Thursday, March 17, 2016

Allison - Session 2

Cool but clear and sunny weather today, just right for concentrating on technique and making progress. We started off with a warm up run on the Madeleine to allow Allison the opportunity to revise yesterday’s input. Without prompting from me Allison offered the reflection that her skiing felt completely different and so much less effort. That’s all I really need to hear to know that we can move on and don’t have to iron out problems with the previous day’s work.

Self Organisation

There is an underlying approach that I use in teaching and it’s the principle of “self organisation”. This understanding comes from Complexity and Chaos theory. Basically, in a complex system (as most natural things are), you have cells (or modules/parts) that are related to others in a network with connections. (Think brain cells and neural connections). We can think of the connections as “rules”. When a system has a limited number of individual parts and only a few rules connecting them then the system self-optimises. This happens even in basic chemistry and was first shown by Nobel prize winning laureate Ilya Prigogine. The same principle was identified as how the brain learns by Edward de Bono – for which he devised the term “Lateral Thinking”.

With ski teaching all we need to do is identify the key components – such as dynamics, skating, posture etc and work on each for a short while – constantly moving on so that all the components are covered. It’s a mistake to try to “learn” one thing well – because the real learning happens by self-optimisation. People become afraid at first with this approach because they don’t feel in control of the learning process – but in reality they never are anyway!

Today’s instruction began even before the warm up by introducing “skating’'” across the flats.


Skating across the flats I quickly explained that you have to diverge the skis very widely so as to be able to fall forwards between them. Propulsion comes from gravity and this falling – then the leg extending behind is using the glutes to maintain height and meanwhile the other leg is just recovered and dropped down beneath you. This way it isn’t a battle with the quads alone trying to push you along.  Allison could skate fine – even if her ski boots do not have enough canting available to ensure that she has a good edge grip. She is obviously compensating for that equipment deficiency well.

Connecting dynamics with skating was introduced by using diverging skating steps to turn – incrementally – on flatter terrain. The idea here is to change direction by stepping – moving the centre of mass inwards with each step and diverging the skis. The inside ski tends to land on its outside edge during the turn but the foot remains on its inside edge. Yesterday’s work with the separation of foot edge from ski edge was partially in preparation for this exercise. We didn’t really spend enough time on this because the terrain wasn’t really flat enough. When you want to turn more tightly all that is required is a wider step onto the inside ski. You can’t really overdo this movement inwards so practicing it is a great way to improve dynamics in general. If you do err then it’s always better to err by moving in too much than not enough.

Due to terrain steepness I just asked Allison to step into the turn to initiate it by diverging the downhill ski into the new turn  - rather than try to step all the way through the turn. Later when we returned to this (video clip) it was a bit confusing for Allison because we had been working on an aspect of dynamics and which meant staying longer on the downhill ski – then I suddenly asked her to skate into the turn by lifting the downhill ski! My bad! It was only after filming that I realised where the confusion came from.

End of Turn Dynamics

Linking skating to dynamics further it was necessary to introduce the real effect of dynamics at the end of a turn. When a motorbike goes into a turn on flat ground you can see that it falls into the turn. Exiting the turn it comes back up. This is the same timing required in skiing. Down / Up timing. This is best viewed as relative to the snow by mentally removing the slope.

With forward momentum the turns are completed with the skier on flat skis going across the slope but perpendicular to the slope. I held Allison in this position so she could feel it. It’s not the same as being vertical – which only relates to gravity and hold you on your uphill edges. Completing a turn means getting the body and skis into this format – perpendicular and across the hill – and this can only be a passing moment within a dynamic movement.

It’s the job of the ski to bring you up – that’s how a ski works. Using the downhill ski to bring you up (like the motorbike) to complete a turn is a fundamental aspect of skiing. I had Allison hold onto a pole and pulled her physically through a turn transition like this (statically and supported) so that she could feel what it’s like to come up and over the downhill ski. You can actually remain on that ski even longer and enter the start of the next turn on it – and doing so is called a “hanger” turn as you hang on longer on that ski. I demonstrated hanger turns so that Allison could visibly see the process as this is a good way to help people understand.

Skating uses the same timing – down / up. Linking the up motion to the up motion of a skating action to complete the turn creates the most dynamic, rhythmic, natural and functional use of the legs. I showed this to Allison by simply skating straight downhill and then introducing some dynamics without stopping the skating. Allison was specifically asked not to try this at this stage – though she was able to have a go on much flatter terrain and could feel the turning just happening.


There is a fixed page on ChiSkiing here:

Allison was aware to some extent that she had postural issues in skiing. Nearly everyone does. I think she will remember this session very clearly due to her own expertise and interest in the subject so I won’t recount it in complete detail. Suffice to say that “shoulders down the hill” twists the spine the wrong way! The spine has to be twisted the right way – from a very active movement of the pelvis during turn initiation – in counter rotation to the actual turn. This allows the core to function by reflex. The alternative is a complete collapse of posture. The key here is in making this the first act – always! Motion begins at the centre – allowing everything to align and connect. In the video below – forget the skating – the posture is greatly improved through ChiSkiing.

The “walking” was to show how people systematically “get it wrong”! We worked a little on ChiWalking uphill and using the glutes and gravity correctly.


Finishing off the day we skied down the “L” run and I’d envisioned it as being nicely groomed and prepared as were all the other runs – but it was a mess. We were both unprepared for that situation and though I didn’t want this just yet for Allison we had to make the best of it and try to turn it into something positive.

Thankfully we had spent some time on pivoting yesterday because I was able then to easily explain how to use bumps to make the ski tips airborne and then swing them easily downhill and into a turn. Allison’s apprehension in the narrow, steep and bumpy passage was due to attempting to stem the uphill ski uphill against the outside edge of the ski – so realising that instead it just takes a small amount of dynamics – supported by the ski pole – and the nerve to pull the ski tips downwards pivoting into the turn – is a massive step forwards. This is how confidence grows.

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