Sophie arrived early as planned for the start of her lesson – but we went indoors first of all to deal with a few important issues. Good skiing development depends strongly on awareness of the feet and that’s far more easily communicated with the boots off!
I had a lot to try to cover in a short lesson but knew that 20 minutes working on the understanding of the feet would make the whole lesson function far more efficiently. I took a boot off and explained the use of the foot and how it interacts with the ski boot.
First of all you need to centre your weight over the front of the heel – just below the ankle joint. This permits a strong ankle – we do NOT want the ankle to bend freely in skiing. Bending should be at the knees and hips. Standing on the front of the heel the foot can be rolled onto its inside edge easily – activating the upper leg muscles (inside) called the adductor muscles. The joint used for this is the “subtaler” joint – between the ankle and the heel. Standing on any other part of the foot generally disable this joint and only the knee moves around instead with the foot unable to go onto its edge. Standing on the mid foot causes the ankle to literally collapse under load and then makes you lean on the ski boot – not a great idea. We only need to touch the shin against the front of the ski boot at this stage in skiing and being on the heel is a solid anchor for achieving this.
When the foot is rolled onto its inside edge the toes lift up and the forefoot turns slightly outwards. This is a “skating” attitude and this is what should happen inside the ski boot. Snowplough forces people to do the exact opposite – to turn the foot inward – collapse onto the outside of the foot and curl the toes down in tension.
The shaft of the boot gives lateral support – preventing the base from going flat and so preventing the ski from flattening. This makes it easier to hold the foot on its inside edge. Both feet generally need to be held on their inside edges at the same time. This will become the basis of skating.
Arriving at the top of Solaise I could immediately see that Sophie couldn’t skate. This tied in with the problems she was having in skiing in general. She had been taught all the standard stuff and had actually learned it very well – being able to tell me far more about it than most people can manage. I confirmed that she is very sporty and competent – which made it even more obvious to me that her anxiety in skiing had nothing to do with her personally but it was simply the nonsense she had been previously taught that was behind all to the trouble. (That can take work to undo though!). To introduce the skating – on the flat – I asked her to diverge the ski tips and to fall forward – just lifting/recovering one of the legs from behind and landing on it then sliding along its edge while repeating the process while standing up on it again. She had to use her feet and adductor muscles to get the ski edges to grip so that her centre of mass could move. She could feel how just falling (gravity) with the grip of the ski edge, provided all the forward momentum. If she was not good at coordinating and good a sports she would not have been able to do this. It’s for this reason I have to read between the lines when people describe to me their anxieties.
When we got up to the Madeleine slope I asked both Sophie and Olivier to ski so i could film to record their current skiing. This allowed me to see clearly the best direction to work with Sophie. It was clear that she was a stronger skier than she though – but her dynamics were totally incorrect and so making life impossible for her. I would have to tackle dynamics immediately.
(Moon above Val in the morning as I arrived in the resort.)
The approach to dynamics I used was just the standard one found on the following fixed page: http://skiinstruction.blogspot.fr/p/dynamics.html
Sophie was a classic victim of standard incorrect ski instruction. I asked her how to make a turn and she said “transfer weight to the outside ski”. She demonstrated moving her body left over the left ski to turn right. Later she also accurately confirmed that she had been taught to come up to start a turn. Combine this with being told to push out the same leg to start a turn in a plough and just about every single important piece of mechanics (including the feet) was totally back to front from what really works. This is why Sophie was struggling so badly – her instruction had been fundamentally incompetent – but that’s what instructors are trained to do. They are NOT trained to think.
It takes a while to overcome all the trained inappropriate movements so we patiently carried out the exercises and slowly Sophie could feel the dynamics taking some of the strain off her legs. This is an are that is developed and extended (dynamic range) gradually. I didn’t have much time for feedback and correction and this session had to be more about “educating” and changing ideas so Sophie could go away and work on them.
Dynamics and Skating
We did some skated turns on flatter ground – stepping inwards with the skis diverging so as to get used to directing the centre of mass and feeling the feet and adductors correctly.
I demonstrated how skating and dynamics fit together for timing – in a “down/up” cycle – like a motorbike going into and then out of a turn. Skating downhill then letting more dynamics incline the body the skating turns seamlessly into skiing – timing and use of the legs remaining constant as the inclined ski starts to add an arc to each skate. I explained how this timing is the opposite from that taught in ski schools and how it is essential for building a resonance with the forces being developed and exploited. Olivier managed to feel this very clearly at one point. In the video he was still a bit static and blocked at the hips but he did get it very well on the first attempt.
End of Turn Dynamics
We also slightly explored the dynamics at the end of the turn – where the ski lifts you up out of the turn. Until this point everything has to be pulled inwards – towards the turn centre - moving the centre of mass that way, pulling in with the adductor muscles, rolling the foot inwards. I explained the basic physics and how centrifugal force is an illusion. We have to be pulling inwards towards the centre with everything! This is where Olivier properly understood what I meant when I criticised him for pushing his skis/heels outwards! However – at the end of the turn we have to stop pulling inwards and anticipate getting our body out of the turn instead. We try to use the forces built up by the ski directing us and resisting gravity and let it lift us up out of the turn centre – sometimes adding the strength of that lower leg into the equation to push up. If we use the lifting power of the ski then we fall into the next turn more easily and the turns flow together. “Your job is to fall over – the ski’s job is to lift you up!”
We completed the session with some introduction to pivoting. I assisted Sophie through the pivot. Olivier was a bit resistant to being helped through the right sensations because he didn’t want to consume time in Sophie’s lesson – but he was not getting it right and was resorting to heel pushing instead. All the work we did was my standard approach – found here on a fixed page: http://skiinstruction.blogspot.fr/p/pivot.html
Sophie was just starting to get it and I encouraged her to persist with this as an exercise and to come back to it – because although it is initially tricky it will come with practice and is extremely effective. This will also encourage he to move away from the snowplough. At the start of the session we saw that the plough was even preventing her from doing a simple sideslip and it’s the sideslip that develops into a pivot – so practicing all of those things will help dramatically.
There was a huge amount to cover in one short lesson – but the advantage of doing it this way is that it imparts a new global perception of the subject – and that’s the best way to jump into it. Sophie did well and the only reason I could proceed so far was because she could physically relate to it all.