Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Technical Skiing and Running

Not quite Heliskiing here – the helicopter just happened to pass when the filming started. The snow was layered and crusted by the sun but still soft enough for the skis to pivot. The skiing demonstrated both here and in the video clip is a “two footed pivot” with both skis being used as a single pivoting platform. Everything is being “pulled inwards” – despite appearances nothing is being pushed to the outside.

When using a pivot the skis are kept below the skier on the mountain and the unweighting from the end of the previous turn is exploited – instead of using pressure and the inside edge or base of the outside ski to drive the turn it’s the lightness and active (inwards) swing of both skis while remaining on their uphill edges that is being exploited. This only works when snow remains soft enough for the skis to overcome the snow or when the skier is airborne!

Running Evolution

For a long time I’ve worked on techniques and fundamentals of movement that cross over from one sport to another. Running is one of the key activities where this cross over plays a major part. Today it appears that I’ve finally cracked a problem that has plagued me for several years particularly with respect to “barefoot running – or in this case in minimalist trail running shoes with no significant cushioning. The spine and hip actions in common with the two activities are clearly documented here: http://skiinstruction.blogspot.fr/p/chiskiing.html so I won’t go into any of that. The issue that has constantly troubled me is the problem of stress on the calf muscles. Zero drop (no difference in height between forefoot and heel) shoes with significant cushioning actually stops the problem and all the calf muscle trauma and pains – but it appears there has actually been a very subtle proprioception issue behind the problem that cushioning was only hiding. Although I’ve been trying to mainly foot strike just in front of the heel (midfoot really), it seems that there has been a small amount of dropping the forefoot to the ground first. This slightly early contact of the forefoot with the ground – that I’ve not been aware of – causes the calf muscle to contract so that is is not relaxed enough and this is probably immediately followed by a sharp eccentric contraction – (muscle extending while under contraction). It seems that years of running and walking with artificially raised heels has probably created a tendency to drop the forefoot lower so as to compensate for the heel. When the artificial heel is removed then the foot still functions this way – leading to a confused proprioception.

To help to address this issue I ran to a cadence of 90  - which is 180 steps per minute. The idea was to shorten the stride and focus on holding the forefoot up and never reaching ahead – while running on minimalist trail shoes. The high “optimal” cadence encourages this shortened “many steps” stride. To help to maintain the correct cadence I used psytrance music at 90 bpm downloaded free from the internet http://www.ektoplazm.com/ – just look for 90 bpm tracks and make a compilation.

Interestingly I ran the 10k a few minutes slower than my previous run  due to not being used to the short stride and high cadence – in rain, slush, mud and on tarmac – but without the feeling of stress on the calves that even cushioned shoes would have. Normally with minimalist trail shoes – which are quite hard underfoot to give good ground feel – I’d be feeling significant pains and muscle fatigue at around 7 km in the absence of a great deal of conditioning.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Billy Kelly 2015 Alpine Tour!

Billy’s first day skiing for 5 years marking his long awaited return to Val d’Isère. This of course called for a proper hammering of his legs off piste!

Several years ago when I first saw Billy skiing I was shocked at how terrible his skiing was. Much to his surprise and disappointment I informed him of this immediately – in a fairly brutal manner. Normally when someone has such a contrived and unusually personalised way of doing things they never really change – but if there is one thing even more remarkable than Billy’s original skiing it has been how he has completely and successfully reconfigured his skiing with only a few lessons. Into the bargain he has never had any off-piste lessons – he was simply taught the fundamentals of movement and in the context of carving. Even more – those true fundamentals are actually contrary to all conventional ski teaching and even professionals can find it next to impossible to correct themselves. Billy’s success tells me that he is very much in tune with his own body and how it works with nature. Despite his twisting and stemming of the left leg into the turn Billy was coping with great dynamics and timing in difficult sun crusted and layered snow. Billy is of course a pro golf teacher and after witnessing this today I would highly recommend him to anyone who wants to develop their golf game!

Our 2015 season had a bad start with no snow for ages – but that is not an issue any longer!

Light reflected from crystals due to a temperature inversion – the sun just behind the crest…

Panoramic…

Telephoto… (tiny pocket Sony WX350 camera! – used for the video too)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Finn Day 5

Finn appeared to be on better form today – his last day with me on the mountain. Our first run of the day was used to sharpen up his technique a little bit before going for some fun skiing. Today I wanted Finn to be able to jump at least two or three times during a turn and to be able to swing his ski tips into the turn a little with each jump. I also wanted him to learn to make a stronger swing of the skis. Later on we revised side slipping and pivoting (once again assisting him through a few pivots) so as to reinforce the end–form mechanics. In the video it’s interesting to see Finn responding to my calls to bring his feet closer. Normally when he is behind me I can’t see if he is really responding on not.  When not jumping he was constantly reminded to move his body (belly/centre of mass) to make the turns happen. He was reminded also that the reason for putting his feet closer was to make this movement easier – and also to avoid jamming the outside ski on its inside edge too early at the start of the turn.

