Katariina–Val Thorens

Program for (daily) solo “mindful” practice sessions…

  1. Focus: Dynamics – out of existing turn (or traverse) by moving the centre of mass (CoM) over the front of the downhill ski.
  2. Focus: Dynamics – once the CoM crosses over the skis stand firmly on the uphill leg to get grip and pressure from the very start of the new turn.
  3. Focus: Timing – once the CoM crosses the skis it goes Down into the new turn – using the lower ski to bring it back Up to complete the turn.
  4. Focus: Feet – both feet pronated – standing on fronts of the heels – adductors tensed and lower abdomen contracted.
  5. Focus: Pivot – try single pure pivots (no forward sliding) or each leg. Try single pivots on the “wrong” ski. Ski on one ski. Always inside of foot no matter what edge the ski is on.
  6. Focus: Posture – pull pelvis up at the front and release/flex at the hip joints. Pull the “outside” hip back (left hip when turning right) to stretch the abdomen slightly on that side and activate the protective reflexes. Stabilize the shoulders – only a slight twist in the lower spine.
  7. Focus: Angulation – sink down into the turn as it progresses to deal with increased forces as gravity and slope geometry combine against you. Make sure the left hip pulls back when required to allow you to bend.
  8. Focus: Purpose – Working the Ski – make sure the turns are completed and there is feeling and feedback all the way from the start to the end – with clear movements for each turn transition.
  9. Focus: Mindfulness – every turn must have attention firmly rooted inside the body. This drives down fear and anxiety and facilitates the counter intuitive acts that skiing requires – the active “falling” when instinct says “balance”, the constant “pulling in” when instinct says to brace, resist and push out.
  10. Focus: Fractal Dimensions – mindfulness in this complex activity leads to constant shifts of perception – sometimes big and sometimes little but always changing and evolving – always stimulating – always when least expected and always a surprise.

The video is in three sections…

  • Clip 1 shows basic dynamics – just moving the CoM into the turn
  • Clip 2 shows a competent pure pivot
  • Clip 3 shows a combination of all the elements in the above “program” being applied and setting the scene for fundamental development


Skiing is unfortunately subject to commercial marketing and pressures. Form the alcoholic party atmosphere, bad nutrition and inevitable sickness and illnesses experienced in the resort by almost everyone – to the complete nonsense that skiers are taught “en masse” guaranteeing that almost nobody will escape this shallow paradigm – it’s all a great shame and lost opportunity.

For skiing to serve us well it has to be seen as a “moving meditation” and shared with others only on this level. Achieving this state of mind and skill requires a specific understanding and discipline and the mindful state it generates is common to all valuable and worthwhile activities. What makes skiing unique in this domain is the spectacular, outdoors, winter environment it involves us with. Watching Katariina ski before beginning our session showed me immediately that she had slipped back and away from the work we had done a year ago – due to the social pressures of “keeping up” with fast (but not necessarily very good) skiers and the social demands – the opposite of “mindfulness”. The skis were being pushed out to the sides and dynamics had almost vanished with the turns not being constructed with any inherent purpose. Katariina’s goal was to have the ability and confidence to attempt to ski with others off piste when fresh snow came – but the underlying social pressure appeared to dominate everything and focus was removed from the act of skiing itself. Asking Katariina to explain back to me the understanding gained from last year she was vague and not able to articulate it. It’s not possible to be mindful and purposeful in your actions when you are unclear of what to focus on – other than not getting lost, following your friends, trying hard to keep up, getting scared, getting tired, finding the café etc. etc.

The beauty and value of skiing are greatest when you are totally absorbed in the activity – your mind, body, equipment and environment all functioning in coordinated harmony and when you can empty your life – for a moment – from daily stress and worries. There’s nothing “perfect” about it – it’s about exploring an endless process of discovery and creativity. Either that of you just hack your way down the mountains until you eventually get bored, frustrated or your body falls apart. Pistes are a blank slate and unfortunately they do not reveal any rules, structure or discipline necessary for developing real skills. Skiing is “holisitc” in that you can remove parts of it, get parts wrong and still “ski” – or at least call it skiing. The holistic quality can also be used constructively to allow us to change one bit at a time and develop skills progressively. The skier who is working on skill does not need to hack fast down the mountain but instead has to bring purpose and feeling to each turn. The process resembles “Tai Chi” in that everything in the turn shape and function to the smallest detail is done carefully and with great attention. Everything that actually really works well is counter intuitive and so this care and attention is specifically directed towards overcoming all the obstacles of impulsive, instinctive tendencies that block our progress. The skier ends up taking a “slower line” as if there were slalom poles in the way – creating “form” on the empty page of the piste. Put this skier in a proper race course once skill is developed then the reality of skills shows through with no question – and the same goes for off piste skiing.

