Today began by correcting the canting alignment of Don’s ski boots and ended with him skiing with overall improved control of speed, turn completion, grip and coordination – as seen in the following video clip.
Don’s bone structure was placing him slightly on the outside edges of his feet - hence also the skis – thus contributing to a lack of grip. To correct for this the upper shaft of each ski boot had to be tilted slightly outwards. The boot’s mechanism required both canting bolts to be loosened and the rear forward tilt/flex control bolts also loosened. The adjustment mechanism is a bit tricky without a specialized tool but it was manageable and the canting achieved was appropriate. Later in the day Don remarked that he felt the boots were allowing him to stand flat now.
Poor equipment alignment adds to and compounds the type of skiing issues that Don has been dealing with – the lack of grip – snowplough – pushing skis outwards during the turn - rotating – stiff outer leg etc. etc… Alignment has nothing at all to do with footbeds and must be measured with the skier seated and legs locked out straight and parallel in front – with the hips flexed and pelvis / spine in correct upright posture. Shops never do this – they have the skier standing, legs bent and feet arches and ankles collapsing but hidden by the stiff boots.
Following our warm up run we went straight into a special form of sideslip – forward diagonal in direction, standing on the uphill edge of the uphill ski only, while on the inside edge of that foot to slightly flatten the ski. This exercise is partly to develop the coordination of standing this way – separating the edge of the foot and edge of the ski – being on only one leg and this being also the uphill leg.
Most turns are actually unconsciously started from this position anyway in parallel skiing but by happening in a fraction of a second people don’t spot it. Any turn where there is very little forward momentum needs to be started from this position and often even fast carving turns can use this too when the skier needs to change line by stepping, skating uphill or having to traverse the hill.
The exercise is also a prelude to ensuring strong pressure on the outside leg of the upcoming turn – which can be started on either edge of the ski depending on how dynamics are being employed. If there is only a traverse before the turn then standing up on this edge allows the skier to fall freely into the next turn on a strong supporting leg. (we’re not ready here to explore all the combinations and possibilities introduced by dynamics here yet! – so I’m keeping it simple…)
Skating across the hill can be done by employing the same foot/ski edge separation of the uphill leg/ski as used in the sideslip. Basically we skate across and only use the uphill edges of the skis. The exercise begins with several skates and on the final one just standing up on the uphill leg and allowing the body to fall over with gravity freely into a turn.
One major advantage of this exercise is that by standing up on this uphill ski on its uphill edge the turn can only be initiated by the centre of mass – there is no way the ski can be pushed outwards. The forward momentum makes this far easier than the pivot and also demonstrates that most turns actually start from this edge – not the inside edge as people are led to believe is necessary from snowplough onwards.
The skates across the hill were gradually reduced to one single skate. The key issue here is that prior to the turn initiation there is a strong push up from the downhill leg. Pushing up with the downhill leg is one major element of correct basic timing in skiing. Dynamics alone generates a down/up pendulum motion of the centre of mass – creating a pressure cycle on the skis. The end of the turn involves this up motion and this can be assisted with the downhill leg by pushing up. Note here the leg and ski are not pushed away – the ski grips and the centre of mass is pushed upwards. We are looking for a resonance where the dynamics and leg action are in sync – hence good and powerful timing. Resonance is nature’s amplifier – being why massive bridges can be brought down when a resonant frequency of motion is generated by wind with very little power.
I demonstrated “direct method” skating straight downhill and progressively introducing dynamics towards the inside of each skate – to show how the skating transformed into skiing as the ski began to arc due to the greater edge angles generating by the dynamics – but also how the skating action, rhythm and timing never altered.
Dynamics Part 2
Don picked up this one quickly! Until now we had only discussed how to accelerate the centre of mass into a turn – and I’d deliberately hidden the fact that we also need to deal with getting it back out of the turn.
Dynamics involves forward motion (unlike a pivot) and with this momentum as the skis cross the hill towards the end of the turn the turn is not completed until the skis are flat and the skier perpendicular to the mountain. This momentary position is called “neutral”. Until now we had only pushed up with the lower leg to step up the hill – but now I wanted Don to coordinate this pushing up to support the body coming across the skis – beyond the vertical and into perpendicular. This is actually how the “up” motion of the dynamic turn is controlled and Don saw this in a demonstration I did of a classic “hanger” turn where I’d stay on the lower ski in an exaggerated way right into the start of the next turn. Don described it accurately as “getting out of your own way”. He also described it as a “controlled fall” – which once beyond the vertical as you exit the turn is essentially correct.
First carving exercises were simple uphill edge traverses across a moderately steep slope. Both feet on their inside edges and both skis on their uphill edges. Holding the skis on edge involved many of the aspects of coordination and awareness that had been involved in the skating. When the skis bite they quickly turn the skier back up the hill so most people are initially surprised by this and unconsciously allow the skis to flatten. Correcting this is easiest by moving the centre of mass more over the uphill ski – at low speed it doesn’t matter which ski has the weight and we need two edges to give a stable platform. Don struggled to hold an edge and track across the hill correctly (leaving a sharp cut in the snow) with the right ski so this will require some practice and awareness.
On flatter ground we looked at how the edges were changed and the body went through neutral by crossing over the skis. This exercise is done statically using ski poles for support. The only way to change direction when carving is through the motion of the centre of mass.
It certainly wouldn’t do to skip pivot practice so once again I managed to push Don into a state of slightly frustrated confusion. Not to worry – some things take time to become clear. The pivoting eliminates all forward motion (across the hill) so that the body travels directly down the fall line. This is all about getting the ski to slip into the turn from the uphill edge. Dynamics are restrained by use of pole support with the pole planted firmly downhill and most importantly the key difference with regards to skiing itself is that the skis are always downhill of the body – there is no neutral phase where the centre of mass passes across the perpendicular. In fact the body remains almost vertical the whole time. This is used in skiing fall line deep powder, bumps and couloirs – and also skiing very short turns in a narrow corridor at low speed. These are all cases where the skis need to be kept downhill of the skier’s body on the mountain.
Coordination (feet, adductors etc) and timing are the same as for dynamic turns with forward momentum.
During the day we discussed the the most important thing for Don at the moment was to improve his speed control on steeper terrain – where his skis were tending to run away with him. The video clip was taken after he had been working on all of the above and shows how he was constructing his turns far more effectively and purposefully – hence controlling his speed. Awareness of how to structure and organize the components of a turn – through the components of the body, terrain and ski design – with a clear goal and purpose – is what lends towards the real inner rewards of skiing.
So far we have deliberately not looked at Don’s overall body management. There is a significant rotation issue that is linked to his “pushing out” of the skis. This rotation is not just because of his snowplough history but because he was told to “face downhill” which inevitably means facing the shoulders downhill and twisting the base of the spine directly. If anything Don’s rotation is a natural defense of his spine. Tomorrow we will look into this properly and to do so will apply “chi skiing” principles to activate the core muscles in defense of the spine and stop the hip and body rotations.