Today Bugra was on his own as the others had decided to be lazy. Bugra is clearly physically fit and also keen to learn to ski well. His decision was a good one because he was in need of one-on-one coaching and feedback and as a result made excellent progress during the day.
Yesterday Bugra’s individual characteristics had not changed much during the day. He was still very tense, static, stiff, “two footed”, a bit hunched or crouched with the hands held too low and often caught out by leaning backwards on the back of the ski boots and the adductor muscles were not being employed at the start of most turns. For this reason I chose to focus on getting the legs to work properly though the development of skating skills. The main objective would be to get Bugra skiing on one leg instead of two.

Learning to Skate
On flat ground I asked Bugra to skate towards me. It was obvious that he had not previously learned to skate so all the movements integrated into skating were totally alien to him. Later on I pointed out to Bugra that his stance when skating looked more like someone riding a horse – with the knees bowing outwards – than someone skating – with the knees coming slightly inwards. Skating on ice skates or Rollerblades comes quite naturally because the edge is directly under the centre of the foot. With skis the edge is several centimetres towards the inside – with some skis even a few centimetres further inside than the actual inside edge of the foot. For this reason some people find their knees forced outwards when they try to skate with the skis diverging. Correcting this is just a case of awareness and coordination – the knees have to be pulled inwards by using the adductor muscles up to the groin – so that the inside edge of the foot inside the ski boot flips over the ski onto its inside edge with a form of leverage – so that it can be used as a solid platform for propulsion. This  can happen quite naturally if there is a resistance to skate against. I took a ski pole and held it across in front of me then placed my skis between Bugra’s and asked him to push me along. Simply trying to get the traction to push makes the skier pull inwards with the adductor muscles to get purchase on the edges. Once Bugra had managed this I explained that to accelerate in skating all he had to do was imagine I was still there to push and as he fell forwards the force that was against me would be replaced by an acceleration. In this manner Bugra started to skate correctly. Teaching someone how to use in-line skates (Rollerblades) I’d use a similar method – perhaps a shopping trolly with a heavy weight in it so that the skater has something to hold on to for stability and security and something to push against.

Integrating the Skate Into Skiing
The first step towards using skating in skiing is literally “stepping”. Standing stationary across the hill I asked Bugra to step uphill and with each step to fully transfer the weight to the leg he was standing on. he had no problems with doing this. Predictably it wasn’t so easy however to do it when moving. Bugra’s steps were more like a shuffle than decisive confident steps. Persisting for several passages, traversing the slope, he became more comfortable with stepping while moving – realising that the two can be separated. This “independent” use of the legs is of course fundamental as a part of skating – accepting acceleration and motion while standing on one leg. Once the stepping was functioning we left that behind (though we used it later) and moved directly on to skating.

Skating Around a Long Circle on the Flat

On flat terrain I introduced the idea of progressively skating around a turn – stepping to the inside with each skate as a means of displacing the body to the inside of the turn. This is how cross country skiers have to change direction as those skis do not turn due to pressure. Amusingly on his first attempt Bugra actually stepped outwards in a circle displacing the skis as in a stem or snowplough with the tips converging instead of diverging. I’ve seen this happen before so was easily able to explain what was happening and Bugra quickly corrected for this.

4,3,2,1 Resonance

The next stage was to apply the skating to turning on a proper slope. To begin with we used 4 or 5 skates towards the inside of each turn. Steadily decreasing the number. I wanted Bugra to make sure he started the turn with a skate downhill and didn’t avoid separating the skis. When the skis diverge like this you are placing the inside ski so that you can easily stand on it and slide. The wider you spread the skis apart the tighter the resulting turn. Bugra was a bit concerned about where all of this was leading but he didn’t have to wait much longer to find out. Eventually we were down to one single skate per turn – and so the turn and the skate could simply blend together. Skating timing (down then up) is precisely the same as dynamics timing – toppling in/down and then back up/out of a turn. The untrained eye cannot identify this, but anyone who feels the connection find it to be an unmistakable physical sensation – because it is a resonance.