During the session we looked at five main aspects of skill but also had to reinforce the overall objective – the shape of the turns, the line taken, the purpose of this, the feelings to observe and the mindfulness inherent in putting it all together. While Katariina was following me during skiing she was not fully aware of the line I was taking – or the reason why. We had to take time to specifically describe this and get Katariina to apply this by herself. The turns on the last video clip of the three show this line and the function of all the movements being developed.


We began with a basic revision of “dynamics”, repeating my standard exercises of getting Katariina to push her shoulder against mine. I left a gap between our bodies and used the analogy of jumping across a stream – the movement of the body required being such that the aim was to avoid falling into the stream so total commitment was needed. The static exercise was repeated with me both uphill and downhill of Katariina and she later had no problems using this to turn from a straight line down the fall-line, then to make whole turns and then connect them. This part of dynamics resembles a motorbike going over into a turn. Dynamics is the physics of “disequilibrium” – we are not using balance. Motorbikes have to come back up out of turns – and so do skiers. This is the key part of any turning. It’s in this “transition” between two turns that all the magic happens. The trick is to stay on the lower ski as the turn finishes and let the ski lift the body up and out of the turn so that as you go across the hill your body becomes perpendicular with the mountain and the skis flat (this is idealized and not completely necessary). Getting to “perpendicular” as you cross the hill is only sustainable for an instant because the moment you crossed the vertical (to gravity) you already began to fall downhill. This point of this however is that you now guarantee the dynamics into the next turn. This is the biggest single aid to competent off-piste skiing in any snow and also in slalom racing. For more advanced dynamics you move specifically over the fronts of the skis – while most people actually move over the backs of the skis unconsciously. (But this requires well developed skill and angulation where appropriate.)Good skiers use the support of the skis to move their centre of mass. Poor skiers push their skis about and have no awareness of their centre of mass. Some people discover that they do move their bodies as if on a bicycle and they get by reasonably well – but they are most often directly (incorrectly)criticized for this. The rule is simple. You have one job – to fall over. Your ski has one job – to bring you back up. You fall in the direction you want to turn. Any twisting of the body or skis in that direction – or pushing out of the skis to brace against – will prevent the skis from supporting you. The centre of mass does the driving.Dynamics brings us natural timing and rhythm. You go down into a turn and back up out of it – like the motorbike. This creates a simple pressure cycle – which in racing or deep off-piste generates a “rebound” effect – which people enjoy. Ski schools teach the opposite  (up – down timing) – the only explanation for this being stupidity.


Most people can manage to produce basic dynamics – providing the ski equipment is set up reasonably well and they are not still trying to push the skis out into a snowplough (yes – I do not teach beginners snowplough because it develops inappropriate muscle coordination). To support good dynamics we need to be aware of what to do with the feet and ski boots. The answer is simple – you stand on the front of the heels just below the ankle joint and then pronate both feet inwards – onto their inside edges – and keep them like that.

Why? Well that’s not so simple to answer! The pressure on the front of the heel (at least taking this as a base position to work from) is to prevent the ankle from collapsing inside the ski boot and also to give accurate control over foot pronation. You can also use the foot muscles to stand up on the forefoot but that is more challenging to do. The main thing is not to let the boot support you fore and aft with the boot shaft due to a collapsed ankle – you have to use your own muscles to stand up. You pronate the feet inwards so that the inside edges of the feet are always used – as they are tied to the adductor muscles on the insides of the legs and connect with the core muscles and lower abdomen for strength. While the inside edges of the two feet are kept active this (surprisingly) lets us correctly access all four edges of the skis independently – but that becomes clear only with “pivoting” experience. Katariina could feel the improved support from engaging the feet and adductor muscles in this manner. The point is that the outside ski always has the foot rolled onto its inside edge – the adductors pulling inwards and the centre of mass pulling inwards – everything working inwards. The ski (turning) is actually deflecting you inwards away from a straight line at any instant – this is correctly called “centripetal force”. You need to help the ski by working in the same direction – inwards. Most people from the snowplough onwards are actually pushing/bracing/resisting outwards and are never taught or discover how to pull inwards. The “centrifugal” (fugal – outwards) force they feel is an illusion and does not exist. In mechanics this is called an “inertial force”. Google “inertial force” and you will find “Fictitious Force”.


