Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Don, Jennifer–Day 4

Final day – good all round improvement…

Jennifer is holding together a large number of changes and this is producing a flowing, smooth skiing with well shaped turns. The skis are pivoting nicely where necessary and the dynamics are greatly improved – with good supporting coordination from the feet and legs.

Don is smooth and has great timing – with a good deal of control over speed. Pressure is good and early on the uphill ski, with a slight pivoting action. Sometimes the lower ski is allowed to flatten by releasing the adductors and allowing the knee of the inside leg to move into the new turn (photo) – causing a slight stem. This is linked to a stiffening of the lower leg and leaving the foot too far behind (push it forwards during all the turn). The best way to deal with this is to hold that lower foot on its inside edge all the way – don’t release it at all – ever!


Jennifer asked about how to use angulation to ensure pressure on the front of the skis. We did the static “pulling” exercise – up on the balls of the feet – wedging the body against the front of the lower ski as I pulled her downhill. This was really just to communicate the concept at this stage – in reality there were more than enough other things for Jennifer to be working on!


Some time was spent on pivoting on one ski – standing on the inside edge of the foot and outside edge of the ski. Even five minutes doing this clarifies quite a lot. Skill is all about separating and refining muscle use and more detailed sensations.

Later on when we found some small bumps I demonstrated how the fronts of the skis would be airborne and how this applies to the pivot.


Today’s real effort went into developing the basics and understanding of carving skills. Part of the motive was to help Don to avoid flattening his turning ski (as in the photo) by developing awareness of holding the ski rock solid on the edge. For Jennifer the theme was more about avoiding rushing the start of the turn and letting the ski run. Carving takes time to develop – but like with pivoting, short and frequent efforts brings results.


We did some skating – transitioning into skiing – keeping the skating rhythm. This was so Jennifer would understand what the racers were actually doing and so she could see it correctly. Later on this was useful because I asked Jennifer to think about facing the body downhill as she projected her centre of mass over the skis into the new turn – and this is actually part of the skating action. Don has a very clear and natural skating timing already.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Don, Jennifer–Day 3

Working around the unseasonal weather…

Visibility was reduced with the snow and clouds so my principle concern today was with helping Don to overcome the anxiety this generates on steep terrain. Once Don tenses up the skis run away with him and “all is lost”!  I spent some time explaining how the “pivot” is “braking” skiing – designed to be able to ski in the fall line – body travelling directly downhill – without charging across the slope and picking up speed.

The key to skiing in the fall line is “sideslipping” – linking the sideslips – hence the “pivot”. Traditionally this is taught by pushing the tails of the skis outwards and “steering” by twisting the foot and knee inwards. Basically people are being taught to wrench the ski around – and probably eventually break their knees. This is also accompanied with strong hip angulation generate by keeping the shoulders facing downhill – eventually destroying the lower back (we had already looked properly into that aspect!)

Unfortunately the way to generate truly effective and safe pivoting is very counter intuitive – and a real challenge – but correspondingly rewarding. Even just having the right information – changing how you think about it – goes a long way. Modern carving skis really do cause people to miss properly developing the skills for “braking” skiing because the skis lock far too easily on their edges and run away with the skier. This is also why in racing GS skis are now not allowed to have a carve radius lower that 35m.

Jennifer patiently allowed me to assist her through a few supported pivots and we could see that she was getting the ski quickly jammed on edge and unable to complete the turn with any sideways motion. I explained here that it was essential to keep both skis downhill (relative to the slope) from the centre of mass  (keep the feet below you on the hill) all the time during the pivot. While this worked to some degree complications came in because Jennifer was collapsing her ankle, twisting her foot and knee into the turn. This is visible (stemming and twisting – steering) in the video clip despite a good improvement with pulling the skis into the turn.

Studying the pivot (link in the menu top of page) you find that it is all about getting the centre of mass to pull the skis inwards into the turn – not pushing outwards. Only the pelvis remains facing downhill – outside hip pulled back. Both Don and Jennifer had improved at pulling inwards for the video clip – but we still had some work to do.


