Thursday, March 31, 2016

Robert 5

The warm foehn wind was too strong and rapidly brought most of our chosen sector of Le Fornet to a close. Winds were forecast at altitude but it did look much clearer in that direction – and the snow would have been good on the glacier. The Solaise express eventually closed too so the only sector probably left functioning was La Daille – which should be sheltered from the southerly winds. Clear sky during the night had allowed heat radiation from the snow to cause it to freeze despite the high air temperatures.
  

Our group for this morning was mixed – with Winfred aged 8 and Elspeth aged 11 along with Robert, Clea, Mary and Richard. Despite the varied group, wind and limited pistes we made the most of the opportunity to work on technique. Winfred was very patient through the explanations and exercises because the delivery of the lesson was not targeted at his age group.

Chi Skiing 

Having watched people all week skiing without their core muscles activated correctly and witnessing the consequences it seemed like this would be a good opportunity to tackle this subject. It wasn’t tackled previously because there are many issues which affect the capacity to ski far more – though overall this is probably more important than any of the other technical issues.

Facing the shoulders downhill as a turn progresses has the consequence of twisting the lumbar spine slightly from the top down as the skis come around the turn. The outer hip ends up beneath the front ribs and postural reflexes just cease to function.

Facing the pelvis downhill – but preventing the shoulders from doing so causes a twist of the lumbar spine from the bottom up in a counter direction to the turn  - causing a slight stretch between the outside hip and the bottom front rib. When loaded up with pressure this configuration allows the core postural muscles to work by reflex. Not only does this protect the lower back but it has huge effects on technical development and skiing performance.

Each person in turn was guided through a “load testing” exercise where first the shoulders were turned downhill and then the pelvis – standing still across the slope with a ski pole held across the front of the body. I supplied the load/resistance as they tried to lift me up while I put my weight on the pole. With the shoulders facing downhill everyone could feel the load on the back and nothing in the abdomen – and then with the pelvis facing downhill everyone felt the abdomen contract and no sensation of load on the back. This happens because the alignment allows reflexes to work and the abdomen creates a “hydraulic sac” where the load is spread across the whole midsection. Normally this is hydraulic sac is achieved through “neutral pelvis” by pelvic tilt  (tilting the pelvis up at the front) – but what this exercise shows is that there is a separate way to ensure that protective reflexes work. In fact, pelvic tilt alone does not protect a skier because the shoulders coming around makes pelvic tilt ineffective.

The pelvis has to move in this manner during the turn transition – so that it is set up from the start of each new turn. Turn initiation is also rendered far easier and more effective when this is done.

The core muscles correspond very closely to centre of the body and this is where movement should commence – both overall for the motion of the centre of mass and internally for biomechanics. Pulling the hip backwards pulls the femur into alignment with the adductor muscles and helps to roll of foot onto its inside edge inside the ski boot.

Now you can see why I was Impressed that Winfred listened to all of this!

Mary can make use of this core action to work on preventing rotation. Clea tends not to stand strongly on her right hip so this would help to straighten out that issue. Using the new hip position to flex more at the hip joints – and correspondingly at the knees – would free up Clea’s skiing enorlously.  Robert is vulnerable to the upper body lurching forwards in tricky off piste or bumps so the strong core would stop that and protect his back. Richard needs to ensure his pelvis is tilted up at the front so that the spine rotates along its axis. In Richard’s case both pelvic tilt and counter rotation are necessary for strong posture. Richard’s weight is generally too far forward on the feet and the ankles are collapsing making him lean on the ski boots. This causes the hip joints to lock up somewhat in compensation – which probably adds to the pelvic tilt issues when trying to counter rotate the pelvis.

Later on during the session I explained to Clea that although it is ideal to stand on the fronts of the heels (beneath the ankle joints – allowing the subtaler joints to roll the feet onto their edges) she still required pressure against the shin to use the front of the ski. This pressure is attained by flexing at the hip joint (aided by the counter rotated hip) sinking down into the turn from the start of the turn and maintaining strong posture. Basically – seek to use heel and shin pressure and to counter the hip, flexing at the hip and if required at the knee. Remember – it’s the centre of mass that controls the skis and this is how pressure is built up and managed as a turn progresses. Body management is paramount in all of this. Good body management happens through the core.

Skating

Skating and dynamics are the main building blocks of skiing but only Clea and Mary had been previously introduced to this. Normally this is a big subject which requires a lot of attention but the idea here was to introduce it via the work being done with the hips. Countering the hip on the skating leg makes the skating action far stronger and so the two actions fit together and enhance each other. Using “Direct Method” I demonstrated by skating straight downhill and then falling to the inside of each stride to generate dynamics and turn the skating into skiing. Richard picked up on the timing immediately. Skating is a good opportunity to practice on active working of the hips and core. Correct timing in skiing comes from skating with the legs – down/up – as opposed to ski school up/down. They have built all skis since the 1960’s to work with down/up motion of the body but the schools still haven’t caught up.

Dynamics

We had a short introduction to dynamics – most of the idea being transmitted to Robert and Richard in the cable car to make use of the time. I explained the difference between weight transfer as described in statics – moving your centre of mass over your support foot – and dynamics which involves accelerating your centre of mass in the opposite direction. You simply accelerate your body in the direction it has to turn – and the ski then takes over and sustains this acceleration. There is a fixed page on dynamics here: http://skiinstruction.blogspot.fr/p/dynamics.html

Dynamics also gives natural timing – like an upside down pendulum – toppling down into a turn and back up out of it. In your mind you can remove the slope and imagine a flat surface – which is what is done effectively as you slide perpendicular to the slope (unless pivoting!). The dynamics combine with the skating to form efficient and effective skiing and rhythm and timing create a resonance (used to great effect off piste in deep snow). The legs become properly functional when used actively with this timing.