The music in the video is an arrangement of Paganini violin, Trip Hop and Acid Jazz – so I recommend using a good pair of headphones or speakers to listen!

Finn’s stance is actually very good. Most beginner children lean strongly on the backs of the ski boots but Finn has never needed correction for this. On day one we worked on his stance – shins touching the fronts of the boots - and it has stayed good ever since.

Today Finn was also relaxed enough allow me to take him over small bumps and banked tracks. Constant use of jumping exercises is one of the main reasons his legs are becoming more flexible and responsive (…and why his stance is generally good! You can’t jump if glued to the backs of the boots!).

It was great to hear Finn’s excitement and joy at skiing long uninterrupted runs with interesting obstacles – with a good degree of confidence and skill. In the video his spectacular loss of control and crash was because it was the first time his dad had been his guide and both were on a new learning curve in this respect.

Programming

Yesterday I explained to Finn how the learning process works. Unlike most animals we have the ability to change our own behaviour and actions but it requires training. To make this happen we usually step through a series of actions (some happening simultaneously) which we have to give our full attention – rolling the foot onto the inside edge, pulling inwards with the adductor muscles, swinging the ski tip inwards, moving the centre of mass inwards etc. Being mindful, giving full attention to all of this allows us to quickly learn how to do this automatically – so we can then think about other things and so be freed up to learn even more. What we are doing is really re-programming our unconscious mind (though I didn’t mention this detail to Finn!)

Anxiety

Today Finn was a little bit anxious so I reassured him that this was perfectly normal and that we all feel like that in certain situations. The important thing is to accept that anxiety and then put it to good use – either to motivate yourself to try harder or concentrate even more – or to prepare yourself for the difficulty ahead. To prepare yourself you need to visualise yourself doing the right thing and succeeding with it. You need to run through it in your mind’s eye and be sure of the outcome. When you do this then anxiety won’t cause you to freeze up when it comes to the real event. You also need to reflect on the consequences of messing up – and if there is no real risk of injury then you have to remind yourself of this. This process is also a re-programming of the unconscious mind.

Thomas – Off Piste

Despite the less than ideal off-piste conditions we decided to work a little off-piste. Thomas had mentioned in conversation a few days earlier “leaning back” so I used this as a point of entry.

Off-piste – at least in deep snow where there is a resistance due to either the ski sinking in or the force of the snow against the legs and boots – there is a need to have the centre of mass well behind the feet but this isn’t achieved effectively through leaning back (which locks up the leg muscles). This displacement of the centre of mass is done through sitting down – with the hips and knees bending as much as 90° at each joint. If you place a chair on a slope – facing downhill – and sit on it then you will slide off it and all your weight will be on your feet. Looking at this however perpendicular to the slope and the centre of mass is quite far behind the feet. This seated position is correct for challenging off-piste. The knees and feet being ahead of the body also permits bumps and compressions to be easily absorbed in a reflexive manner – the knees being able to move freely upwards. Thomas picked up on this idea very quickly and managed to feel a measure of security off-piste that he hasn’t experienced before. Despite skiing varied conditions – from crust to powder – he didn’t fall.

I had also reinforced the need to use dynamics – as we had worked on yesterday on the piste. Off-piste this can be a very intimidating thing to do – to use the lifting force of the downhill ski to exit the turn and plunge downhill with no ski below to catch you! However – it’s fun precisely because it’s this commitment that makes things really work.

In powder I demonstrated close stance, two footed pivot turns – where less dynamics is required – but the end of the turn is still used to set up the following turn.

Thomas – Carving

Long wide blue pistes are ideal for cultivating carving skills so we made use of them for this purpose. I showed Thomas his carving video from yesterday so that he could see the skis skidding the start of each turn. Video feedback is critical to change perception here. The actual issue is “proprioception”. Proprioception is the awareness in space of our relative body parts. Any complex physical skill needs video feedback to be able to correct faulty perception coming from proprioception. Trainee instructors for example need to learn to exaggerate all their movements because they invariably only actually move a fraction of the amount that they believe they are moving. We all have to re-calibrate our internal bearings in this respect. I guess it’s a bit like a fat person believing that they are thin – and even the mirror not working to change it. Video somehow does the trick in skiing because there is a mismatch between what is felt and what is seen.

We initially made “rail” carves on two skis from straight down the fall-line turning to one side – then did this crossing over the fall-line. Thomas managed this but would lose it again when trying to link turns together. This situation is only changed by working for a while on the most gentle gradients possible.

I explained that carving is where a wide stance can be useful – because it requires early use of one inside edge and then the other. Wide open stance permits access to the inside edge change almost instantly. The pivot in contrast needs to avoid the inside edge for anything up to the entire first half of the turn so a very close stance here can sometimes be useful.