Indoors Jennifer took off her ski boot and we looked at how to change the mechanics of the stance during the turn. First of all we checked what she was currently doing and sure enough the ankle was collapsing, knee twisting inwards, hip outwards, foot flattening by attempting to twist in. Shifting the weight to the heel and bending Jennifer could feel her muscles differently – the ankle going stiff, the muscles up the outside of the lower leg and the quads working by reflex. The ankle bends enough to touch the front of the ski boot – but now the boot is not taking over support – the leg strength is being used instead.

We next looked at the foot rocking on the heel – using the subtaler joint below the ankle. Jennifer could see the foot actually turns away from the turn when rolled on edge. This links to the adductor muscles on the inside of the leg – limiting automatically the inward movement of the knee. This links to pulling the hip backwards for alignment. Basically the entire motion pattern and support system changes – so it would be a huge change to her skiing and will eventually enable far greater control over just about everything – not just the pivot.


Meanwhile to encourage Don to avoid his slight tendency to push his new outside ski outwards at the start of the turn I asked him to stomp hard on the ski before initiating the new turn – still on the uphill edge (as with a pivot) – and only then with full pressure on this ski begin the turn. Starting the turn from the top edge facilitates an element of pivoting and once this starts it’s easier to keep the pivot going because the ski hasn’t been pushed out and jammed on its inside edge. This certainly did allow Don to narrow his stance and generate a better pivoting effect and there was a clear improvement in control on the steeps. One the runaway accelerations are fully under control – the skis not systematically jammed on edge – then this deals with the problem of getting thrown onto the backs of the boots and skis.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Don, Jennifer - Day 2

Such a beautiful day  - for a fish !


Quad Burn

Defensiveness due to lack of confidence for skiing in poor visibility and mixed up snow conditions was causing Don’s quads to burn. The quads are really prone to this when your weight is even just a little too far back. I attempted a static “pulling” exercise with Don to get him angulated and feel the appropriate connection with the fronts of the skis – but he was uncomfortable and found the exercise awkward. With Don’s permission we will attempt this again when the sun returns.

Foot Forwards Technique

Attempting to help Jennifer to feel more at ease on a steep section I took a moment to explain and demonstrate how turn radius is tightened more efficiently by pushing the outside ski forwards than by stemming or pushing the tails outwards. This turned out probably to help Don even more – who then reprimanded me for not having told him this before. I think I didn’t mention it because of being worried it would put him even more in the backs of the boots – but in this case it actually had the opposite effect by preventing him accelerating off down the hill. In hindsight I can see how this is appropriate for Don.

Centred - Mindful Skiing

Don was making a bold effort to overcome his anxiety in the challenging conditions. To encourage this further I explained how centring your focus internally – inside your body – on anything from breathing to any of the relevant skiing issues such as the motion of the centre of mass – actively stops the mind from wandering off into “anxiety territory”.


Due to the poor weather it was a useful time to do some exercises to enhance the overall understanding of technique. I tried – on sticky snow – to communicate the skill of “pivoting” and how it fits into the greater scheme of the biomechanics of skiing. The blog menu at the top offers a fixed page with associated video and explanations… (also with this link)  http://skiinstruction.blogspot.com/p/pivot.html

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Don, Jennifer Day 1

P1200002It was great to find Don and Jennifer this morning – raring to get out on the slopes and to get going. Knowing there was a long day ahead it was important to keep everything calm and measured. First runs of the year are always wobbly and it takes a few to really find your feet again. I didn’t have to worry about when to begin to offer feedback because Jennifer began to ask questions by herself when she felt the need for it.


Jennifer’s question was concerning her need to lift up the lower ski to get into a turn – and regarding confusion about when to go up or down.

Problems in the turn transitions come specifically from not being clear about “dynamics” – the need to generate accelerations of the centre of mass. I stood downhill of Jennifer and asked her to push her shoulder against mine to feel the pressure on her uphill ski. She did this well and so it didn’t take long to pick up the idea of how to enter a new turn strongly with the pressure on the top ski. I chose this solution because I’d seen Jennifer initiating the turns on steeper ground by pushing the tails of the skis out – instead of moving the body into the new turn. The “step” was happening because the lower ski was being used as a platform in preparation for pushing the skis out. Changing this movement pattern to a simple active motion of the centre of mass eliminates the step. Don alluded here to a more advanced aspect of this – his patented “Getting out of your own way!”.


