right with a good turn transition and grip from the start of the turn.

Mike had to back off on his skating as it was contributing to his problem due to always skating his body back up the hill. You can still use this skate but when combined with gravity the direction can be up and out of the existing turn instead of pushing the centre of mass back uphill towards the upper ski.

Changing weather…

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Alex & Mike day 1–Autumn Race Training–Tignes


Day one – a return to snow for Alex after a successful first season on plastic with his school. First time in the gates for Mike who is keen to use them help to bring his own skiing on. The reality is that this is what all skiers should be encouraged to do. Simply having to conform to physical constraints brings an entire meaning to skiing that is otherwise totally missing. Just like for racing cars and motorbikes the track defines the setup, tactics and a whole host of parameters – a few slalom poles brings the same dimension into skiing. Once you leave the poles this new awareness tends to stick.



Unfortunately Alex has been following some extremely bad advice – to push the skis out and tilt the upper body outwards. This combination of actions is utterly wrong and is totally NOT how to create angulation – which it is aimed at achieving. The reason it’s wrong is simply because it sends the centre of mass completely in the wrong direction – towards the outside of the turn instead of towards the inside. Alex also admitted to not thinking about anything at all when he skis in the poles and was unable to answer any basic technical questions on skiing at all. It was like everything I taught him before had been wiped from his memory banks. We put it down to excessive sugar consumption. Fortunately the body does remember so the aim would be to once again make Alex aware of what he is doing and access the correct movement pattern – which his body  already knows.

We focused of getting Alex to move his centre of mass into the turn – instead of pushing his skis out. The idea was to drop down into the new turn as fast as possible – by being relaxed at the hips – seen in the video with the exercise on the bench. In the stills from his video we can see he was doing this quite well with the stubby poles – but lost it totally in the long poles by reaching for the pole and causing body rotation. The problem here is that the stiff, inclined body will not be able to get across the skis quickly enough into the next turn.








Alex tends to still push his skis outwards to some degree – skidding and losing a lot of speed and control. Also he wasn’t looing ahead to read the course and misjudged the verticalé completely being far too wide from the poles when entering it. We will have to discuss tactics.

Holding the ski poles across the front of his body to deflect the slalom poles seemed to significantly help him to both stop rotating and to move more effectively down and into his turn.


Mike has struggled with skiing but clearly is clearly determined to convert that struggle into something positive. Interestingly enough I think that slalom is the ideal way to go about that. The physical constraints provided by the gates turns this into something very real – instead of just a set of exercises or ideas. We are forced to adapt – beyond the normal boundaries that our imagination permits. The physical constraints give us clear feedback – which the skier and coach can both work with.

Mike was working to try to move over his lower ski to exit each turn – to allow the centre of mass to move unobstructed from one turn to the next. What’s clear to me in the video is that he was barely managing that – hence was lifting the ski in the turn transition instead of the body moving down into the next turn. This was exacerbated due to body rotation – turning around the poles instead of skating straight downhill through them. It was a positive start though and I think we will see some real progress quickly.

The entrance to Val d’Isère today…


Friday, October 23, 2015

Tignes Skiing–then Cycling in the Tarentaise valley.

Today was just an exercise in getting the slalom poles up the mountain and checking out the terrain and options for the forthcoming race training. The sun was out and the temperature rising – but the snow remained cold and in perfect condition. Photo at 3500m T-bar.

View just beside La Grande Casse – from the Tignes Glacier…

This image is interesting with the contrasting shadows…

Went cycling around the valley later in the afternoon. This is looking up the Nancroix valley – where the water comes down from the Mont Pourri glacier up high on the left. It’s where we go to soak in cold, clear and clean water – for Cold Thermogenesis.

Mont Pourri closer up…

Even closer…

Looking along the valley towards Moutiers – the sun showing up the cold mist in the air…

Same again but slightly to the north east side of the valley… (Mont Pourri is North West)

This time down to the valley floor  - looking North across to the Nancroix valley – the cycling loop running east/west – returning home later through the village bottom lest of screen…

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Really Cold Thermogenesis

The stunning Peisey Nancroix valley.

This is the actual pool we use for Cold Thermogenesis (where the water lands after flowing over the rock – it’s deeper than it looks). The water comes straight from the glacier above and is at 0.5°C. Surprisingly 5 minutes in fast running water is very pleasant – though enough to make your skin look like a lobster. The effect on clearing the head of all stress is truly amazing.

Here is the source of the water from the Mont Pourri Glacier…


Autumn colours….


The marmot that usually perches itself on top of this big rock and definitely gone to bed for the winter already…

My photography doesn’t really do justice to the luminosity of the natural colours…

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Tignes Glacier Mid October


Today was my first day back on the mountain for the start of the new 2015/16 season. Perfect conditions for both free skiing and race training. Surprisingly few people around and superb weather. The snow cannons were working right down to the village – which is impressive for 14th of October.