Winding Back to the Stepping Up

Despite the progressive exercises Bugra didn’t connect with the resonance so we had to take a step backward and try another approach. We returned to stepping uphill during a traverse then doing this at the end of each turn. Once standing up on the uphill edge of the top ski Bugra had to stay on that leg and allow his body to fall downhill into the new turn – completing it by stepping back uphill onto the other leg. This is another approach to developing the use of only one leg and it helps to make it easier to understand how the skating mechanism works. From this exercise Bugra understood the function of the movement. I explained that it was not always necessary when skiing to literally step back uphill – the up motion is really to be used in aiding the dynamics – aiding the body to come up out of a turn. We practised turning with one skate and included a clear stepping uphill at the end to clarify the issue. This is an old technique that was used in racing – called a “step turn”. There used to be a full repertoire of step turns and the one that we were doing would have been called an uphill ski parallel step turn. Unfortunately and unwisely such things are not taught any more in national systems.

Direct Method

Yesterday we had a brief attempt at the direct method, but today with a few hours of skating around it would be a lot easier. The idea is to skate directly downhill and then introduce dynamics to the inside of each skating stride. The ski starts to turn the skier strongly and so the need to diverge the skis to remain skating disappears and the skating seamlessly converts into skiing. Unfortunately, due to apprehension at skating downhill, Bugra had a tendency to forget his skating and to start riding his horse again. He did however start to sense the rhythm and resonance.

The Slalom Test

Bugra was now able to feel like he was skiing on one leg at a time – which I pointed out to him was exactly what he felt right at the start when I asked him to push against my shoulder – it’s a consequence of good dynamics and stance. You don’t have to try to ski on one leg it actually happens to you when everything is in the right place. With this progress it was obvious that Bugra would have the potential to go faster in slalom and better his 39 seconds from the previous day. The only problem is that he would go faster in the course and so be confronted with the difficulty of staying in the course – which is exactly the sort of feedback that a good racing course provides to enable you to adapt and progress.
The first couple of runs Bugra did have exactly that problem because he wasn’t reacting quickly enough to his new speed. I explained that he had to move his Centre of Mass into the new turn much earlier than he currently thought was necessary. If he waited until close to the gate to move then at this speed it would be too late because by the time the CM moved he would be well past the gate. This is how skiers become aware of the real physical parameters involved in skiing and how it is necessary to change perception of how and when to move. The battle then becomes one of dropping into and staying inside the turn as it progresses and the forces build up trying to lift the skier up and out of the turn inappropriately. We only had time to work on the first issue and also Bugra changed his line near the end of the course where he had been overturning unnecessarily. Bugra reduced his time to 36 seconds.
Skating in Racing
Yesterday I mentioned that the reason a very good slalom skier appears to face his upper body downhill is because he is literally skating straight down the mountain. His skis are however driving him laterally out to the side, but if he turns his body with this then he can’t skate and literally can’t propel himself. For our skating exercises and dynamics I kept it much simpler and requested everyone to just continue to follow the skis around the turn. Skating is not the only benefit of facing downhill, it also makes it possible to create angles at the hip called “angulation” which facilitate both the entry and exit of the CM in a turn – and also greatly aids driving the CM deeper down into the turn when required for either generating speed and control of direction in racing or for braking or setting up a new turn in pivoting plus the permitting the use of the abdomen to drive the pivot.

View across the valley to Cugnai. 
Fracture line of a fatal avalanche (previous week) can be seen.