Pole planting is replaced with the “pole touch” which takes place as the body inclines downwards into the next turn – after the turn transition. This is the case whenever the skis are moving forwards (as opposed to sideways) and why you never see a racer pole planting. The arms aren’t used for this – only the body inclining. In contrast mogul skiers always pole plant.

Pivoting

The session on pivoting was even more rushed and rapid but both Clea and Mary had already worked on this so I only had to help Elspeth, Winfred and Richard by supporting them through the first attempt. There are full demos and explanations of the pivot here:

Clea needs to work on this because her main difficulty was with using the pole for support. This is where the pole plant is used – for restraining dynamics. The centre of mass still dictates the turn but the motion of it has to be held back by a pole support so that the ski doesn’t flip over onto its inside edge too soon. Clea had no weight on her pole. Setting up the body with a forward tilt at the hips, counter rotated pelvis (all adding up to hip angulation) would get the centre of mass between the uphill ski and the ski pole as soon as the downhill ski was lifted off the ground. The exercise difficulty here signals where Clea’s main area of development should be focused as this is probably affecting all of her skiing. Just a little bit of practice here brings rapid change. Clea has been using “pole planting” along with up/down timing probably all her life and this inappropriate configuration has clearly held her back. Changing to the pole touch for any forward motion and the pole plant for sideways motion (of the skis) – all with down/up motion - will free up skiing enormously. 

Unfortunately Elspeth only had one attempt at the pivot on her own and I didn’t get it on film.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Robert 4

Before going off piste we had a brief discussion about technique. Asking the group what they thought might be the most important technical issue for successful skiing brought a list of standard replies including the following: Plant the pole and come up around it to enter the new turn, Weight more on two skis, Weight transfer. While those are all taught in ski school they are unfortunately all wrong (even on piste). A good analogy would be how anyone can learn to ride a bicycle without knowing any theory then somebody has provided an intellectual and verbal explanation which is in fact how to cook apple crumble instead. It’s just not very helpful though it probably won’t stop you from riding the bike!








Dynamics (End of Turn)

http://skiinstruction.blogspot.fr/p/dynamics.html  The key to off piste is the dynamics which are applied at the end of the existing turn. The skis load up with pressure due to the whole base bending in the snow and this extra force is used to lift the body up and out of the turn – with pressure on the downhill ski through the end of the turn and then the body coming all the way out of the turn over the top of this downhill ski. Pressure only comes off the downhill ski once the centre of mass crosses over the skis – into the void – so it can be a little bit scary at first. The turn is completed with this upwards movement of the centre of mass and only then do you come down into the new turn (visualise a racing motorbike going into and out of a turn) by coming down and into the turn – touching the pole downhill due to the inclination of the body. (Pole Touch as opposed to Pole Plant). This is the ultimate weapon for off piste skiing – ensuring that you will not fail to initiate the next turn.

There wasn’t enough time for demonstrations or exercises (usually a “hanger turn” is used to teach this) – but I tried to just get across the idea so that people could experiment. There was also no opportunity for individual feedback and correction – but that’s the nature of off piste. In reality there is no “off piste” technique – it’s only an application of good on piste technique – which is where it all needs to be learned first.

The dynamics explained how “weight transfer” through “balance and statics” is incorrect (though today the time spent on this was very minimal) and how the pole plant for dynamic skiing is wrong and also the associated up/down timing.



Pivoting

Considering that we were about to tackle some tree skiing and the snow was heating up rapidly and becoming sticky – I decided to spend a moment introducing pivoting (for quick turns). Only a couple of the group had been taught this a little already and once again there was no time for a proper progression.

There is a fixed page here where pivoting is explained in detail:

I carried out a few demos of one ski pivoting and then skiing on one leg in both directions with accurate edge control and then using two skis as a single platform. Other than the ones who had already had coaching nobody knew that the outside edge of the ski played a key role in pivoting (Apple crumble again). So nobody at all could manage to pivot intentionally with any real level of control – this being a huge area that they all need to develop. I mentioned to Laurence that this two footed platform is when two skis are actually used more than one – but the feet need to be close together and it only applies truly when the skis are sliding sideways – as in bump skiing or in a steep couloir. Deep powder allows it too. For most skiing including today’s snow we would be mostly on one ski and only a degree of pivoting of two footed platform could by exercised because considerable forward motion was required with this snow. (Carving is the opposite extreme from pivoting because in carving all sideways motion is eliminated - most skiing is a blend with both forwards and sideways motion)

Today’s goal was just so that everyone might try to pull the fronts of the skis into the new turn in conjunction with the dynamics – as they entered the turn. This enables quicker and shorter turning. However to do this well requires great coordination and postural control. Laurence and Fabian need to develop the inwards and downwards sink into the turn so that hey can use the fronts of their skis more and safely. All the girls were rotating and making it hard for themselves – and so were unable to sink into the turns and manage the build up of forces and subsequent dynamics accurately. This seems to be a very common issue with women skiers and I suspect that it’s linked to anatomy. The wider pelvis seems to make it harder for women to prevent the hip from following the outside ski around the turn. What is also clear to me is that this is easily overcome with specific awareness and training.

All in all – everyone managed well and I’m sure some ideas and good experience were gained.























Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Monday, March 28, 2016

Robert 2

Today’s session turned out to be a full technical lesson for those with a bit less confidence than yesterday’s off piste group. Nina wasn’t going to participate initially but I encouraged her to come with the promise that we would just be working on easy slopes where there would be no reason for anxiety.

