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…