Off Piste / Dynamics Part 2

Heading down to lunch at La Daille I decided that we could fit in an interesting off-piste run – all the way down. Bugra was a bit thrown off by the steepness and narrowness of the start of the descent and suddenly understood why I had been teaching the pivot yesterday! Of course we hadn’t looked at the pivot this morning so he felt too apprehensive to attempt it. Needless to say we were set to be a little bit late for lunch – but lunch was not our priority! Further down the skiing area widened and Bugra felt much more confident to use the dynamics and independent leg action. I pointed out that perhaps the most important action off piste was the push up from the lower leg at the end of the turn. This push up of course is the same as we had been working on with the skate and stepping. Here however it was most important – when applying this to dynamics not to step back up the hill but to do the opposite – to use the push up to come up and out right over to the perpendicular – so that the entry into the next turn would happen easily even though the ski would be on the inside edge from the start of the turn. Basically, if you use dynamics off piste then you have to go the whole way – any half hearted effort will fail miserably.
Pivoting with Independent Legs
Removing the skis and standing on the slope facing downhill with the heels digging in to the snow and feet apart I showed Bugra how the legs can rotate independently below the pelvis. The front of the foot swings either inwards or outwards. The feet look like windscreen wipers when you look down at them. Doing this with the skis on is not quite so easy. The aim is that the body does not turn and each foot/ski does an independent pivot. This way, facing completely downhill, the skier always has the feet below him on the mountain – so there is always security and a pivot can be executed without difficulty. Remember the pivot requires the first half of the turn to be done on the uphill edge of the supporting ski or skis. Bugra couldn’t get this so we stopped it and returned to the standard pivot. I had been intending to continue to develop the theme of independent leg action that we had been working on all day with bringing it strongly into the pivot – but Bugra wasn’t quite ready for this yet. We reverted to a bit of revision of the standard pivot and continued to work on other aspects of independent leg action.

Stepping Uphill in the Pivot

The pivot uses reduced dynamics so as to avoid changing the edges of the skis before the fall line. Regardless of this the pivot still shares the same need for a strong push up at the end of the turn – but this time, instead of being used to lift the skier out of a turn and drop immediately into the next turn with strong pressure on the inside edge – it is used to impede the flow of momentum downhill and the energy goes into un-weighting the skis – removing pressure. The extreme example being the short swing. The pivot is in effect a “braking” form of skiing  – a way of turning very short radius if required even on the steepest of slopes and a way of preventing undesired accelerations.

Clarification of Foot Use

Bugra was unsure how to use his foot/leg to start the pivot. I’d explained this yesterday but it had been lost within the vast amount of information he was trying to absorb. The important issue is that the skis are placed below the body on the mountain. For this reason it is simplest to have the feet together. If you separate the feet then the uphill ski tends to spread further uphill and change edge – which is what we don’t want. Keep the feet as far down the mountain as possible. You stand on the uphill ski and let the foot roll over inside the ski boot onto its lower, inside edge. The adductor muscles are also tensed exactly as when using dynamics. The ski however remains on its uphill edge due to the rigid shaft of the ski boot. The ski will begin to slip downhill when you do this and all you have to do is now swing the front of the ski inwards. In reality even that is not always necessary – just moving the CM slightly downhill is enough to cause the pivot to take place.

Short Swings Revisited

Bugra saw me do a short swing off piste to turn in a nasty spot and then realised that he was going to be stuck himself! We spent some time working of the coordination of the short swing. The way you jump is important – it must be from a flexed position and the legs must fully extend in the air and then flex again on landing to smooth out the shock. Bugra and a choppy jump so we worked on smoothing it out. We didn’t get his coordination perfect but he did improve the synchronisation of the two skis in the air and understood the movement better.
Pivot on Bumps and Steeps
We spent a moment repeating yesterday’s exercise of pivoting on the bumps to accustom Bugra to steeper terrain in a less intimidating environment. Moving over to the steeps off piste Bugra was able to correctly execute the pivot now – whereas prior to the lunch break he was completely stuck in such a situation.

Staying Inside the Turn

Our final exercise involved working on the end of the pivot – being able to hold the body deep inside the turn until it is appropriate to let it spring up and out. This is perhaps the most important part of the pivot and it can’t be achieved if there is any body rotation during the turn. This also can’t be learned until the other aspects are in place. Above I mentioned how facing downhill is a valuable skill when used correctly. Here I wanted Bugra to feel how it would allow him to sink into a turn and load up his skis and also generate stability and control in the pivot. One important aspect of this in the pivot is that it places both skis well below the body on the mountain and makes the pivot into the next turn spectacularly efficient. To give Bugra this sensation I had him point his poles downhill and I pulled them. He had to turn his bottom uphill, stretch his arms out towards me and pull – letting his CM fall uphill. He could resist me effectively and had no problem holding his adductor muscles tight. When he turned side on to me (simulating rotation) he could not resist any force.

Black – Slushy Bumps

Finishing the day we put everything to the test on a black bumps run that everyone else was avoiding. To negotiate this correctly Bugra had to use the pivot and a good strong push up. He skied it effectively and realised that he could not have done this prior to this afternoon. Progress was good!

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