The video clip is of skiing prior to the coaching – just for the record. There’s not much point in assessing the skiing at this stage because the idea of the session was to completely change everyone’s perception of skiing and provide a new base for building skills. Individual feedback is more useful later on – after working for a while on the new material.  However it’s worth just mentioning a few major technical characteristics for each individual – without relating this to the actual skiing level: Nina: Rotation and Stemming Ollie: Heel Pushing and feet jammed together  Felicity: Rotation and Heel Pushing Bridget: At ease  - but Heel Pushing and feet jammed together Mary: Good Natural Timing and overall movement – only needs to be aware of how to take it further Clia: Well trained but Stemming left ski and timing off due to pole use.

There’s no point going into further detail because all those issues are a result of previous training. It’s only after re-training that feedback can be used constructively. The main thing to note here was that everyone was open and receptive to learning so we successfully covered a lot of ground in a few short hours.


Feet


We began with the feet. In the video if you slow it down (speed control on bottom right of the video) you can see that to varying degrees everyone is twisting their feet and skis into the turns – and some are stemming or pushing their heels outwards too. I asked everyone what they had been taught about the feet in skiing and nobody could think of anything.

Weight should be centred under the ankle – corresponding with the front of the heel. The shin should still contact the front of the boot nearly all the time. When bending and keeping weight off the fronts of the feet the ankle reflexively stiffens and the anterior tibialis (muscle on the outside of the shin) tenses up for support – all the resultant bending taking place is in the knees and hips instead. It’s important for the ankle to be strong in this way. If weight is spread over the whole foot instead the ankle generally collapses when bending and this disguised by the stiff boots holding the skier up. 

With the weight on the front of the heel the foot can be rolled onto its edges using the subtaler joint beneath the ankle. This doesn’t happen when weight is spread over the whole foot – the knee wobbles around instead when you attempt to roll the foot on edge. Rolling the foot onto its inside edge from the subtaler joint has the characteristic effect of tensing the adductor muscles in the upper leg (inside of the leg). When skiing both feet should be rolled onto their inside edges simultaneously (even when carving!)

When the foot is rolled onto its inside edge it actually turns away from the direction the ski is turning – the opposite of twisting the foot into a turn which has the effect of flattening the foot and forcing it onto its outside edge. When correctly executed this is similar to skating – you do not twist skates into a turn either. The muscle use is  more exaggerated in skiing because the edge of the ski is not under the centre of the foot but is displaced to the inside – so holding the ski and foot on edge requires more effort due to leverage. Ski boots provide lateral support (shaft running up the leg) so as to prevent the ski and foot from forced flattening. Overall, edging is actually created through body inclination and angulation – so the use of the foot is really about body control - not edging!

There are many more things that can be done with the muscles in the feet but the above is a solid base for skill building. It’s better to avoid orthotic foot supports and to learn to use the foot muscles instead. Boots need to have enough room to be able to roll and make shapes (arches) with the feet inside them.

Unfortunately there was no time for indoor work for everyone to directly experience the effects  described above with no ski boots on and to feel how this alters movement. I wanted simply to provide the tools to prepare the way to introduce dynamics. Good use of the feet and adductors is necessary for successful dynamics.



Dynamics


Everyone was using dynamics naturally to some degree in their skiing – some more than others. Nobody however was aware of dynamics. Dynamics took quite a bit of explaining as the difference between statics and dynamics appeared to cause a fair bit of confusion initially – which is to be expected when people have previously learned everything based upon inappropriate mechanics. We carried out my usual basic exercises and progression for dynamics and details can be found on the fixed page here: http://skiinstruction.blogspot.fr/p/dynamics.html

Most people commented on how different it made their skiing feel to work with dynamics directly – and we took it into some safe off piste just to show how the dynamics facilitates this. Dynamics is about using the centre of mass (between the naval and the pelvis) to control the skis. You gradually become aware of moving the centre of mass. A skater or dancer for example spins or rolls around the centre of mass – and bicycles, skates or skis respond to its motion. Unfortunately standard ski instruction trains you to actually move it in the wrong direction and although anyone who continues to ski will have overcome this naturally to some degree it is very different when the centre of mass is used actively and consciously in the right direction.

Completing this part of the session on dynamics I asked everyone to work up from the feet – rolling the outside foot in the turn onto its inside edge and then feeling the adductors on this leg pulling inwards and connecting this together with moving the centre of mass inwards in the direction of the turn. Later I asked everyone to reverse the order and start with the centre of mass working down to the feet. This is because eventually (not today) I would add some powerful postural control mechanisms which involve the core and lumbar spine and all motion (and alignment) would have to start and spread out from  the centre of the body. The idea is to work with the centre of the body in all ways – and to even centre your attention (your mind) on this. Anxiety vanishes when focus is internalised – whether on breathing in meditation or on detailed body actions when engaging in more athletic activity.

Describing "centripetal force" the analogy of a ball on a string was used. The ball being spun around your head only has one force - from the string - pulling inwards constantly away from a straight line (tangent). There is no "centrifugal" outwards force on the ball. Likewise the skier has to become this piece of string - everything pulling inwards. This is very counterintuitive because there is a strong illusion of outwards force when skiing and people defensively push out and brace against it - having been encouraged to do so from their initial brainwashing in the snowplough.

Timing had only briefly been mentioned so far by using the analogy of a motorbike – falling down into a turn and being brought back up at the end. Toppling over sideways with dynamics is exactly the same principle – creating a down/up timing naturally. Skis are built to work with this timing at a fundamental mechanical level. Mary had this timing naturally in her skiing and so did Clia – but for Clia it was being interfered with from her pole planting and the up/down timing she had been trained to use instead. When Clia simply toppled and followed the skis around with her body for this exercise she simply stopped using her poles – which is great. Pole planting does not serve a purpose when using active dynamics (eg. racing) other than as a pole touch after coming up and when entering the next turn. In 1994 the American system abolished pole planting and replaced it with a pole touch – but as we will see later this too is a mistake of dogma because there are valid different ways to use poles!

