Yesterday was the final day of just directly feeding information to Don. Three days is a pretty rapid crash course in fundamental principles that have taken me thirty years to work out. Our main goal so far has been to establish an understanding and common vocabulary – totally different from any of Don’s previous experience in skiing. We got there. Needless to say this is quite a huge task for anyone to deal with but Don handled it well, feeling real changes, progress and overcoming confusion. The main obstacles to this process come from the fact that international ski instruction is based on appeasing people’s emotions rather than challenging them. People are told to “balance”, make a stable snowplough, push out the leg and start to twist the ski into the turn etc. etc. Those are all utterly wrong things to do and lead to skiing purgatory (intermediate plateau) but they are appealing to the emotions. Everything that actually works is initially unappealing to the emotions and totally counter intuitive. Once the emotional moves are ingrained and the pattern burned into the brain – it literally takes over and injects confusion into any efforts to learn opposing but appropriate material. Don has done seriously well in challenging the grip of this process – a grip that some people can never escape.
I asked Don to use his slalom skis again today because they would be useful for both working on short turns and developing carving skills. Unfortunately we only managed to repeat one of yesterday’s carving exercises and didn’t get very far with it because we were consumed with the more pressing need to work on constructively and safely handing steep terrain. For the first time we were involved in a developmental feedback process where Don could receive correction and more specific information going beyond our basic principles.
Steeps Video Clips…
- Good control of rotation and lively rhythm (getting out of your own way)
- Good speed control and attention to detailed mechanics
- Good use of the front of the ski and control of rotation
Upper / Lower Body Separation (or integration?)
Upper / Lower Body Separation had been in my mind for developing the carving and improving the body rotation issues. My intention was to begin with carving and the more static action of applying “chi-skiing” actions with the pelvis – working from the core – and then bring this into short turns. However we gravitated towards just homing in directly on those issues as they apply to short turns and steep terrain.
Two separate exercises were carried out with skis off. First of all we repeated yesterday’s exercise of scribing an arc in the snow with the ski boot. The exercise was extended further though: Pelvis facing downhill with two poles for support (arms straight) feet across the hill. Outside boot scribing an arc and inside boot acting as a support pivoting on its heel. The key here is to use the chi movement as the leg comes around downhill of the body and to hold the centre of mass uphill – increasing angulation. Then the body (facing downhill) moves across the downhill leg supported by the poles and the process is repeated in the other direction. This is a simulation of the internal mechanics and the overall motions of the centre of mass during a tight turn – with upper / lower body separation.
Exercise two was jump turns in the ski boots but integrating the mechanics of the first exercise. The overall goal was to develop awareness of upper / lower body separation. Video clip “one” followed those exercises and the snappy rhythm and mechanics are largely due to the work done here.
One of the main tenets of dynamic skiing is that the skier orients the body perpendicular to the slope. (This is actually not true for pivoting – but we will ignore that for the time being as it does not involve forward momentum.) A skier in a traverse is in the vertical, travelling across the slope and this is similar to the final phase of a dynamic turn. Going into a dynamic turn requires a tilting of the body downhill so that though the middle of the turn the skier is not vertical but perpendicular to the slope. Supporting the body exiting the existing turn on the downhill ski actually gets the body already close to perpendicular to the slope before the new turn even starts. If we are just following the skis around facing across the hill with the body then we don’t really sense this action for what it really is. Separating upper and lower body so the the upper body is facing downhill at this moment makes it clear that you are launching into the perpendicular very early. Having the body oriented this way (with separation) can confuse movements so in coaching I normally never start using this too soon – waiting until good dynamics and supporting actions are already in place.
Closing the turns
Speed is controlled on the steeps by closing the turns – which makes all of the above described issues harder and requires more work. Video clip “two” was of Don working on perpendicularity and closing the turns. Don isn’t quite so fluid here but he is in complete control of his line and speed.
Rhythm is a key component in skiing. Rhythm generates stability and resonance (amplification). Racing is about making and breaking rhythm and courses are set specifically to this pattern. Don was encouraged to generate rhythm to help generate appropriate forces and to feel how it all knits together.
Racing Timing (Not closing the turns)
On one run I asked Don to try not closing off the turn and to try to exit the turn early while still on the downhill leg. Most of the speed control would come from about 2/3rds of the way around the turn but not at the end. The idea is to exit the turn before you think it is even necessary. This is the start of learning timing that is used for controlled higher speed skiing, including fast skiing on rough terrain or off piste even in cruddy snow. Don felt the effect and enjoyed it.
Front of Ski (Ball of Foot/Shin Pressure)
Dealing with ice makes most people freak out. Commonly the only advice is to tread on it lightly as if on eggshells. Wrong! Racers simply use even more aggressive dynamics and sharper skis. The key is simply “pulling in” instead of pushing out. Push the skis outwards on ice and you are on your bum. Skiing well on steep ice is best achieved by exploiting the fronts of the skis – with good upper / lower body separation (upper body tilted forwards at the hip) – standing up on the ball of the foot (to activate the anterior tibialis and stiffen the ankle) – pressing on the shin to engage the the front of the ski strongly. You are still pulling the ski inwards but if it loses grip then you slide with it under control. Don managed this and video clip “three” is with him using the fronts of the skis and this stance also frees up his hip angulation and upper / lower body separation.
Classic photograph today of the common fog bank on the Italian border. The other side of the ridge is the Aosta valley leading up to Mont Blanc (peak in the image). This side is La Rosiere ski resort in France just down the valley from Val d’Isere and Tignes.