Thomas – Skating

When Finn was asked to skate on day 1 he moved his feet back and forwards as if he was on figure skates! Thomas confirmed that he has only used figure skates. Ice hockey skating actions however are required for skiing – so in future he will need to use hockey skates. I wanted Thomas to be clear on the importance of skating even though I hadn’t been able to work much on that with Finn.

Down/up timing is dependent of feeling the natural skating action and rhythm in skiing. To skate you bend the leg – lowering your centre of mass – then you extend to push off and complete the skate. In a turn your centre of mass falls down towards the centre (as on a motorbike turning) and comes up to complete the turn. Both of those things combine to create powerful and natural skiing dynamics. The timing taught systematically in ski schools is the precise opposite –and wrong! http://skiinstruction.blogspot.it/p/dynamics.html

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Finn Day 4

Finn was following in the footsteps of his granduncle Andrea who is here this week. Andrea was the same age (7 years old) in the photo below on the left. Andrea’s grandparents came from the Ponte di Legno area. Andrea has always had a passion for the mountains – and still does! There were no ski lifts when he was a boy so he had to climb and he helped manually prepare pistes (using the skis) for race courses.

1942                                                                                                                                                            2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jumping

Finn started the day with a sore tummy and quite tired but he didn’t complain at all during the lesson. Unlike previous days we had no need to revise anything and we started the new session from where we left off yesterday at 4pm by jumping the body off downhill into the new turn. When the gradient was less this would become just a movement of the body across the skis from one turn to the next. Finn was still using his inside ski as an outrigger, however I realised the problem was just a little more complicated. When turning to the right he was holding the left ski far up the hill at the start of the turn to be sure to get on the inside edge and feel secure – but this was causing him to accelerate rapidly downhill and lose control. Our exercises would gradually have to lead us towards the “pivot” to be able to deal with this correctly.

Short Swings

From now on I wanted Finn to pull the tips of the skis into the new turn. Until now I’d actively discouraged him from twisting his feet and trying to steer the ski into the turn – because that causes the heel to be pushed outwards and makes the knee very vulnerable. He was now ready to cope with the correct coordination. This coordination is a pulling inwards of the tip of the ski – using the adductor muscles of the inside of the leg. We used the same exercise that Jamilla used yesterday with the uphill ski held in the air and me blocking the movement with my pole so that Finn could feel the correct muscles to use. However the idea was that Finn would do this with both the skis in the air from jumping. This is in fact called a “short swing” and is a valid technique – especially for skiing on steep terrain – though most people do it incorrectly. Finn did manage to do this well as is seen in the video clip and it helped to bring his skis together a little bit more reliably – because you have to have the skis close together to jump and you are pulling the uphill ski downhill automatically - instead of leaving it spread away uphill or or actively pushing it uphill. We would still have to take this further for a result that would deal properly with steeper terrain though.

Traversing

Finn learned the words “Traverse” and “Traversing” and managed to hold a solid traverse across a fairly steep (but safe) section of the mountain – holding both skis on their uphill edges.

Side Slipping

From traversing we went into side slipping – which takes a lot of practice. Straight away I had Finn working on releasing his edges with rolling his feet so that he could start working on coordination skills.

Pivoting

The goal was to develop pivoting skills – even at this very early stage of development. Not having learned snowplough or any conscious defensive action at the start of a turn means that there is no real obstacle for Finn learning this skill – which most confirmed skiers find extremely difficult.

I assisted Finn through a few pivots so that he could feel the turn start from a close stance side slip and especially from the uphill edge of the uphill ski (lower edge of his uphill foot) – instead of the downhill (inside) edge that he is used to relying on. This is by far the most promising way to get him to bring his skis together and get that right turn under control. He then succeeded in applying this when turning on steeper terrain – at least for a few turns.

Thomas

Thomas turned out to have very similar skiing mechanics to Jamilla. Once again there was no point dwelling on details – the goal would be to begin work on making sure all movements were designed to begin the turn with everything directed inwards rather than outwards. Being on steep terrain dictated our options and meant that we would have to begin with the “pivot”. There’s no point really in repeating the details here as it is the same as for Jamilla – but there is also a properly detailed explanation to be found here… http://skiinstruction.blogspot.it/p/pivot.html 

Thomas bravely attempted to pivot on the downhill ski while on quite steep terrain – but without mastering the pivot from the uphill ski first this is probably impossible to do. I demonstrated how it works on either or both skis simultaneously (in all cases from a side slip) – a common solution to off-piste (two footed platform) skiing in deep snow.

I also wanted Thomas to understand the exact skills that I had started to develop with Finn – so that he was aware of everything that was going on there.

With something as difficult as eliminating an uphill ski stem – or two footed heel push to the outside – it’s best not to spend too long working on it in any one session because frustration can set in after a while – so after a couple of descents of the upper slopes we move on to dynamics.