I explained that skiing is not about trying to stay upright – it is about trying to fall over. Dynamic Range is probably the clearest defining quality of a skier’s level. Most people can only topple to about 15° from the perpendicular to the slope whereas Bode Miller on the Face de Bellevarde managed 90° in the world championship downhill – actually ending up lying on the ground with both skis in the air,  totally recovering and not losing significant time. Most of racing technique is about how to extend this dynamic range. The skis become exponentially more powerful as the dynamic range increases and grip increases. On a bike, tyre grip poses a severe limit that skiers are not affected with. Grip on ice requires good timing, sharp edges and the nerve to go all the way down - when every fibre in your body is screaming "stay upright"! Most people - trying to stay in balance - never get even close to discovering this.

Skating 


Only a brief amount of time was spent working on skating. Some of the details of very basic skating and about the feet can be found at the following fixed page:
http://skiinstruction.blogspot.fr/p/beginners.html

Skiing is built from a combination of skating and dynamics. Feet placed on their inside edges and use of the adductors are critical for skating and of course so is directing the centre of mass. When teaching beginners those actions are the key to success – and they are the exact opposite from snowplough even in terms of he muscle groups used. In snowplough the skis are converging at the tips and the abductors (external upper leg muscles) are used to push the ski out – then the centre of mass is moved in the wrong direction etc. etc. Here we simply made skating step turns to change direction incrementally. When teaching beginners you start out like this then remove the actual step and still move the centre of mass and within the first hour the beginner is skiing parallel.

One other way to distinguish levels of skiers is whether they displace their skis to the side or displace their centre of mass inwards - the two are mutually exclusive! Poor skiers move their feet - good skiers move their body. When you see short turns with the body apparently totally still it's an optical illusion! The turn cancels out the motion of the body so it isn't visible. 

To keep things brief we used “direct method” – giving everyone a chance to feel the effects of skating in skiing. The idea is to skate straight downhill and then as speed builds to fall to the inside of each stride slightly so that dynamics is introduced and gradually over several strides the straight line of each stride is replaced by an arc. The point is that skating transforms into skiing – the legs continuing to work the same way – down//up and the dynamics also going down/up. The students should now be able to see that the correct functional use of the legs and correct timing is actually skating. When Ollie did this he came off the backs of his ski boots for the first time – naturally and without prompting. This is the powerful rhythm and timing that works off piste.

The job of the skier is to fall over – and the job of the ski is to lift up. When the turn comes close to its end the resistance against gravity builds up pressure and the ski lifts you up and out of the turn if you allow it to. Coordinate this with the upwards muscular action of the skate and the effect is amplified. Load up the ski base with powder snow and you end up bouncing. When all coordinated correctly this becomes a resonance – which is the essence of efficiency. Racing is actually very tightly controlled regarding rules around rhythm and rhythm braking – and correspondingly race course setters in France require a license.

Nina was given a short introduction to skating but was happy to just observe the more demanding aspects. Bridget managed a strong effort with skating downhill and had the clearest result – though her weaker dynamics especially on the left leg were the main limitation.

Pivoting


With Bridget’s ACL repair in mind it was necessary to press on and introduce pivoting. I’d asked how the injury happened and it was a classic case of trying to twist the ski into a turn in a tight situation in a couloir. When the ski is on its inside edge you simply can’t twist it – yet that’s what people are actually taught to do in snowplough and it’s called “steering”.

Visual perception works in reverse from how most people imagine. You cannot look at something complex and simply work out what is happening. I suspect magicians know this very well. People however look at skiers and think they can see everything – but they only actually see what they understand and are blind to the rest. When shown the skating/skiing connection everyone would have been able to then see it – but not before. All they would have perceived previously was that the best skiers were doing something different – and the rest would just feel like bafflement. Correspondingly I gave everyone the opportunity to try to spot what I was doing differently in a pivot demonstration right in front of them (having already dropped clues). Naturally nobody could see what was fundamentally different. The difference was that the entire first half of the turn was executed on the outside edge of the ski. That is a pretty huge difference to miss!

There are detailed demos of pivoting on the following fixed page:
http://skiinstruction.blogspot.fr/p/pivot.html

Earlier I’d asked Clia not to use poles and not to have the feet close together. The pivot is where both of those things can be use appropriately – as explained on the fixed page. In assisting each skier though a pivot so as to feel the effect I stood below and held the skier up – taking the body weight and acting as a substitute for the ski pole. This allowed me to control the centre of mass and lead the ski slipping sideways into a clean pivot.

Our earlier dynamcis was carried out with forward motion – the most pure form being a carve (which we didn’t work on). With pure pivoting there is no forward motion – the ski goes entirely sideways into the turn. Those are the two forms that need to be separated out and fully understood and only then can they be blended as required.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Robert 1

Off Piste

Robert’s Off Piste group consists of 6 strong skiers (Robert, Ellie, Richard, Ben, Fabien, Edmund) – though also several sets of not so strong rental bindings – so the warm up run started the action with multiple pre-release incidents. We skied in the Grand Vallon twice (second time to the bottom) – stopping for refreshments at the Edelweiss  - then headed over to Col Pers. Once over the pass the snow was good and fortunately the visibility held up for us as bad weather had been due by lunchtime. 

I was focused on guiding and didn’t pay attention to anyone’s ski technique – though I’ll be studying the video clip carefully – presented here in normal speed and slow motion. Just a quick glance shows me that there are timing issues that could be improved all round. All the skiers have strong dynamics. Working on pivoting skills too would help everyone be a little more economical and efficient.



