Victoria and the “Fracture in the Fabric of the Spacetime Continuum”

Victoria did a few intensive coaching sessions with me last year and was very successful, but this year felt the need to revise and perhaps keep up the momentum of her progression.
Prior to the session I asked if there was anything that might have presented a problem or concern in her skiing since last year and after a bit of reflection she mentioned that she had a lot of trouble trying to ski on one ski – and that this was odd because she has a good sense of balance. This issue then gave me a very good point of focus for the session even though there might not appear to be any great importance to it on the surface. I described the issue as being a bit like in “Doctor Who” when a small crack in a wall actually turns out to be a crack in the fabric of spacetime itself which has to potential to engulf the entire universe. Although this issue didn’t appear to signal anything significant in Victoria’s skiing I suspected the Doctor Who analogy might be quite accurate. I didn’t mention that I feel the term “sense of balance” is misleading, because in skiing we need to try to fall over – so the issue actually had nothing to do with “balance”. It was an issue of awareness, particularly of the use of ski edges but also of the motion of the Centre of Mass.

Assessment of Victoria’s skiing for development

Main strengths – Rhythm, Speed Control, Dynamics, Pole Use – A good strong skier with good coordination.
Main areas to develop – Edge Awareness, Turn Initiation/ Completion, Vertical Motion, Rotation (Eliminate),

Victoria demonstrated her current difficulty of skiing on one ski.

After a brief warm up we went straight into the appropriate exercises. My aim was to help Victoria to ski properly on one ski as soon as possible.
Exercise one: Side Slipping
Side slipping was done here with the slip being initiated by moving the CM (Centre of Mass) downhill just slightly – enough to reduce the edging so that the skis would slide. This was partly to show the connection between the CM and basic edge control.  Although skis can be flattened by use of the legs alone – that is really more of a “fine tuning” than a basic action.
Exercise two:  pivot from top leg
The main difficulty with skiing on one ski is that people jam the ski on its edge too soon. People are trained from day one to think that a ski has to be on its inside edge (inside of the turn in this case as there is only one ski) to be able to turn and this is simply not true. Pivoting from the uphill edge of the uphill ski makes it clear that a ski has another option – and one that will be shown to be much more appropriate for single ski skiing.
The turn is initiated by moving the CM slightly downhill and also forwards so the the ski front is pushed downhill. There is also a  tension maintained in the adductor muscles – sometimes pulling the ski sideways into the turn – swinging the front down. This is NOT a twisting or steering action.
Exercise three: Pushing ski against a pole
Standing with skis parallel across the hill, lift the top ski about 5cm from the snow. Place a pole in the ground downhill of the tip of the ski and right next to it. The skier pulls against the pole with the ski edge and if the ski’s tail moves outwards then there is an unwelcome twisting action . If the tail drops inwards this shows that only the adductors were being used to attempt to swing the ski. Victoria was in the middle which showed that she hadn’t previously identified the correct muscular action of the adductors – thus also explaining some to the turn initiation problems in her free skiing – with the turn start being rushed and as sudden late build up of pressure resulting – because the ski was allowed to be pushed outwards slightly instead of being pulled inwards.
Exercise four: skis off
When skiers execute short turns they usually over-rotate the upper body, partly because they don’t adjust for the geometry of the mountain as the skis come rapidly around.Through the short turn the body must sink down with the centre of mass being almost driven back up the hill – or the extra forces from the resistance of the ground to gravity will cause the skier to exit the turn too soon. This is most easily corrected with the skis off – but I’ll not try to describe all of that here – it’s just a reminder for Victoria.

Exercise five: pivot from bottom ski
Pivoting on the downhill ski. This is obviously a necessary skill for skiing on one ski. What becomes clear is that the CM must allowed to move more downhill than usual but the ski must not be allowed to flatten onto its downhill edge. The idea is to keep the ski on its uphill edge as long as possible – until it points down the fall line where an edge change is unavoidable.
Exercise six: strong pole use (including grip)
Victoria’s poles were held in a weak grip with all the support coming from the straps. I asked her to remove the straps from the wrists so as to be forced to hold the grips. The best way to hold a ski pole handle is to grip tightly with the thumb and  second and third fingers – leaving the index finger and pinky loose so that the pole can swing freely with a slight motion of the wrist. There should be very little actual arm movement involved in pole use.
With a pivot from a stationary position the pole needs to be planted downhill and behind the feet. The body’s weight is then moved over onto the pole – placing the CM somewhere between Vertical and Perpendicular relative to the feet. The feet however must remain below the CM so that the skis stay on their uphill edges.
When the pivot begins the pole provides a form of fulcrum – blocking the rear from sliding downhill abut permitting the fronts of the skis to slip down – taking the skier into a turn

Exercise seven: Starting on bottom ski then pivoting on top ski

This is just a trick to really get the CM more actively into the future turn (but still uphill of the feet – relative to the perpendicular). When the lower ski is lifted and pressure placed on the uphill one there is a great deal of load put on the ski pole. This is also a good way to get the message across about how strongly the pole has to be used sometimes for pivoted turns – and why in fall -line skiing such as in moguls pole planting is often critical for success.

