Sunday, July 31, 2016

Daisy & Tallulah …in the beginning…

Thanks once again to Jay’s creative filming and photography we have a record of both Daisy’s and Tallulah’s introductions to their new sports – at 3500m altitude on the Tignes glacier. It’s quite a remarkable place to have a beginner’s slope and extremely dependent upon cooperative weather. The girls both coped well with the high altitude.













Friday, July 29, 2016

Daisy Snowboard Special

Daisy having decided that she wants to snowboard had the relative peace of the summer pistes of Tignes to learn in safety. Jay took on the job and looked after Daisy, giving her the benefit of his huge experience and capability – plus loads of encouragement. It was good to see Daisy smiling and enjoying the whole experience including the incredible weather, fresh high altitude air and scenery. Meanwhile her little sister was taking Bernie for a ski (they make a very brief appearance in the video) and her twin brother was making great progress at both giant slalom and slalom higher up on the glacier. Not to forget to mention Mike – who by tagging along with Alex and working quietly away at things by himself managed to make significant progress in a short time. Unlike the children Mike is partly dealing with “unlearning” – removing a few well constructed barriers to perception.  Meanwhile Daisy is happy just having fun…









Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Alex 2016 Tignes Slalom Training day 5

Alex had managed to retain a clear and  firm grasp of his learning from the previous few days so we were able to move forward immediately. Developing Giant Slalom technique is a relatively complicated issue because the sport is currently dominated by absurd FIS regulations. Men’s ski carving radius is set at a minimum of 35 metres, which is greater than skis being used in racing the early 90s. There were proposals to increase this to a ridiculous 40 metres, making the skis almost straight as in the early 80’s, until the racers themselves almost unanimously protested against it. The point is that this situation dramatically affects skiing technique and efficiency. The pretext used by FIS is that it’s all about safety – but the reality is that they have no relevant statistics that can justify regression towards straight skis. The upshot of all of this is that to develop enough force to make the skis work the skiing has to be much more “jumpy”. We are seeing things returning like the old “Z” and “J” turns (the letter describes the shape) which are now just renamed “Stivoting”.  There will also be a trend towards using the backs of the skis to force them to bend where there is not enough force generated by the design to bend the fronts of the skis.

From a technical viewpoint however the art and science of skiing becomes more interesting with those equipment restrictions. Extreme carving technology tends to overwhelm everything else – the intelligence becoming concentrated within ski design instead of ski technique. One classic outcome of this is the huge division between racers and bump skiers (who do use almost straight skis). There is almost zero crossover of  skills between those disciplines.

Alex began the week with some basic flaws in his skiing – namely, not  standing strongly on the outside leg from the start of the turns and not using the front half of the skis. Alex figured out how to link skating (seen in his starts) to standing on the outside leg. He was asked to stand on the fronts of the heels and against the shins to be sure to feel the fronts of the skis being active. He worked on “Chi Skiing” pulling his outside hip backwards and activating his core muscles – generating natural hip angulation and control over both hip and upper body. The hip should always be “counter rotated” to the direction of the turn more than the shoulders for core strength and integrity to be be attained and for the postural muscles to function by reflex. The week was started out with smooth carving because this gives time to assimilate those fundamentals properly. One sign of development was that the left arm and ski pole stopped being waved high in the air on each turn once Alex started to stand on his left leg properly. This example is useful for clarifying the difference between cause and effect – where trying to correct the arms themselves would achieve nothing as they are an effect not a cause. Just like most mental activity is unconscious most physical activity is by unconscious reflex. Correction of one basic underlying problem can have surprising outcomes. Trying to correct hip rotation without awareness of counter-rotation of the lower spine (and pelvic tilt in some cases) is also unproductive as it is also an effect. Creating angulation by turning the shoulders downhill is a parody which is ubiquitous in ski teaching failing to address the underlying cause of hip rotation and creating more problems as a result – including damage to the lower back. However, the breakthrough for Alex came only after working specifically on pivoting.

Skis are designed to work specifically in two main ways – carving and pivoting. The underlying body mechanics remain the same – which is why there really should be a crossover of skills between disciplines. Standing on the uphill edge of the uphill ski and the inside edge of his foot (inside the ski boot) Alex was able to eventually feel how the turn was made by the motion of his centre of mass being supported by the ski. This exercise allowed him to develop the confidence to stand on one leg patiently through a whole turn – with the ski slipping into the turn by pivoting without resistance from the top edge. The body control and understanding gained from controlled pivoting was then transferred to the long carved turns. When Alex was standing on his leg correctly we could then work on his range of motion, timing and increasing angulation to tighten turns – however the limitation was reached due to ski technology and trying to carve the turns entirely caused him to become late for the gates when the slope steepened – being harder to get pressure to build on the ski (or centre of mass) at the start of the turn (effect of slope geometry and gravity). This is where the stivoting comes in.