Col Pers






Saturday, March 26, 2016

Brian - Alex 6

Sunshine and heat again today with a thin covering of fresh snow – just enough to make off piste interesting. Learning and exercises are great but we need to ski to practise, assimilate, adapt and improve – so today was about skiing and using up whatever energy was remaining in Alex’s legs. Seems like the legs were not too bad but the head was suffering thanks to heavy wine consumption the day before.

The only comment I made to both Alex and Brian today was to perhaps advance the inside leg/hip a bit more to “separate” the upper body from the lower body more and reduce upper body rotation. In the bumps the idea is to allow the upper body to fall over the bump and so pull the skis into a pivot. Other than that it was all about working from the centre and correcting posture. Yesterday had been a breakthrough technical day – but today was about consolidation. When you are probably not going to ski again for several months – it’s important to get mileage and experience.


Escaping from the pistes…

Good rotation control  - pressure on front of skis – posture not optimal though (as usual on left leg) and looking down too much.


…rotation issues!


… last day and carving nicely!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Brian - Alex 5

Pivot

Today we started out with the pivot – taking the lead from Brian’s video clip yesterday which exposed the issue of the ski running forwards and changing edge then starting the pivot on the inside edge.



Brian can pivot fine but wasn’t relating the exercise to actual skiing. The ski has to slip sideways into the pivot in order to keep the feet directly beneath the body and avoid getting too early onto the inside edge then having to fight to contain accelerations . The other tell tale sign that Brian wasn’t doing that in pivoted turns was that he feet would end up out to the side as if he had pushed them out. The feet need to travel directly down the fall line as well as the upper body. We only worked on this briefly but Brian understood. Later on we briefly visited the Tommeuses bumps for Brian to have the opportunity put the pivot to good use – though visibility was vanishing fast by this time as snow was falling. Brian was able to avoid his usual battle with the bumps and to control his speed instead. This is clearly a step forwards. Dynamics are still used in the bumps – using the upper shoulder of the bump to check/absorb - letting the body pass over the skis over the top of the bump. The skis swing naturally because the tips are in the air until pushed down into the next hollow – and the profile of the bump assists the pivot.

Alex was stemming a bit so was asked to remain return to the original “one ski” pivot exercise. Her stem was linked to a rotation and was worse on the right leg. The main issue was that she would lean backwards with the upper body – particularly when on the right leg – the stem and rotation just being symptoms. Alex worked on tilting the upper body forwards from the hips to be able to move the centre of mass easily between the ski tips and the pole and feel the turn become tighter and more efficient.

Carving

We were on the plateau of the Grand Pré so that Alex could have a proper flat section for carving. She is now connecting well with the feeling and is able to keep the outside ski (sometimes both skis) on a carving edge in both directions. When her stance became too wide the knee would drop in and this has to be avoided! It’s better to keep the skis at hip width – moving the centre of mass across. (On flats the ChiSkiing hip change alone is enough to change edges)

Posture and ChiSkiing

Working on pivoting brought us directly to dealing with posture.

Alex: Female anatomy is different from male in that the “Q” angle of the femur is different – that is the degree the femur points inwards. The greater female “Q” angle makes edging easier, but the wider pelvis that creates this effect makes it harder to stand solidly over the top of the femur. Angulation in skiing is largely simply a question of perching the entire upper body over the head of one femur – tilting it forward from the hip joint and being able to swivel around on the ball joint. The body needs to be perched on this one hinge – not two – to move freely. In theory at least a woman would have to make a more deliberate action to get perched on a femur despite the advantage of having better grip from the better “Q” angle.  This issue probably leads to Alex’s tendency to lean backwards from the hip when pivoting into a turn. We worked to overcome this and just addressing the issue attentively appears to be enough to overcome it.

Brian had a different issue with posture and that was that he wasn’t managing to stay solidly poised on his left hip – the pelvis dropping down to the right and tending to kink the lower back to compensate. The right leg/hip connection was fine but this side tended to fall victim to another issue – a tendency to push the hips laterally and down into the turn – instead of working with the centre of mass. Both problems are connected however. If the upper body is tilted forwards from the hip and perched on the right femur/hip joint – then during a left turn the tilted upper body would turn right relative to the leg (creating angulation) – but the entire body would topple left into the turn. This is how the mechanics should be constructed – not by pushing the hips/pelvis laterally across and down into the turn – which fails to have you anchored soundly on the outside leg and fails to give you the reflexes and ski response required.

Brian’s problem eventually became clear when trying to apply the ChiSkiing hip action – counter rotating the lumbar spine. Normally this would help to consolidate a strong stance on the femur but in Brian’s case it made him fall off the hip/femur even more. The issue is really one of “pelvic tilt”. Brian has to tilt the pelvis upwards at the front to get into “neutral pelvis” and then pull the hip back (ChiSkiing). I gave both Brian and Alex the “load test” – lifting me up – and they both felt the strong reflex engagement of the core muscles when everything was in the right place – and conversely the ugly stress on the spine when not in the right alignment.  Taking this into carving Brian immediately felt the connection and strength through the core. Alex managed to continue to gain more control over her rotation and skied her first black run without even realising it and looking very effective.

Core - Centering

http://skiinstruction.blogspot.fr/p/core-principles.html

Not only is the turn controlled by the motion of the centre of mass - but all moemnt shoudl start with the core - at the centre. This "connection" through the body is vital or the body ends up just being a heap of disconnected parts all fighting each other. The first thing to do in any turn is to activate the core - and to keep it secure and let the refelexes work. Turn initiation/transition is far more effective when the core is used because it actualy lines up the bones and engages the correct muscles- adductors etc. automatically and in the right order - from the centre outwards.

