Today was Allison”s last day of her holiday – but only third day on skis. What’s good to see is her enthusiasm of skiing returning. Even if this holiday turns out not to be long enough the important thing is to have enjoyed the skiing and mountains and to take away that positive memory – and to have put work and stress out of your thoughts for a while!
We started out by taking the chairlifts up the Face de Bellevarde and then having a warm up run on the Vert. During warming up I’m taking a look frequently to see what is going on. Although Allison was working on her skiing I’m more taking mental notes of any weaknesses that stand out. This process gives me a good idea what is working and what needs to be focused on for development. I could see the dominance of old patterns of movement in Allison’s skiing and had the feeling that today would be better just focusing on a few core skills and spending more time giving feedback and correction. When a skier has only been taught one movement pattern – and this pattern is defensive – then it can be very hard to prevent it from dominating everything and it can seriously interfere with learning anything new. Hard work and willingness aided with feedback and correction will however overcome anything.
Prior to skiing we had a brief discussion about visual perception. Most people think that they can watch a skier and the work out what is going on. However, it doesn't work that way. The problem is that you can actually only see what you understand - it's exactly the other way around. When something is properly explained then suddenly you can see it everywhere. The newborn baby is the prime example of this. Born blind the brain and eyes work perfectly - but there is no understanding of the world. This understanding is built through all the senses by playing and gradually vision emerges - just like language emerges. We simply don't see things we don't understand - which is actually quite scary to realise.
Yesterday Allison had discovered the use of the pivot in a tricky situation in difficult conditions. That’s not normally the ideal place to learn – but thanks to her determination it worked. Swinging the skis downhill into the fall line off a bump and into a steep drop – is very counterintuitive and against all your normal emotions. It takes commitment and nerve to do it – let alone to learn it in such a place.
Today we would be on a green slope and although the emotional issues of pivoting wouldn’t be so prevalent here the flatness would demand more subtlety and skill making it all far trickier. We repeated the static exercise of me supporting Allison through a pivoted turn. I asked her to step up onto her uphill ski and let me take the weight of her body instead of shifting it uphill. With me supporting the weight it was easy to simply start the centre of mass moving downhill and to guide her through a pivoted turn. During a turn on her own I would be replaced by a pole plant – the pole taking the weight of the body. This re-distribution of weight both makes the pressure on the ski lighter so that it can slip more easily and it allows a restrained motion of the centre of mass to guide the pivoting ski through it’s action. I wanted Allison to make this connection between my support and the pole support. Most skiers don’t know what ski poles are actually for – and this is their main purpose – for giving support in pivoting turns.
The pivot we would be working on is the pure version – where there is no forward motion of the skis, everything coming from a sideslipping action. The purpose of this is to be able to turn very tightly and to check speed by always being on a set of uphill edges except of a fraction of a second while the skis point directly downhill. This contrasts with racing or snowplough turns where the idea is to have the turning ski on its inside edge accelerating downhill.
Pivoting can be used anywhere that “fall line skiing” is required – such as down a narrow path, steep couloir, moguls or in powder snow. The only requirement is that the ski is able to slip sideways. When off piste snow won’t permit easy sideways motion of the skis then only racing type turns with strong dynamics will work. Pivoting is in fact how mogul skiers ski bumps and the reason that Mogul competition and Slalom competitions are totally separate disciplines with never the same skiers. Usually each discipline is so segregated that they are totally unaware of each other’s different skills.
Allison was far stronger on her right leg so we worked on that at first until success started to emerge. The discomfort of standing on the left leg became very clear to see. There was an overwhelming urge to keep the right leg on the ground and stem out the left leg instead. Rather than allowing frustration to build we took breaks from this and returned at intervals for a few minutes to try again. Eventually Allison was successfully pivoting on either leg.
The outside ski pivot is the simplest but most important version so just focusing on taking hold of the basic skill was the most important objective.
Returning to skating there was some confusion to iron out. To simplify things we did “star turns” by turning on the spot by diverging the skis and stepping. Allison was a bit confused about which leg to skate from when turning. It’s very simply the right leg that pushes/skates to go left – with the left leg being lifted and stepped. During a turn you can only lift the inside ski inwards – you can t get any power to skate from it. Allison spotted her own tendency to end up in a plough with converging skis instead of diverging.
The video shows very clearly that Allison is not managing to really skate into the new turn – she in fact skates her body towards the outside leg. This issue is more prevalent when turning to the right and when supposed to skate using the left leg. Part of the underlying reason for this difficulty is that this is the direction Allison was previously taught to move the body – to the outside of the turn. More practice and feedback with careful exercises are needed. It’s only the second attempt for Allison at skating exercises.
The two main fundamentals of skiing are dynamics and skating – with core use coming next. Skiing is a “one legged” sport and even when two legs are on the ground you are really standing on one leg when turning and the body must be working through one hip joint. The skating exercises develop the necessary movement mechanics.
Breaking the Rules
Allison’s previous movement patterns had left her with the problems of facing the shoulders downhill and messing up her posture. The turn shape was all wrong with the start being rushed and a two footed stance and braking action through the second half of the turn. Despite working on dynamics and ChiSkiing, with the feet and adductors being active this retrograde pattern was still being strongly exhibited.
Sometimes you just have to break the rules! I asked Allison to ski by turning her shoulders towards the inside of the turns instead of facing them downhill. This is what Allison is doing in the final scene of today’s video. I asked her to still use the ChiSkiing for the pelvis while dong this but hadn’t yet mentioned to avoid swinging the arms around (they should always be in the peripheral vision). The effect is to remove nearly all of the old blocked movement pattern. Dynamics look far more obvious with significant inclination into the turn and the posture looks far more natural. The turns were also rounder and smoother through the start with the stance being less two footed and feet a more natural distance apart.
We are still breaking the rules here – you don’t really want to turn the shoulders into the inside of the turn all the way round – but here is was just acting as an antidote to years of training to be excessively in the other direction and blocking the centre of mass from moving correctly.
Much to Allison’s consternation I introduced “something completely different” close to the end of our session – Carving. While Pure pivoting has no forward motion of the ski pure carving has no sideways motion of the ski. When you can do the two extremes competently then you can do everything in between effectively and with a purpose.
We started with just traversing across the hill to leave two railed tracks. It’s important to remain on the inside edges of the feet and uphill edges of the skis. The railed lines are encourage by leaning the body slightly uphill to get the edges to bite. A wide stance prevents you from falling over and weight may go onto the uphill ski without any problem.
I demonstrated statically how in carving edges are change buy rolling the skis over though moving the centre of mass from one side to the other. First attempts at carving have to be very shallow turns on very flat terrain because the forces generated are overwhelming and most people completely fail to hold the skis on edge when initially confronted with this sensation. Today’s objective here was just to clarify this key function of the skis and define what “carving” really is.