To clarify the correct use of the feet we had to revise the pivot. There is a fixed page on the pivot in the menu at the top of this page and it includes demos – so I’m referencing that page here instead of writing it all out again.

Katariina initially stood on her uphill edge (uphill ski) and lower edge of the foot correctly during the pivot  – but then tried to push the tail of her ski out and torque her foot and body into the pivoted turn (which is a pure sideslip of the front of the ski). With the ski on its uphill edge you simply cannot push the tail of the ski uphill so this makes the inherent problem very clear. With some assistance Katariina was able to feel how the centre of mass guided the front of the ski down and into the turn and around to support her from below. The second video clip shows her doing it on her own with pole support – though there is still a slight attempt to twist the tail out. This is the instinctive urge to force things which has to be overcome – through training.

This point of this motion is to develop the skill of always “pulling in” when all the impulses are to push out. It doesn’t matter what edge the ski is on – whether pure pivoting or pure carving the same overall movement pattern is used. The “pulling in” at the start of the turn is actually fed directly from the turn transition with the centre of mass coming out of the previous turn and continuing over the skis towards the centre of the new turn – the skillful skier being able to exploit this actively – though the “pulling in” always takes some courage to overcome instinctive impulses.


Before we can have good hip angulation we need to be able to control postural issues. When active and when the body is under load this nearly always requires a tilting upwards of the pelvis at the front (even for me with a flat lower back). The body is then tilted forwards from the hip (the head of the femur) and the pelvis/lower back area is held as a solid unit.  In simplest terms the hip angulation is really caused by the tilted upper body pivoting around on a single hip joint. Regardless of the apparent simplicity this turns out to be the most confusing area of ski technique – perhaps because skiing is unnatural in many ways and because the largest and most versatile joints and largest muscles in the body are involved.Typically skiers are taught that when the ski comes around to complete the turn they have to keep the shoulders facing downhill. This is referred to as “winding up” the body (to be later released like a coiled spring after rebound). This is also why most dedicated skiers end up with destroyed lower backs. What happens is that the ski coming around pulls the pelvis with it and and compresses the side of the pelvis against the front of the ribs. While this is all happening at the maximum pressure and load during the turn there is a huge force passing through the body. Postural reflexes are completely involuntary and are controlled through pressure signals on the feet – so with the spine in this compromised position the system fails to work and all the protective muscles and contractions are blocked – the entire load going directly through the spine instead of being spread out through the whole midsection of the body.Our solution to this ubiquitous problem is actually quite simple – yet impossible for most people to discover (I’ve had major back surgery three times now and the last one failed!). What you do is you actively pull the outside (of the turn) hip backwards (counter rotating the pelvis slightly) so that as the turn closes there is a slight stretching between the rib and the pelvis instead of a compression. When the body is loaded with force the reflexes now work. It’s important to avoid the shoulders also counter-rotating along with the pelvis. The lower spine actually slightly twists in the opposite direction from the conventional way.

Not only does this protect the spine but it hugely improves the turn transition and all of the actions with the adductor muscles, feet, “pulling in” and motion of the centre of mass.Once the mechanics are understood then the practical application needs to be developed. We carried out a static exercise with skis off to show how to sink into the turn as pressure builds to prevent the turn from washing out and developing into a braking skid instead. This “shaping” of the turn and “working” of the ski sets up the correct forces and movement patterns to render everything functional.

Katariina had better postural control – and so angulation (and consequently control over rotation) – on her right side.