Dynamics

Preparing Thomas for perhaps going off piste – and making use of his strengths in skiing I decided to focus for a while on dynamics – specifically the “end of turn” dynamics. We used “hanger” turns for this purpose. This turn requires the skier to stay on the lower ski and be lifted out of the turn – almost entering the next turn on the same ski. Off piste where the  “lifting up” response of the ski is even stronger this phase of the turn must be exploited to ensure effective entry into the next turn (towards the centre). Most people feel apprehensive in tricky snow so instead they hold back precisely at this point and kill the dynamics – then almost kill themselves next as they fail to start the new turn. Dynamics is the principle way to guarantee nailing any turn off piste! More detailed information can be found here… http://skiinstruction.blogspot.it/p/dynamics.html

Video

In the video clip below we can see the body rotation and lack of hip angulation due to the skis being forced outwards at the start of the turn. This also causes a relative loss of control due to the absence of grip at the start of the turn. Thomas was aware that his rotation was probably causing a knee problem – what he wasn’t aware of until now was the reason for the rotation. The short carving section here really exposes how the start of the turn is affected.

Carving

We didn’t really spend enough time of carving exercises – but when a suitable slope presented itself I just wanted to see if Thomas was properly carving or not. We did some static edge change exercises but it was clear that Thomas would struggle to make a clean turn transition (edge change) when moving. With a painful knee manifesting itself I didn’t want to spend too long on this and so after filming we set off on the long descent down to the village.

New Boots

During the descent into the valley it was strange to see that while Thomas skied strongly down fairly icy black runs his skis were all over the place when simply going straight on a flat motorway section. This resulted in us going directly  into a ski shop at the bottom and as luck would have it finding a much better pair of ski boots. His old boots were ancient Salomons with a flex of 70! Really not good! His new boots are Dalbello’s with a flex of 110 and the apparent ability not to aggravate bunions! We will see tomorrow however if that promise is fully realised!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Finn Day 3

Today Finn broke free from the nursery slopes and started to get some serious mileage under his belt. We warmed up initially using familiar slopes and when I was sure the Finn could follow my tracks and understood the need to stay in the tracks then we took the long blue run down the valley. There was nothing new technically for him to deal with here – just lots of reinforcement of all the things that we had already been working on. Finn clearly isn’t used to hard physical effort  outside of anything directly considered “play” – so some gentle prodding was needed to motivate him at times to make the required effort – especially regarding skating along the flats or even staying in my tracks. He responded directly to this! It’s normal to be a bit lazy when you are unaware of your capacity.

I explained to Finn that when he fell he shouldn’t become discouraged – learning anything worthwhile is difficult but that’s what makes it rewarding. It’s also important to fight this by getting up quickly. This habit is important because if you fall on something steep that fight can save you!

Before lunch we started to work on technique again – lifting up the inside ski during the turn – swinging the airborne tip into the turn at the turn initiation (diverging skis) and then padding the ski on and off the snow during the turn. In the very short video clip at the very end of the session it shows how Finn was muddled and in the last turn he starts to lift the outside ski. This is not just a misunderstanding – it was his right leg he lifted at the wrong time because he has a strong bias towards his left leg. Work needs to be done to compensate for this unconscious bias.

Finn had to be told about “peripheral vision” and the fact that his brain would see the ground and skis even though his attention was on some other object when looking ahead. Looking at the ground is not a great idea when skiing as it gives a false perception of speed plus of course it’s most important to be looking ahead and around about for safety reasons. When Finn had a final run on his own on the button lift at the end of the day, he was given the task of keeping his head up and looking at us all the way down (we were at the bottom of the run). He managed this well even though as a consequence he forgot to turn!

Meanwhile Ayesha had on a hired pair of lady’s ski boots and nearly all the problems of the metatarsal arches and the calf muscles were gone! No mystery here then! They don’t make lady’s ski boots just to look pretty – they are anatomically adapted to the lower leg.

After lunch I ran through an explanation of which foot to lift – explaining again “inside” and “outside” ski and making sure that Finn completely understood the objectives. The idea here is to get him accustomed to standing more and more on one leg and to remove the “stabiliser” of the inside leg progressively. Eventually the stability will come from the “inward” directed (centripetal) forces from outside ski generating a turn.

Jumping Part 1

Finn was however responding to steeper terrain by widening his stance even more – and frequently stepping his skis too wide apart causing spins and falls as the inside edge would catch and spin him around. To alleviate this problem we worked on jumping – which both in preparation and execution causes the skis to naturally come together. The jump requires a sitting (not bowing) action and when taking off the legs straighten when in the air. Jumping prior to executing the step turn gets the body and legs active and the skis closer together – reducing the tendency for a wide stance and stabiliser effect.

Jumping part 2

For Finn’s next trick the jumping was altered so that instead of jumping vertically and landing vertically he had to jump the body off down the hill over the top of his lower ski. There would be no need for a step turn with this now. When Finn realised he would lose his outrigger stabiliser he started to complain about having a sore little finger! That didn’t work! We carried on and he did a really good job, looking much stronger in his turns. Something that helped here also was that Finn began to understand dynamics.