Relative Motions

Moving on from postural issues I pointed out to Brian that to overcome his tendency to move the hip in laterally he had to do more than just conquer rotation and stay on the hip joint. The relative motion of the body across the skis has to be sensed as separate from the arc being made on the ground. In a basic example with the rotation now under control (pelvis facing downhill more or less) the motion of the  upper body relative to the skis is downhill and over the skis for the turn transition and uphill in into the turn to build up pressure – a sort of in and out motion in line with the fall line.

When teaching dynamics initially i avoid all of this by saying to just stand up and topple over sideways into the turn and then sideways back up out of it at the end. When angulation is created however then the upper body is not facing the same way as the skis are going so the relative motion of the upper body feels like forward and backward (in the fall line) and the detailed bio-mechanics are being dealt with at the hips. This is why attempting to create angulation by dropping the hips into a turn fails. The natural way to achieve the right movement in the hips and with the body overall is by skating. This is probably why Brian looks fine when carving – because he has based that purely on skating.

In the final scene of the video clip Brain isn't skiing as dynamically as he can because he is thinking about everything. However the points to look for are that his posture is strong, core activated, rotation controlled, forward on his skis and is constructing and using angulation correctly instead of just dropping the hips into the turn. 





Thursday, March 24, 2016

Brian - Alex 4

First thing we noticed today from the top of the Glacier chairlift was the horrendous air pollution trapped in the valley below – reaching right up to just below our own altitude…



Today we focused mainly on the two extremes of “pivoting and carving” to help cultivate the common underlying skills. Empty slopes for the most part allowed us peace to work unhindered.

Wide Stance Pivot

We continued with the wide stance pivot again today – mainly to address issues of rotation. Alex was able to coordinate pulling her outside hip back (counter rotating) during the pivot. Brian managed to hold his feet better on their inside edges during the pivots. Both were working at coming over the downhill ski to initiate the turns – borrowing from the work done on hanger turns.

Alex still has a fair amount to hip rotation to remove but it was reduced enough to allow reasonably well coordinated pivoting with independent legs.

When Brian pivots there is a dropping inwards of the hips when on the turn to the left and then on the turn to the right he is not staying on top of the left hip strongly with posture collapsing slightly. The body is simply not poised correctly on one hip joint at a time. The first half of the pivot is actually not happening!!! Until watching the video in slow motion I thought there was a pushing of the feet to the side – but the problem is something else – the skis mostly do not actually pivot from the uphill edges – instead they slide forwards and there is an edge change made with almost a hop to ensure that it happens before pivoting occurs. This is why Brian is not managing to pivot effortlessly, smoothly and this  probably contributes to the other anomalies with the hips .

Foot Forward Technique

Alex was introduced to Foot Forward technique to learn this key aspect of turn radius control. When  there is forward sliding of the ski then the turning effect can be greatly amplified by actively physically pushing it forwards. The static exercise used to teach this action also contributes to a better understanding of control for hip rotation. Alex could manage this more easily with her right leg than the left.  When on steeper terrain combining dynamics with pushing the outside foot forward ensures a  tight turn with good grip and stability. Whether mostly pivoting or pure carving the outside foot needs to always push forwards to work the ski and make the turn more proactive. Increased dynamics and push forwards of the foot means decreased turn radius.


Carving

We approached carving by attempting to skate in the fall line but it was very clear that Alex couldn’t get the skis on edge when there was any speed. The skis were instantly pushed off their edges and into a pivot. This is probably a legacy of being taught snowplough as a child.

We resorted to the Medieval Torture method of combining carving with the snowplough. Alex actually managed today – drawing from the efforts made yesterday. She eventually appeared to understand when realising that it’s not a strong muscular effort that’s required – it’s all in the positioning of the centre of mass. In the effort to get to this realisation I held Alex up as she pushed against my shoulder and held onto my ski pole – so that I could slowly guide her through a carved turn on her two skis. Returning to the carve/plough exercise it was clarified that the weight goes on the inside leg and it is used as a sideways drifting brake to slow everything down.

Eventually – on flat terrain by the end of the day Alex started to join together shallow carved turns for the first time. It was also clarified that the inside foot stays on its inside edge while that ski goes on its outside edge. This is complicated at first but if compliments the pivoting and everything else and the edging depends on the motion of the centre of mass.

Off Piste (Aborted)

We aborted an attempt to go off piste over Col Pers because Alex was not in a relaxed frame of mind – and the entrance to the Col was steep and tricky with a lack of snow cover so I decided to wait until she is more ready for this – another time!  The icy traverse was probably a bit discouraging – though there would be no more ice or traversing once over the ridge to the North side and away from the direct sun.

Front of Ski

Re-focusing on Brian’s skiing and wondering about his trouble keeping the inside edges of the feet engaged I asked him to ski with much more pressure on the fronts of the skis. I wanted Brian to be able to counter the hip while sinking down and control hip rotation aided by holding pressure against the shin. Pressuring the front of the ski this way make it easier to counter the hip and so keep the leg aligned properly and the foot on its inside edge. When you get slightly back instead the hip tends to rotate and pull the leg and foot out of alignment. This did change Brian’s stance (in video) and removed the bulk of the postural, hip and feet issues and also timing issues in the turn transitions. There was still not enough counter rotation of the hip but we can work on that now.



Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Brian - Alex 3


Today started out with blue skies and sunshine – but by midday ended up in dense fog. Fortunately the good weather and visibility was put to constructive use for Alex’s first proper adventure off piste – equipped with avalanche transceiver and hunting for properly transformed Spring snow.