Timing comes naturally from this motion of the centre of mass – toppling into a turn is like a motorbike toppling into a turn – you go “down” into the turn – and then you come back up to complete the turn. This generates the correct pressure cycle on the skis and to fit body mechanics, muscle function and ski design. The pole use is just a light touch in the snow with the downhill pole as the body crosses the skis. This moment of transition causes the skis to be flat on the snow and the body perpendicular with the hill – while going diagonally across the hill – so the pole touch fills the gap in feedback to the body caused by the skis no longer being on edge – at an otherwise precarious moment.


Part of the dynamics issues with Jennifer arises from being trained to face the shoulders downhill. This tends to cause the start of each new turn (on steeper terrain) to be rushed – pushing the tails out – to get them around and below the body. This is partly a psychological issue because the skier is facing downhill and referencing everything to the vertical – instead of running with the skis and referencing everything perpendicular to the slope.  My goal was to begin to break this habit by changing the issue of “facing downhill” to one of just facing the pelvis downhill. This is the “chi” application to skiing. We began with an exercise of statically standing across the hill – shoulders facing downhill and poles held across in front of the body. With the spine rotated this way the hip comes in front of the ribs and when loaded up with pressure (me pushing down on the poles) it’s felt in the lower back. If the opposite is done, turning the pelvis to face downhill while resisting a turning of the shoulders then under load the lower abdomen and core muscles contract by reflex to protect the body. I know that Jennifer is able to relate to her body so this is the appropriate approach to facilitate change. Due to the pelvis being adjusted immediately at the initiation of a turn it both facilitates and improves dynamics and prevents this rigid blocking of the body facing downhill. Pulling the pelvis into this position is described as pulling the hip joint – outside of new turn – back, which allows hip angulation to be increased and improved easily.


Meanwhile Don wasn’t being completely ignored! In fact he was skiing well and smoothly so I was happy to let him be for the time being. Don’s only concerns were his arms falling down by his sides and dragging – but I explained that arm issues tend to be an “effect” not a “cause” and that we would have to identify the cause. Partly for this reason and also for issues of speed control on the steeper terrain I explained how the second half of a turn is a fight with gravity – so you have to increase angulation (and/or inclination) building up even more forces instead of giving in to them. The ski is trying to lift you up and out so it’s real work staying down and inside the turn – but then this shapes the turn and controls the speed (Actually it’s real work – but it’s even more work if you don’t do it!!!). Unsurprisingly this also helps place the hands correctly – because most of Don’s hand problems come from blocking the hip and skidding sideways at this part of the turn – instead of building a secure base and working the turn correctly. Immediately this brought an improvement for Don – but shortly after this we encountered poorer skiing conditions and tired legs – so quitting for the day was the best option!


We had a brief “carving” interlude as it’s important to develop this feeling and skill. Don’s rigidity at the hips and Jennifer’s “facing downhill” issues are causing difficulty in holding the ski solidly on edge for complete turns. This is very typical and common and by addressing this directly and working on it bit by bit it will change completely. The main point today was to “pull inwards” with the leg (outside ski) to prevent the ski from flattening when forces built up. I also had earlier explained that “centrifugal” force is an illusion – we are being pushed inwards not pulled outwards. We need to therefore also pull inwards to assist the ski. For Jennifer this is a very big change to make because she has been unconsciously pushing the ski outwards through the initiation of most of her turns until now.

Off Piste

Our brief excursion off piste was to begin to help Don to build up confidence. Once again this has to be tackled in small chunks – frequently – to let confidence build and changes emerge. The key here is dynamics – but with a slight delay in feedback – so just being aware that the feeling underfoot is modified and knowing not to tense up makes a huge difference. The goal currently is to progressively gain experience.

La Grande Casse


Mont Pourri, Mont Blanc and Tignes