Dynamics

I told Finn that we need to get that inside ski out of the way so as to fall into the turn. Finn then asked if we are meant to fall over! Excellent question! “Yes” is the answer. This impressed Finn and appealed to him. I briefly explained the “invisible wall” to push up against and had him push hard with his shoulder against mine – correcting his edge grip at the same time. This is the feeling (except for the pressure on the shoulder) that the body should discover when falling into a turn – and the same level of security. The harder you try to fall the more secure you become just the same as when you push harder against my shoulder…

Finn’s progress has been consistent and other than his being exhausted nothing should get in the way of this continuing.

Jamilla Pivoting

There was an hour to fill at the end of the day so it was a good opportunity to continue the work with Jamilla. Predictably when skiing on steeper ground she had found herself completely reverting to her normal habits. Carving can only be practised on gentle terrain initially and even for normal turns the correct coordination will be lost when it becomes more challenging. To begin to overcome this issue I decided to work directly on pivoting skills – mainly to reinforce good fundamental and appropriate coordination. The correct coordination is actually the same for all turns.

Although Jamilla can ski strongly on a good piste this is a deceptive situation. Her normal “pushing out” of the outside ski to find the inside edge at the start of the turn would make off piste skiing impossible and also create great problems on ice – plus it just wouldn’t work at all in a race course. While skiing on perfectly groomed slopes is flattering it disguises the real limitations and hides the technical problems. “Real” skiing is off-piste – far away from machines and groomed slopes!

We began with side slipping on steeper terrain and then went on to side slipping on the uphill ski only. The first thing to correct here is to be able to roll the foot onto its downhill edge inside the ski boot and still keep the ski on the uphill edge with the centre of mass directly above it. The shaft of the ski boot keeps the ski from flattening completely and the ski remains on the top edge. With the foot on its inside (downhill) edge the adductor muscles can be employed to pull the front of the ski downhill into a pivot with no resistance – because the inside edge (downhill) of the ski  is not in contact with the snow. This also makes the uphill edge of the ski continue to grip and so it is now impossible to push the tail of the ski outwards as the turn is initiated. I assisted Jamilla through a few turns until she felt the effect clearly and then by using a ski pole stuck in the ground at the front of her ski I explained how to use lateral force to pull the ski tip downhill using the adductor muscles. My pole gave the resistance necessary to feel the correct muscle use and force. (Initially Jamilla pushed her heel out instead!)Finally the use of support with the ski pole – planted behind the feet – was added to replace the support that I provided when I assisted her in discovering the correct feeling of a full pivot.

There is quite a lot to handle here in effect – but Jamilla managed very well and successfully pivoted with all her coordination working towards the new turn centre – instead of her usual “pushing outwards”. I also explained that no matter what edge the turn starts on or whether it is carving – all the applied forces must always be inwards – all contributing to centripetal force. (Not fictitious centrifugal outwards forces)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Finn Day 2

Persistence with the ski hire shop eventually rewarded us with properly waxed skis for Finn. Thomas also decided it was time to retire his 25 year old Nevica ski clothing – which had acquired a distinctive “Last of The Summer Wine” allure – so things were all moving in a positive direction!

Slippery skis came as a surprise for Finn so we had to take time to revise some of the previous day’s work with the addition of the new feelings and accelerations. Slow queues at the button lift held us up quite a bit but he needed to get used to the higher speed before attempting anything steeper. Skiing is such a strong activator of emotions and impulses that by pushing too hard it can very rapidly ingrain defensive or inappropriate mechanics – especially at an early stage of development. Patience is very important at this stage. Most of the morning was taken up reinforcing the principles we had worked with on day one – the rolling of the feet – the movement of the centre of mass (belly button) – avoiding twisting the feet or the body – trying to step cleanly from one foot to the other to tighten turns by stepping (diverging skis).

Eventually when we were ready it was time to start the introduction of new elements. The first thing to be added was the use of the adductor muscles – specifically concerning the outside leg/foot in the turn  - so that the muscle (inside of the thigh) was pulling inwards to compliment the foot rolling inwards onto its edge.

I explained how the ski actually works – that there are two important things to understand:

The skier’s job is to “fall over” and the ski’s job is to lift him back up!

This relationship creates a turn. However the “lifting up” causes the foot to be easily flattened and taken off its edge and for the knee to be pulled out also – so it’s important to control this by using the adductor muscles to hold the leg inwards and keep the foot on its inside edge.

Foot Forward Technique

The main new element added today however was “foot forward” technique. I used the analogy of a compass drawing a circle – with the inside of the circle just rotating on a point and the outside scribing a path. In this way the outside foot in a tight turn has to travel further than the inside foot – so to make this all work it’s best to push it forwards. This actively in fact tightens the turn up and combined with the active motion of the centre of mass it is one of the two main ways to change and control turn radius.  To give Finn the idea of how this feels we did an exercise to simulate this effect with the skis off – and this was recorded on video. It’s a tricky exercise so we will return to it for a short while each day. However, the increased tightness and control of his turns could be seen on the steeper terrain immediately following the exercise. This of course combines with all of the other elements he has been working on and can actually only be accomplished when there is already some degree of coordination of all of those other things. The pushing of the foot forward is related and derived from skating skills.