Our warm up run was down the Vert and I suggested for both Alex and Brian to focus on the feet – weight on the front of the heels, feet edged by rocking the subtaler joints, adductors engaged and centre of mass moving in and out of the turns. When Brian focused properly on this it did change his stance –which confirmed my suspicion that when relaxing he comes off the inside edges of his feet. For Alex the aim was to ensure her base of support to help to discourage her tendency to rotate – and to simply bring attention to and revise the “feet” because we hadn’t spent any time on that in the previous few days.

Tour de Charvet – Off Piste

The Tour de Charvet is the classic off piste route in Val, but not from the direction that we took. The main descents would definitely have been trashed due to the recent heat and being skied by people too late in the day – leaving deep trenches to freeze solid. Our entry was by traversing from the top of the Borsat lift and heading for the far end of the valley where nobody would have skied and transformed snow or even powder (in places) would be in good condition. Getting there does involve a bit of work and with Alex being physically tired from the day before I knew this would be relatively hard for her – but the reality is that getting away from the commercial and superficial hoards and pistes sometimes takes an effort and a bit of risk but it is always worthwhile – though we have to learn this too! I had no doubt over her ability to ski provided I managed to find half decent snow – and even then she was asked to learn and practice kick turns in case we had to traverse through impossible snow.

In the event we actually did find some sheltered powder snow in the upper shallow gullies and then fully transformed snow on the south west facing walls of the main valley. I hesitated before deciding to ski the main wall due to being uncertain of the combination of snow and steepness – but after a few turns found that it was safe and ideal for both Alex and Brian so cleared them to ski it. Alex had already proved herself on steeps yesterday – in more difficult conditions due to the slope being hard and slightly icy – never baulking once at turning and never getting into trouble. She had to work hard today but was actually even safer on the softened transformed snow than on the icy pistes. This didn’t stop her from sweating buckets though.


Visibility vanished as we reached the narrow gully out of the valley and this left us to pick our way slowly through invisible bumps with less than ideal lumpy, frozen snow on the surface. All of this however is excellent experience that progressively brings adaptation to the body and skill – in ways that skiing on piste never does. You just slow down and focus on what you feel and on moving your body. If you get dynamics right then the body will cope reflexively with most surprises.

Predictably the pathway out of the Tour had been avalanched yesterday when it had been very hot in the afternoon – so there was a bit of scrambling over some impressive debris to get to the end. Perhaps the most awkward snow of all was in the last 100m descent before reaching the chairlift. The cloud had grown giving some light snow so we had been lucky to get through without that coming down on us earlier. Alex did fine – as I had expected – with no falls or incidents. Later in the day I explained to her that it was because of her confident natural use of dynamics in coming out of turns – over the lower ski – that allowed me to gauge what she would be capable of handling. That’s not a function that’s affected adversely by tiredness either – in fact when tired there’s a tendency to rely on this even more because you can sense that it makes life easier.

After ascending Le Manchet chair we had a snack break at the Lac d’Ouillette and then ventured back out into dense fog. Alex was perturbed by the fog and lack of visibility so I explained that she didn’t need to worry where she was going – but just to stay fairly close to me for reference. The important thing is to stop “looking” and to focus attention on feeling instead – with feet, muscles, accelerations and pressure against the ski boots. Internalising focus in this way calms the anxiety.  On the way down Solaise Alex said that she felt the struggle off piste had adversely affected her ski technique – but I didn’t quite agree. The fact was that we were in dense fog on a steep red run even icier than she had previously tackled – but she didn’t know that because she couldn’t see it. She was in fact rotating due to the steepness. In order to counteract the rotation I just asked Alex to re-focus on her hips and work directly to prevent rotation – which she was able to do. We used the exercise where with Alex standing across the hill holding her poles outstretched downhill I pulled her downhill and she had to resist – first of all “rotated” side on and then pulling her hip back and angulating – so she could be more clearly aware of the differences in strength attained by avoiding rotation. Further down the icy slope I introduced the possibility of standing on the front of the foot and against the front of the ski  - with good hip angulation and the body “not rotated” so as to grip to the maximum on ice. This can only be achieved by avoiding rotation – and if the front of the foot is used then the ankle must not be allowed to flex and collapse.


Hanger Turns

Staying down on the valley floor to let the bad weather pass through we started to focus more on technique. I had an intuition that some of the issues with Brain’s skiing were due to a blockage in his turn transitions – which always seem laboured unless he is purely carving.  For this reason I explained and demonstrated hanger turns and asked him to try. The result was revealing. Brian was unable to see what I was doing and persistently misinterpreted the exercise and the explanation – making him either attempt to carry out some different exercise (varying between normal outside ski turns  – to “Charleston” – inside ski only  turns) or argue that I wasn't actually demonstrating what I was explaining . This indicates a perception block in this area. We only see what we understand! This type of issue is compounded by the body’s unconscious habitual actions then taking over and dictating how the conscious mind sees things. What concerned me the most was that I hadn’t spotted this dynamics issue sooner. The fact that Brain was in a muddle over it and finding it very difficult means that it probably is right on the button with being the most important thing for him to work on. Every turn I make is close to being a hanger turn and it’s what makes skiing flow. It has to work this way in all turns – not just fast carving!


Wide Stance Pivots (Independent Legs)

To help Alex improve on her rotation issues we worked on pivoting with the feet wide apart and side by side on the mountain instead of one below the other. This requires effective rotation of the femurs in each hip joint independently without the pelvis swinging around. This is in fact the most effective way to control direct fall line skiing as it eliminates all motion across the hill and creates a powerful braking action. Alex still has a bit of work to do on this as can be seen in the video! We added jumping to this so as to remove the subtle dynamics and edge awareness needed to control the ski on the snow and she managed to separate the actions at the hip joints better this way. Like any skill practice is required.