Exercise eight: short radius pivots with independent legs

Very short radius turns were introduced to provide a practical use for the pivot – and to show how it can be done on either or both skis. Victoria was struggling with the hips rotating into the tight short turn – which is normal when learning this so instead of having the standard top leg coming around to be the bottom leg, we stood facing downhill, feet apart and kept both feet at the same level on the hill – just across from each other on the horizontal. Each ski/leg would have to rotate independently. This exercise takes a bit of work to get right but it’s a very useful exercise and helps to prevent hip rotation and to free up the hip joints in general.
Exercise nine: skiing on one leg successfully

Exercise ten: pivots using bumps/terrain
We made use of the terrain to initiate pivoted turns when the skis were crossing moguls. Once the entire fronts of the skis were airborne than swinging the skis downhill became easy. This way the pivot adapts to terrain. It’s interesting to note here that the “swing weight” of a ski in nowadays never mentioned in magazine reviews although it used to be a key purchase consideration in skis several years ago.
Exercise eleven: short swings
Short swings are as name suggests – a short swing of the skis into a turn – but from a jump. The skis are not “steered” or twisted with any torque though the feet – they are pulled “inwards to the turn. This is the key factor in keeping the hips loose and in stopping hip rotation. We worked on the jumping so that a fill leg extension was used – even pushing on the back of the boots to straighten the legs. When jumping in this manner the CM goes up properly in the air and the straightened legs then flex on landing to make the landing smooth and absorb the impact. Victoria was well coordinated in this exercise. In the air the skis are only sung a small amount and the rest of the turn is smoothly executed on the snow.

Exercise twelve: short swings edge to edge
Edge to edge short swings require a strong edge set and no skidding at all. There is no turn made on the snow. It is an exercise in jump, swing, land and rebound. The body has to be well positioned and pole used for support but it is a great edge control exercise. One purpose of this was to get Victoria’s legs more active and to enhance as the initial video showed them to be a bit static. This (leg use) is all about controlling the CM as discussed above – especially lowering down enough to keep it inside the turn towards the end – until required to come back up out of the turn.
Observation:  full carving turns
With Victoria now skiing on one ski we moved on to address other aspects of edge control. Relatively short carved turns exposed the fact that the skis were washing out though the beginning of the turn instead of locking on in a carve from the start. As opposed to pivoted turns, carved turns DO use the inside edge to initiate the new turn – so they are the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Edge control and awareness cannot be complete without being on top of this aspect.
Exercise thirteen: countered carved turn initiation/following skis for easy edge change
It transpired that part of Victoria’s edging problems were due to an inappropriate belief that it was always necessary to “face downhill”. This is that main reason why weak turn initiation develops – because the “facing downhill” can cause the skis to be pushed outwards, the hips to lock and rotation to set in. (all visible in Victoria’s skiing to some degree) In this case it was completely preventing a carved turn initiation. We worked for a moment on “following” the skis  and remaining square to their direction of travel so that the body would face across the hill at the end of the turn and a simple falling to the side would initiate the new turn. This tends to make the turn radius longer but guarantees a proper carved turn. When terrain is very uneven it also guarantees that the legs can soak up all the bumps – where as upper/lower body separation can make the skier unstable in such conditions. Following the skis is usually thus determined by terrain. Taking this further we actually “countered” the body to the new turn, rotating it to face slightly uphill.
Exercise fourteen: skating and dropping CM into turn
Here is was shown that facing downhill when carving is done so that the skier is actually skating downhill (in curved strides – which become arcs). When skating the body is projected from a solid grip and the feet are pushed forwards. Facing downhill in carved turns serves this same purpose. The same applies to any rounded “inside edge” turns.

Exercise fifteen: Relaxing the hip joints

Most people are strongly conditioned in skiing to “resist” at the hips. Years of training to push the skis out, twist or steer all contribute to this. The legs become locked at the hips with all the muscles fighting against each other. Correct selective muscle use requires real relaxation in a completely tangible manner. The reason we bend though the start of a turn is to get the CM down into the turn. The faster and easier that happens the better in most cases – and that is achieved by totally “letting go” – dropping like a stone with complete relaxation of all the muscles at the hip joints  – then catching again when the body has dropped and tensing the appropriate muscles. To prepare for this by exercise I stand behind the skier on the uphill side and get her to drop as if to slump into a chair with me catching and taking the load before telling her to stand up again. This trains the body to feel the correct relaxation in the hips.

Exercise sixteen: off piste with pivot
We attempted to apply the pivot in some gnarly off-piste snow but it was a little bit too difficult for a first attempt in such terrain.

Victoria perhaps found the lesson very informative and successful, but for me the interesting aspect lies elsewhere. Most of the material covered had already been covered almost a year ago and perhaps in more depth and over more time. So what was different this time? The difference was in Victoria’s awareness. She was able to accurately interpret and perceive things that didn’t sink in the previous time  – because she hadn’t been ready for them on that earlier occasion. The fascinating thing is that no matter how many years a skier skis and develops this awareness can continue to grow and perception continue to alter. If anything a skier’s level can be defined by her awareness. Victoria’s awareness had certainly moved on and so she made the lesson successful.

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