Jamilla

Finn’s excitement over day 1 had effectively burned him out so he had a short day with me – though he skied with his father later on for a few runs on familiar terrain. Our afternoon session continued with Jamilla – who is self taught but now confronting apparent limitations in her skiing.

We began with me both observing and filming prior to attempting to change anything. Jamilla is a strong skier but clearly at the limit of the potential of her current technique. It took me a while to separate the symptoms from the causes in her skiing so that I could target the most relevant issues directly. It was in fact clear that she was deliberately pushing her skis outwards in a braking action – all the time. She admitted always skiing this way with no real variation so it was obvious that she wouldn’t be able to carve a ski – so “carving” became the point of entry. The “symptoms” of her skiing issues were  A – Timing: an up motion to start the turn. B – hip rotation. C – the skis skidding outwards. D – the ankle collapsing and knee falling inwards. E – poor dynamic range. F – no fore/aft adjustment through the turn. The hard thing here is spotting what is a deliberate action and what is an unintentional consequence – which is why I posed Jamilla several questions about what she thought she was doing to make a turn.

Carving

The accessible gentle gradients and wide slopes makes this resort ideal for learning carving skills. Jamilla was initially unable to hold her skis on a carving edge even in a traverse because the sensation was so unfamiliar to her.

We worked on correcting the stance – moving more onto the heels – rolling the foot over onto its edge at the subtaler joint beneath the ankle and avoiding the knee being twisted inwards. The traverse was gradually made to point downhill and the stance widened for a strong support base. I explained how to move the whole mass (shoulders included) as Jamilla was trying to edge the skis with just her knee or her hip. Doing this correctly at low speed can feel odd because it puts the weight on the “wrong” foot – which is why we use a wide stance. Once there is speed that changes and the pressure will be generated by the outside ski immediately – however this depends on the skier holding the carve at higher speed – which at this stage was eluding Jamilla. The important thing however was that Jamilla was stating to become aware of the issues and the need to always make muscular efforts and movements of the body inwards to the turn and not outwards!

I demonstrated effective pivoting from the outside edge to Jamilla and assisted her through a couple of pivots herself so she could feel how even pivoting does not work through pushing outwards. The main goal of this session was to generate a paradigm shift and reset Jamilla’s overall objectives. I also explained and demonstrated when different stances where appropriate – the narrow stance for some pivoting and wider for carving – which is inside edge to inside edge skiing.

Just one special tip for today! Never put your mobile phone in the same pocket as your lift pass! It somehow makes the pass literally invisible – both to magnetic readers and every feasible pocket search!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Finn Day 1

Ponte di Legno, Italy

Yesterday evening we all arrived having driven through some miserable grey weather – but for Finn’s first ski lesson Thor took a back seat and we had blue skies and sunshine. The only drawback with this is that it made Finns’ skis sticky and so interfered somewhat with our plans.

The video clips show Finn’s first attempts (ever) at all of the following: side stepping, straight running, skating – and parallel turns! Yes! Forget snowploughs! Each item filmed here is a genuine first attempt!

Finn started out by getting an explanation of the parts of the ski, their function and how to get in and out of them – including cleaning the soles of the boots. He did a great job of properly carrying the skis quite a long distance on his shoulder. Starting on the snow with just one ski on we did a fair bit of walking around to develop familiarity with the equipment and Finn was clearly at ease with this. He took naturally to the idea of stepping to change direction and continued with this on flat ground when two skis were used. We did a few “star” turns on the spot to make sure he kept his steps small and avoided crossing the skis. When side stepping up the hill Finn had no trouble understanding the slope and keeping his skis parallel across the slope to prevent himself from sliding off. He has good spatial awareness.

Finn didn’t have strong skating skills so we had to look at how to skate – through diverging the skis and pushing somebody ahead – then doing the same by falling forward and accelerating instead (in the video this is why he is holding onto the pole – which was first of all used to push me with. Once Finn understood how to skate on skis he was then able to step uphill quickly by going forwards (herringbone steps) instead of side-stepping.

For turning with stepping the idea is to step the skis in small increments diverging first one tip ( the way you want to go ) and then pulling the other tip back towards it with the next step.  The skis are only either parallel or diverging – never converging as in a snowplough. This is where skating comes into turning. The turn is effectively led by the motion of the centre of mass – even from this very beginning stage. It doesn’t matter which foot the weight is on – just the ability to momentarily stand on one foot at a time to be able to step.

Finn was comfortable with the explanation that we turn to control our speed and that any turn if completed brings you to a stop. Right from the start Finn simply completed a turn when he needed to stop.