Whether someone is learning bumps or GS they are normally taught to push the skis outwards to apply a torque to pivot them. This is an enormous error. Not only is it a disaster contravening all aspects of ski design but it works against all aspects of body mechanics and long term health. Alex understood clearly from the pivoting exercises that you pull inwards – towards the fronts of the skis – using the adductor muscles if required. You do not push outwards. This permitted Alex to achieve the stivot in GS straight away without any complications. We exaggerated the jumpiness so as to slam down on the edges once the skis had changed direction and generate maximum force on the edges for grip – carving from the fall line. Alex was able to combine this with his improved angulation and control of rotation to greatly tighten up his turns and improve his overall line – beyond that provided by purely carving. He was able to feel the fronts of the skis and his body was well centred over the skis – and arms working naturally. This is quite a lot to hold together so he did extremely well over only 5 days. The mix of skills in carving and pivoting will provide a good technical base and his body awareness can continue to grow and develop.

Alex responds well to accurate information – even though he might not fully understand it at the time. When he starts to think about things there is a natural confusion that arises – because the counter intuitive nature of what he is required to do challenges him in a constructive manner. There is nothing wrong with this confusion – it is a healthy part of the process of growing. When advice is “simplistic” always be on guard – but also be on guard against those who mask their ignorance behind mystique or authority. Good questions deserve good answers.

During the week 4 year old Tallulah was successfully turned into a parallel skier by Bernie. I showed her the video of her skiing later in the afternoon and her immediate response was “That’s my teacher getting in the way!”. Yes! … a real character! Daisy was happy on her snowboard being expertly looked after by Jay – there is video to come for that later on. Thanks to both professionals for their excellent support over the week.

Alex made a similar breakthrough in downhill mountain biking as he did in skiing. My role here was only accompanying him as an adult but not in any professional capacity – and sure enough I’m the one with bruises all over my body not him! By the way – body armour works really well as do full face helmets! It was great to see him really enjoying it and at 11 years old I’m sure that in a couple of years there’ll be no way to keep up with him.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Alex 2016 Tignes Slalom Training day 4

Alex started today in a positive manner at the same level as he had finished with yesterday. This progress meat that we could move on to new aspects of technique. The fact that he is standing far better on his outside leg during the turns means that he is skiing much more symmetrically and his left pole is no longer stuck up in the air all the time as a result of reflexes – not a conscious change
I wanted Alex to improve his timing and feel for the turns – which in racing are far less rounded than for controlled recreational skiing. The apex of the turn should be to the outside of the pole (not below it) and the idea is to prevent any outwards drift beyond this apex and harness the force of the skis to slingshot back across the hill for the next turn. The corresponding mental image is of a vertical, concave “wall of death” to ride on each apex. You don’t hold on to the turn or try to start the next one by carving immediately – but instead you use the straight and direct slingshot across the hill (torso facing downhill still – in the direction of the course not the next pole) then slam the body over and the skis on edge for the next turn. If the skis need to face more downhill for this slam to be effective then you “stivot” – which is really just a pivot – pulling the skis inwards while slightly airborne. This minimises the distance travelled to get across the hill and maximises the grip that can be attained due to the extra momentum across the hill (Grip and pressure are increased with greater speed). We are more concerned with our velocity across the hill than down the hill. Alex was able to understand and see this – and felt the increased speed accordingly. GS skis are not designed to carve all turns – the minimum radius being limited for this reason. Getting maximum pressure on the skis when they point downhill seems to avoid loss of speed from from the skis digging in and carving all the way around – above and below the apex. When doing this in free skiing there is far greater ease skiing fast in rough terrain because you are not fighting gravity so much in the fall line.

Tallullah Mountain Biking

Mont Blanc

Tignes Val Claret bike trails…

Val d’Isère Glacier – viewed from La Grande Motte

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Alex 2016 Tignes Slalom Training day 3

Alex turned up this morning half asleep. That’s quite a normal phenomenon on the third day of skiing. The only problem was that he’d completely forgotten everything he had learned the day before.

Today the focus was Giant Slalom so Alex had his new GS skis and shoulder/arm protection. Clearly he went into his first GS run thinking only about carving and going fast because his skiing immediately regressed to be exactly as it was before all of our work yesterday.

We repeated yesterday’s exercises – standing on the uphill ski and staying on it when initiating a turn. Alex had returned to rushing the turn, forcing the ski around and failing to use the centre of mass so that the ski would take him around instead. We worked on this and he improved again. Once again Alex told me that he didn’t understand what I meant by “stand on the uphill leg” at the start of the turn. Well – it means exactly that – just stand on it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Finally; I asked Alex to stand side on to me and fall against me – during the falling and floppiness he could feel the weight coming on to the leg nearest me. Then I asked him to stand on his other leg and push hard against me  - those are the feelings we are looking for from the uphill leg at the start of the turn – and then all the way through the turn. The sensation is like skating – one leg at a time – but taken in an arc. Despite all of this Alex then asked if this was the same a putting pressure on the ski – the dialogue he is picking up from his school. Stand on a leg then show me how you “press” on anything! You can’t. Gravity is doing all of that. Pressure is complex – it is influenced most of all by speed as the ski deflects you through a turn – it is influenced by gravity, the geometry of the slope, muscular impulses, dynamics, the ski carving or pivoting. However there is nothing much complicated about “Stand on your leg”! 