Brian also tried some short swings – but with the emphasis being to jump downhill over the lower ski – in the same context as the hanger turns. This did improve his dynamics though the whole exercise was a bit frantic and a bit too “edge to edge” and harsh due to heel retraction. Full leg extension and smooth absorption with flexing on landing and some pivot on the snow would soften this a lot.

After a break Alex was asked to attempt the full hanger turn – and to everyone’s surprise (including her's) she managed it on the first attempt! Perhaps it isn’t so surprising because she does move convincingly over her lower ski on the steeps!

Carve – Plough

The session was ended with imposing the hardest exercise of all on Alex – carving on one ski – pulling the leg inwards – while snowplough braking and sidelsipping the weighted inside ski. It’s even a nightmare attempting to explain it here. This exercise combines explicit control of rotation –  accurate placement of the centre of mass inside the turn, great awareness of the action of the femur in the hip joint and a feel for the use of the most important muscle groups. This has to be done in slow motion – but the big problem is that people don’t even know how a snowplough really works to start with so it’s a hard exercise to do. We will return to this…

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Brian - Alex 2

Today began with a long descent from the top of the Glacier chairlift (Solaise sector) all the way to the valley floor at Laisinant. Alex’s very first turn was a horrible stem so she was instantly pulled up on that and advised to centre her focus on her body and movements. The idea here was to warm up on the wide blue run which then connects to the “L” which is a far steeper “blue” run and narrow in parts. This was intended stretch Alex’s experience and technique. There wasn’t a lot to say to Alex at this point because she was doing a good job of containing her body rotation issues and just needed practice and appropriate feedback. Brian was generally not working the ski on the first half of his turns so he was asked to stand on the uphill edge of the uphill ski (inside edge of the foot) during turn initiation to try to ensure pressure on the ski. We would come back to this in more depth towards the end of the day.

Heading over to the Signal in Le Fornet I tested out Alex on some fairly steep, ski pisted off piste next to the piste to see if her pivoting and rotation control would handle it and she managed well. It wasn’t really much steeper than the wall on the blue slope, only the context was different though that can really throw people off for many reasons. The technique that Alex has been learning is universal – fitting into all skiing situations and not just limited to the piste. Once there is a solid understanding only minor adaptations are required for changing terrain and snow conditions.

Jumping – Range of Motion - (Turn Exit Dynamics)

Before going onto the off piste we worked a little on the main goal for today, which  was to create a greater range of motion of the legs. Both Alex and Brian jumped on the spot by retracting the heels so they had to learn to jump with leg extension – and absorb the landing with flexion. This teaches how to use the legs efficiently. The next step is to jump repeatedly while traversing – and then jump into a turn. Eventually we would just traverse and then jump into a turn changing edges in the process – leading on to then loading up the downhill ski in a turn and coordinating this force with an explosive release and jump into the next turn. This is strong use of dynamics – particularly “turn exit dynamics” – which is extremely important for off piste when the snow and terrain are tricky. The most important tool to guarantee a successful turn off piste is to finish the previous turn by coming strongly over the lower ski with the body – and this is best learned with leaping from that lower ski. In reality the body is being supported through dynamics while passing between the vertical and perpendicular and into the next turn. It’s one of the main keys to effective racing dynamics. Brian was quite effective with this when taking it into carved turns with strong forces to make it feel clear.

The next run was on steep terrain down the new red run from the top of the Signal. Alex coped well and naturally restrained her rotation better than ever when pivoting – which is surprising because nearly everyone else does the opposite. This indicated to me that she would potentially be able to cope with far more than most people off piste at this very early stage in her skill development.


In the video the jumping was taken to the next level with short swings. Alex here did astonishingly well for a first ever attempt at short swings. I think it’s the first time ever that I’ve seen anyone able to coordinate linked turns like this on their first attempt. There’s work to be done of course but this is way ahead of the curve already. Brian however requires detailed feedback at this stage. Short Swings are great for identifying shortcomings in technique.

  • Leg extension incomplete (heel retraction)
  • Skis pivoted mostly around their fronts (heels going from side to side) – instead of beneath the feet
  • Weight too far back – lifting fronts of skis – not jumping downhill over the downhill ski
  • Spine twisting the wrong way – endangering posture

The list of above issues ties in with Brian’s tendency to miss the first half of the turn and to reach out to the side with the ski pole (left hand side especially) interfering with dynamics as the turn turn progresses. There’s a kink of the body towards the outside of the turn affecting posture and being used as a braking action.

Carving

Alex is starting to get the feel for a ski locking on edge through a whole turn. This also encourages her to sink towards the inside of a turn to both build up fores and hold the ski locked on edge. Holding the body so far inside a turn is also good practice for developing dynamics range for off piste and all dynamic skiing. Brian is a lot more comfortable with his carving than with pivoting and is better centred over his skis. He is working here on trying to hold pressure on the front of the skis but still needs more – especially on the left side. This is achieved by getting the hip action correct and being able to sink down into the turn at the hip while maintaining pressure on the shin and front of the ski (without collapsing the ankle).



Off Piste

We skied a few off piste trails including the full “Pays Dessert”. Some of the skiing was in tricky non-ski-pisted snow that was broken up and crusted or wind packed but both Alex and Brian coped without incident focusing on dynamics.  The steep sections were ski pisted and so Alex coped well through pivoting.

Racing Timing

After analysing Brian’s short (wide stance) turns seen here at the end of the video we worked on altering his timing so that he would use the outside ski earlier in the turn – which would support more effective dynamics. The aim was to achieve maximum pressure at the outside apex of the turn and not at the bottom of the turn. Achieving the maximum pressure when the ski is still in the fall line gives a far safer outcome and better all round grip and performance. When the ski comes past the fall line pressure can still be kept forwards through sinking more at the hip (chiskiing) and keeping pressure on the shin – thus driving the skier across the hill towards the next apex…