Finn had a few problems linked to not wanting to stand properly on his right leg (stepping right) and also trying (instinctively) to turn his left ski inwards into turns – causing the left foot to twist onto its outside edge instead of the inside edge. We worked on this and even had the ski boots off indoors to look at the proper way to use the feet – rolling the feet onto their edges instead of twisting them into a turn. We linked the rolling of the feet (to the right) with a movement of the centre of mass (belly button) to the right. When stepping I emphasised that the idea was to push the belly button across the skis in the direction we want to turn (not by twisting the body). I did a small test with Finns eyesight and proved that he is left eyed as well as left handed. It’s normally the dominant side of the body in skiing that causes the most problems – because excessive force (or dependence) tends to be used on that side.

By the end of the day Finn was competent at using the button lift and skiing all the way down, skis parallel and by himself. This is a good base to move forwards from tomorrow. The skis need to be waxed or changed and we have to stay on top of the natural tendency towards inappropriate mechanics of movement so that no poor habits are given the opportunity to take over!

Meanwhile Ayesha was suffering badly from metatarsal arch problems in the forefeet. I strongly suspect that the problem is (at least partially) postural – coming from the hips being advanced forwards and locking – forcing a flexing of the ankles and pressure on the forefeet. This makes it impossible to ease the load by standing on the heels other than by leaning on the backs of the ski boots – which damages the calf muscles. I explained that a slightly “seated” stance is needed to bend the hips and knees but straighten the ankles. The other issue is that the ski boots – being men’s technical boots – could be forcing against the calf and causing or at least exacerbating all the other problems!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Okan, Haluk

Miserable weather brought Derin a dispensation from skiing – however it was probably the wrong move being her last day of skiing for another year. However Okan filled the gap and Haluk made couple of appearances through the afternoon.

Haluk

Haluk is suffering from a very poorly knee joint so I just wanted to make him aware that there is an issue with his stance that is not helping. This issue is probably stressing the knee joint disproportionately – and also presenting a limiting factor in ski performance and security.

It’s hard to get a perfect view point for this – but in the image below you can see the angles between the lower leg (centre of boot hinge) to centre of knee (seen slightly from behind) and the ski and the angle at the knee – are greatest – but the femur is almost vertical and and there is very little angle at the hip. Haluk knows this is a problem but the reason the image is presented here is that he is not aware this is happening. The issue is called “proprioception”. Proprioception is the sensing of the relative positioning of body parts in space. This can only be properly calibrated through appropriate feedback. Video (photo) feedback is by far the best and quickest way to make this re-calibration.

I will never forget in the 1980s when working as a ski instructor in Andorra the first time I ever saw my skiing on video. I was absolutely horrified because it looked nothing like I imagined. This immediately prompted me to buy my own video camera – a Sony Sports 8mm camera – both expensive and bulky. Since those days video has played a key role in all of my teaching because that lesson was never forgotten.

In this particular case with Haluk either there is a serious problem with the ski boots/fitting or a conscious correction is required.

Okan

Okan skis strongly and fast but with very little skill or confidence. People who take the time during their life to develop physical skills – craftsmanship, martial arts, yoga, music playing, sports etc. are really developing a well rounded potential. Mastering just one of those opens the door to the others – because the process is always the same. No Okan! Being over 50 is not too late to change things and develop those skills – far from it. The sport of skiing is an excellent place to get this ball rolling! However the strong headedness required to succeed in business is perhaps not the best attribute to bring to the table here! Focus, attentiveness, feeling, sensing, centring and above all listening are the keys. However - what better an antidote to stress of modern life can you ask for? Taking the time out  - the patience – to make this switch ensures that skiing itself does not just become another form of personal torture – an extension of existing stress! Skiing should above all be subtle, relaxing, creative, imaginative and fun. If it isn’t then it’s because you are using brute force – both mentally and physically.

After several hours of listening to Okan, watching Okan and hearing Okan’s views of his limitations and frustrations I decided to leave him with one idea to try to move forward. (Bear in mind it takes me about 3 seconds to know exactly any skier’s level) Okan needs to learn to use the ski from the start of the turn – to stand strongly on the uphill ski (new outside ski as the turn commences) and to stay strongly on this leg throughout the turn. Yes Okan I know you can’t currently do this  - and the fact you don’t get it first time doesn’t mean you can’t do it with a little bit of work. Any new skill needs to be acquired and initially the learner cannot do it. All skills have to be learned very slowly and with great patience initially. If learning is slow and requires a great number of repetitions to begin with then so what? The next thing will be that little bit easier because we are actually learning how to learn. The body and brain adapts.

Below in the photograph the turn to the left has already started. The biggest problem is that the lower leg is still taking most of the weight and correspondingly the skis are flat and skidding sideways – they are already in the middle of being forced into a high speed pivot to get them around and downhill for a high speed braking action. Very exhausting! Very precarious! In bad visibility this is a nightmare scenario to be avoided. In addition this simply cannot work off piste without catastrophic results.

