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.

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