Friday, April 1, 2016

Robert 6

All week the overall planning decisions for the day have come from the group and they have been consistently good and appropriate. Today’s weather was once again a mix of Lombard and Foehn winds with high daytime temperatures affecting even the North faces – so the decision to focus on technical development for two of the least confident skiers in the group was a very good choice. During the week I ended up working  with 18 of the group in a complete spectrum of circumstances – which has certainly meant a lot of writing here!

Video clip – working on dynamics…

Warm Up

During our warm up skiing Nina wasn’t looking too relaxed though she was clearly attempting to control her body rotation. Isa looked more comfortable and a bit more active on her feet so the initial focus would be on Nina to begin the session.

Nina explained that she felt anxious when starting the day and when asked what she was focusing on she said that her focus was on trying to face the shoulders and pelvis downhill and to bend down going into the turn – something that Ben had been teaching her. During our second off piste day I mentioned to everyone that Ben’s skiing was the most technically correct and stable of the group – though I didn’t explain that this was mostly due to his timing. Ben used a natural down/up movement whereas everyone else in the group was reversing this with an up/down timing learned in ski schools. (Though everyone else did have some natural timing too – which is why the general skiing level was competent off piste)  When Nina was asked  to show me what she had been working on I was pleased to see that Ben had taught her correct down/up timing. Only a few moments later an ESF instructor passed by giving a perfect demonstration of the opposite up/down timing and with full rotation of the body – no facing downhill. All fully qualified instructors worldwide are trained to do this to a high level of precision (with or without rotation) – but it’s still pure nonsense. (When I coach instructors for exams I tell them to verbally describe this up/down timing as in the text book (extending up from the uphill leg) – but to physically change it for their demo so that the up motion is executed from the downhill ski only and through the end of the turn and into the turn transition. This way the demo looks totally excellent to the examiner and he can’t perceive that the extension was actually made during the very final part of the turn and not at the start of the new turn. Later in this session we would work on a similar turn called the “Hanger” turn to improve dynamics.)

Chi Skiing

Taking the cue from the work Ben was already doing with Nina the most important thing was to correct how the rotation was being dealt with. Facing the shoulders downhill simply destroys the lower back because it deactivates the postural reflexes. This is another fundamental error propagated by the international ski teaching establishment. The solution is to face only the pelvis “downhill”. This principle was developed by me from studying the book “ChiRunning” by Danny Dreyer 

While looking into the “Chi” concept I was worried about the mystical side of it all and so looked into the concept of “energy” in general – the results of which were fascinating and are in a short article here:

For the sake of simplicity we can refer to the pelvis as being “counter rotated”. The following text on “Chi Skiing” (counter rotated pelvis) is copied and pasted from yesterday’s blog with only the names being changed…

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.

Both Nina and Isa in turn were 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.

By the end of the session Nina did comment that she was not getting a sore back whereas yesterday when turning the shoulders downhill she was. This is the primary reason why I decided to tackle this issue – attempting to nip certain problems in the bud before they had a chance to develop.

Nina was trying to generate down/up motion by using the legs – but other than through skating this is actually done through dynamics by lowering the centre of mass towards the snow – either through overall body inclination or a combination of inclination and hip angulation. We proceeded to work both on skating and dynamics – which would also be of more direct benefit to Isa.

This photograph of Ted Ligety shows how the outside leg does not necessarily bend to get the centre of mass down low. This shot is probably near the start or middle of a turn so there are no rotational issues evident – he simply looks like he is making a huge skate (albeit ariborne!)


Skating and dynamics are the main building blocks of skiing. Yesterday the group was introduced to skating as a way to cultivate the action of counter rotating the pelvis. Countering the hip on the skating leg makes the skating action far stronger and so the two actions fit together and enhance each other. We skated on the flats to try to feel the core muscles being engaged. Nina needs to work on her skating so this was a useful exercise for her. Much of her insecurity comes from not being comfortable sliding on one leg only – and  Isa is the same. For Isa it would be the use of dynamics that would provide the connection to "one leg" sensations.

I demonstrated by skating straight downhill (shallow gradient) and then falling to the inside of each stride to generate dynamics and convert the skating into skiing. This was to begin to show how to generate down/up motion from the legs/ hips (angulation) and dynamics (falling into each stride/turn and coming up to complete it). Correct timing in skiing comes from skating with the legs – down/up – and toppling into the turn  – as opposed to the artificial ski school up/down.


At last we could move onto a subject specifically for Isa – “Dynamics”. Nina had already been introduced to this so Isa was taken through the standard introductory exercises – found in detail of this fixed page:

When the basic idea was understood we then used skating step turns to show how complete beginners can develop into parallel skiers in only an hour from the start. The complete beginner’s progression is here:  Skis go from  diverging to parallel very naturally, within the first hour normally because the correct dynamics are integrated into a skated step turn and the correct biomechanics are also integrated. Snowplough uses the wrong muscle groups – pushing the skis outwards and twisting the feet inwards – whereas skating pulls the ski inwards and pulls the feet onto their inside edges. The displacement of the body inwards is the beginning of dynamics and for the beginner to ski parallel they only need to have a little speed and then start the skate – but instead of lifting the ski they just commence the movement of the centre of mass – and a turn is made. Carrying out those beginner exercises appeared to clarify dynamics better to both Isa and Nina.


We looked at pivoting to show Isa the fallacy of thinking that the ski always needs to turn on its inside edge as is taught in a snowplough. The full compliment of exercises and demos are found here: 

Bumps were used to teach how to swing the fronts of the skis  (when suspended in the air) into a turn using controlled dynamics. Here I was using this to emphasise the need to always “pull inwards” and not push outwards no matter whether pivoting or not.

End of Turn Dynamics

Now both Nina and Isa were heading into new territory. The end of the turn is the critical part of it. It’s important to know how to constructively use the energy in a turn. Pressure builds up as you sink down into a turn and in the second half develop greater edge angle due to slope geometry and confront greater resistance to gravity. This pressure is used to eventually allow the ski to lift you up – coordinated if necessary with a push up from the outside (downhill) leg.

The best way to demonstrate this is with the “Hanger turn”. Basically, the turn is completed on the downhill leg – including the whole transition into the next turn. Only when actually entering the next turn is the new outside ski allowed to come down. This is an exaggerate display of how dynamics are used to complete a turn and link to the next one. If anything is critical for off piste skiing this is it. This “up” motion at the end of the turn is what brings stability and flow. However, it’s scary to do do because coming over that lower ski with the body can be intimidating – until you discover that it’s your skiing passport to freedom and security!

In the video clip Isa is managing to come to grips with basic dynamics, especially the start of the turns.  Nina is coping a little better with the flow from the end of the turn – connecting the turns a little better. This is a good solid start from both.

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