The real issue here is that we are trying to “pressure” the Centre of Mass – if we choose to discuss pressure. All skiing is about the relationship between the centre of mass and the ski. The ski responds and works with the centre of mass – a feedback driven disequilibrium system. All good skiers and athletes are aware of the centre of mass – a spin or roll take place around the centre of mass. You project the centre of mass in skiing and the skis will support this. Standing on the uphill leg and projecting the centre of mass downhill into the new turn is scary (which is why people mostly don’t do it!) but it’s what actually works and is where the fun of skiing really comes from. The following video shows Alex skiing much better in GS after sorting this out – and getting more use of the fronts of his skis (instead of being stuck on the backs). He is actually becoming well centred on his skis now – but that also comes naturally through reflex by standing appropriately on the outside leg. Alex also understood to stand up between the turns – thus generating even more range of pressure on the Centre of mass – and the ski. Alex understands that if there is not enough time or distance between turns he can retract the lower leg (or both) to get out of his turn – but this is best practised after the basic and principle movement pattern is fully developed and integrated.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Alex 2016 Tignes Slalom Training day 2

Today we started looking carefully at Alex’s technique and initially it looked like a long and tough job to sort out. Eventually it mostly boiled down to one basic problem – he did not realise that standing on the outside ski at the start of the turn really means standing on it. To figure out that this was the problem we had to go through several exercises that Alex found very difficult.
  1. Step sideways through a mini slalom in ski boots – the feet always pointing in the direction of travel and the pelvis always pointing downhill.
  2. Pivot from the uphill ski, uphill (outside) edge of ski, downhill edge of foot – into a clean turn standing up on one ski.
Alex found it hard to separate the body parts for exercise one and would turn his body and forget to direct his feet. Part of this exercise was to have each change of direction initiated with a pulling back of the outside hip – but he frequently used the wrong hip. This exercise really is a visualisation of real skiing – so it shows that Alex is not perceiving the fundamental issues properly. This will have to be repeated each day now until the correct movements are automatic. Alex did not believe that racers face downhill with the torso during turns – so I have attached a photo sequence here to show what really happens. He also did not believe that there should be flexion at the hip… both photos are here to demonstrate…

Alex struggling on the exercises…

One main reason Alex struggled to stand up on the uphill/outside ski was that he was looking for grip from the inside edge. For this reason I chose to get him to work on the pivot so that he would understand that there is no need to rush the ski around and get them onto the inside edge. Alex had great difficulty staying on the outside leg through a controlled turn initiation. Skiing through the slalom on one ski was impossible for him for this reason.

Alex was also unclear about why not to push the skis outwards. I demonstrated that you cannot twist a ski downhill with either the leg or body when standing on it on it’s uphill edge – which in the video clip above he was clearly doing Gradually Alex began to feel this and develop the confidence to pull inwards to the turn instead of push outwards. I demonstrated the differences to him so that he could identify them – and also see how similar pushing out and pulling in look to the eye and how easy it is to make mistakes here. Very few professionals are even aware of this.

From this point onwards Alex was able to tackle slalom by standing up on his new outside leg at the start of the turn and pull it inwards – which automatically sorted out most of his hip and rotation problems, tightened his turns and improved his range of motion and timing. He only fell over in the video because he was late for the gate. The two images taken from the video below show how he is much more symmetrical than before.

Towards the end we focused to getting more pressure on the fronts of the skis - enabled though better angulation - just to tighten the line a bit more and make Alex more secure. His best run of the day was his final one when doing this. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Alex 2016 Tignes Slalom Training day 1

First day back on snow and with new skis – so things are a bit fast for Alex to keep up with.

The main goal for today was to begin working on properly developing hip angulation and the use of the whole ski instead of just the backs of the skis. I also needed time to observe Alex to see what he was really doing. Instructions given included using pressure on the front of the boot (shin) with weight on the heel to prevent the ankle collapsing. I asked Alex to begin to start to feel which part of his foot he was using and which part of the ski he was using. Until now he has had no awareness of either. The heel/shin pressure is facilitated by pulling back the hip of that leg – but without pulling back the shoulder or the foot. (Chi Skiing)  This is difficult to learn but extremely powerful as it activates the core muscles and creates hip angulation naturally.

Just trying to face the pelvis more downhill did manage to make Alex more agile from turn to turn – but he didn’t really hold on to this new feeling for long as too many other issues creeped back in. Alex tends to rotate the upper body and pelvis into the turn to the right so the left hip sticks out and he compensates by inclining more. The inclination is effective but not exactly being done for the right reasons! On his left side he does the opposite – facing the upper body outwards and falling onto the inside ski. There is just a lot of work to do to get everything in the right place and organised correctly. Alex needs to take on board more information and realise that progress can only be made rapidly by thinking hard about it – not by trying to race. It takes a great deal of focus to change movements that have already become habits. His dynamics are good – this being why he gets good results – but dynamics alone are not enough if progress is to be made.
Tomorrow I want to see pressure on the fronts of the skis for a change  and a far greater range of motion at the hip joints. I’d like to begin to see a symmetry of movement and not see the left hip stuck out of the turn and the left arm and pole up high in the air as a consequence. We may do some groundwork outside of the poles.