Forward Pressure

We had a brief look at using the fronts of the skis – more for clarification at this stage because it’s one of the hardest skills to develop. You cannot pressure the fronts of the skis strongly in off piste or racing unless you have very good angulation (in shorter turns). The power of turning that comes from the ski fronts is exceptional but the angulation is needed to get securely down and inside the turning arc – or the ski fronts will spit you straight out of the turn like an unwanted, dead cat. Most people – because they fail to some degree with angulation – compensate off piste by skiing on the backs of the skis and boots. The reality is that it’s only is very heavy goop where the skis fail to float and move at all that there is any advantage in getting on the backs of the skis and stressing the leg muscles and joints.

When you do actively use the fronts of the skis then yes – you do stand strongly on the forefoot and you do press hard against the shin – but not with the ankle collapsing inside the boots. Master angulation first and practice on the piste before even attempting this off piste or in a race course. This also helps greatly in bumps but the pivot must be used for bumps – the ski starting each turn clearly on its outside edge.


So you only ski a few weeks every year and part of this means enjoying the social side of relaxing any food and diet constraints! Perhaps not a great idea unless you like being ill while out in the next blizzard. Perhaps most people just get ill due to the sudden decompression of stress form their work environment. The immune system seems to go to sleep too when that happens. However I’m more concerned with “longevity” in skiing terms and the ability for people to enjoy the sport into their nineties instead of crapping out completely with heart attacks, strokes, cancer or just artificial hips and other bits in their 50s and 60s. While efficient and correct mechanics contribute enormously to longevity in sport it’s not the whole story. Nutrition is even more important.

It’s not the holiday blowout that makes the difference it’s what’s going on the rest of the time that counts. About 15 years ago I stopped drinking alcohol just because the social pressure to drink in skiing areas is practically compulsive. The best way to stay on top of this is to dissociate yourself completely then nobody bothers you about it. However the epidemic of debilitating colds, flu, stomach flu, bad backs, aching joints etc has more to do with never ending carbohydrate consumption than any other factor. The number one culprit for degenerating the spine is sugar – yet sports people are sold glucose supplements everywhere. People are addicted to bread, pasta, pizza and pastries – but have no idea what they are eating – which is basically an alien lifeform – with 42 chromosomes and 330,000 genes  (in contrast to a human with 25,000 genes). My own take on the gastro and other viral epidemics in ski stations is that the proteins in those products – particularly “gliadin” – open holes up in the intestines and let opiates like gluten straight into the bloodstream (and brain) and also viruses! Since stopping eating any of that junk three and a half years ago I’ve had none of those bugs – or if I had any of them at all the symptoms were so mild as to be practically unrecognizable. I’ve been ketogenic all this time and will never go back to eating carbs and vegetable oils – except I might steal a chip from someone occasionally or eat a square of sugared chocolate when skipping lunch – none of which knock me out of ketosis (fat burning metabolism).

The other issue is that even if you eat non starchy (carbs) vegetables they are likely to be devoid of nutrition – with mineral levels being as much as 50 times lower than nature intended due to chemical fertilizers – and this is even if you avoid organic pesticides and herbicides. How many people realize that 47% of all fatal heart attacks are in people with no cardiovascular congestion? – it just simply magnesium deficiency. How much magnesium did you get today? Somehow having 10% of the UK population flooding doctor’s surgeries with type 2 diabetes (a stunning 35.3% have pre-diabetes!!!) is seen as a medical epidemic and not a dietary one – precisely because it’s not junk food as such that’s causing it – it’s the medically recommended diet that leads to it. Nobody can eat a low fat, vegetarian diet for long without gong crazy – they rebound and yoyo because it’s all hormone controlled and you can’t beat hormones. They end up obese despite all their efforts. The other biggie is iodine! Nearly everyone is iodine deficient due to bromine being used ubiquitously as a fire retardant in household products. The bromine displaces iodine in the body. If you supplement iodine then it lines the mucus in your nasal passages and throat and acts as a powerful disinfectant for your body. (Think of that next time you are in a closed ski gondola) Iodine is also your frontline defense against prostate and breast cancer – ever wonder why there are epidemics of those too?

Why is skiing generally seen as an excuse to leave your brains at home and mess yourself up – in every possible way? Time to avoid the crappy commercial paradigms and move on.

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