Okan has great spirit and positive attitude – with a first even attempt in the slalom giving 41.05 seconds. Professionals and elite racers will do this run between 21.5 and 25 seconds depending on their fitness and practice levels. (Alan Baxter – French national slalom champion – did it in 21.6 seconds)

Okan manages to use dynamics – getting his centre of mass moving into the turn – but skiing is all about HOW you get the centre of mass to move into a turn and out of it – in relation to the support of the outside ski and terrain or snow type. Skill development is about managing and extending this dynamic range so that it becomes reflexive.

The reality is that high speed bursts to feel security from crude forces – followed by physical exhaustion – is not a great way to ski – ever!  Spend your time on skis changing this in future – not telling your coach that this is what you need to do!  I complied in this case because I realised your head was really elsewhere with problems back at home and I just wanted you to ski and get your mind off as much of that as possible for a short while.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Derin 2015 Day 8

Derin experienced a few “firsts” today! Her first lesson on a Bumps run and her first Black Run. On both occasions she managed extremely well. Today’s video begins with her expertly cleaning her boots and clipping into her bindings. Immediately following that there is a very short clip of her executing a pivoted turn on a bump – with the skis tips in mid air and leading with the lower ski into the turn! Phenomenally good for a first attempt!  Next on the video – with the red safety netting to the side – is Derin on her first ever black run. It’s impossible to see the steepness from the video. She is carefully controlling her speed until the last few turns when I shout to her to go faster and and so let the skis become more parallel. We did all this first thing in the session while her energy levels were high and she was fresh.

During our skiing we worked a lot on bringing the legs closer together during steep Traversing  and Step Turns to work on the also leading into the turn with the lower ski while carrying higher speeds (lifting the lower ski at the start of the turn and swinging the tip into the new turn).

Two Stars

On returning home Derin was presented with her “Two Stars” Ski School badge – She’s probably a bit better than this is several ways but for the third star she needs to be able to keep her feet a bit closer together more of the time – and avoid stemming out the uphill ski. Most of the time she does move her body instead of her ski – but she discovered for herself that she can move the ski – so we need to work a little more directly on getting her to move the body into the turn instead of the ski out to the side. However we are on quite steep hills sometimes, on ice, in bumps and off-piste  - where she has very little experience - so her performance overall is excellent. Her coordination for some things at this early stage is actually remarkable.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Derin 2015 Day 7

Edge Control

Travelling on the chair over to Val d’Isère was a cold and windy experience but  brave little Derin never complained once. She skied all the way to the Marmotte lift – down the schuss – off piste down a gully and then skated across the flats all by herself. Her edge control for skating actions is improving every day.

The first part of the video clip is Derin working on side stepping up an icy slope and then side slipping down again. This requires good coordination and the confidence to use the outside edge of the uphill ski. It also requires keeping both skis parallel and quite close together while both pointing properly across the fall line of the slope. Good side slipping skills are extremely important to develop. With those skills improved Derin’s overall stance will narrow naturally and she will feel less and less obliged to spread her feet wide apart for stability. Also she will have two edges working properly to control her climbing or side slipping – instead of just the bottom ski.

We didn’t spend long on those exercises – just the length of time seen in the video – but the trick is to do this each time at the top of a run.

Dynamics

Being an extremely cold day there was no time to stand around explaining anything. The dynamics were happening just by giving Derin a tight track to follow behind me and going slightly faster and on steeper terrain. She understands the “feeling” now so the thing needed most is exposure to physical constraints. Following a tight line is exactly like trying to stay in a racing course – but at a lower speed. Here the “environment” shapes the skier.

Off Piste

One major “environment” aspect of skiing is “off piste”. Dynamics are the key to good off piste skiing and when over a few days you see a child adapt and stop falling over it’s due to a direct improvement of dynamics. The ski lifts the skier up and out of a turn – and this is massively amplified off-piste. If the skier doesn’t respond by falling much more strongly to the inside of the turn then they get kicked out of it prematurely and fall over as a result. This is why very early on in skiing much development is achieved by using off-piste, bumps and racing poles. However this must be done with a clear understanding of dynamics – the “magic wall” – or it can be far more destructive than constructive (which is most often the case!).

Derin skied in steep, very difficult heavy snow without falling over once.

Derin can also now negotiate the bumps on a red run comfortably. Today she skied several red runs – both on and off piste – maintaining rhythm behind me all the way. She also managed to remain on her feet when on ice.

The music here in the video is “The Fairy Queen”. We had another discussion about fairies today. I explained that there were none around today and that’s why it was so cold. They only come here to make us new snow and keep us warm. The alternative for snow^making is the big snow canons beside the pistes  - but I had a hard job explaining simply how they manage to make snow. It’s easier with the fairies!

Bitterly cold day at minus 17°C with a strong wind.