Audrey & Huw Day 5 (“Zag Shock”) – and the “Left at home Hassleblad”

Today I decided to exploit yesterday’s progress by putting it to use for a small off-piste excursion which would also be easy enough to permit progress to continue. The route we were aiming for is the Pays Desert  beside the Pissaillas glacier at the Col de l’iseran. To begin with we went up the Solaise lift and headed for the Mattis red run for a proper warm up. This piste is good first thing in the morning when it is both pisted and empty. The steepness is good for working on control of speed, by completing the turns, angulation, control of rotation etc. Both Huw and Audrey had managed to maintain their improved stances so this was a good uncomplicated run to help to get back into it.
Up at the top of the glacier the off piste was very wind packed and would present a resonable challenge. Some sections of the Pays Desert route were heavily ski pisted so that would make it an easier descent. My own first few turns showed me that round (racing type) turns with strong dynamics would only work properly if used very aggressively due to the density of the wind pack – so to be more efficient and to ski more at the pace of the others I switched to pivoted turns keeping the skis downhill of my body and it worked perfectly in this snow. I promptly advised the others to be sure to do the same. Huw was the first one upside down in the snow when we had to slide straight down a short steep ridge. I guessed it would happen as he would probably tense up exactly the same as when he missed the bridge on day one and head planted the opposite bank. The only technical input I gave here was to adopt a seated position in the deeper snow. The “sitting down” may cause you to fall backwards when facing across a slope – but when facing downwards it actually puts the weight directly though your feet – not behind. This also provides you with a stronger lever for pulling in with the adductors and it keeps the knees and feet ahead of the body. With the knees and feet ahead you can deal easily with sudden decelerations and also the knees can move upwards freely to deal with bumps and unexpected shocks. This worked particularly well for Audrey who had the significant advantage of using Zag skis. Huw was predictably thrown back to his stiff stance and gave a good impression of “rocket man” on skis at times – slightly out of control speed-wise. His K2 Apache 160cm skis – which are excellent piste skis were really not ideal for learning to ski wind pack – and his discovery of his adductors was probably still a little bit too recent. Audrey was second to hit the deck – face first at high speed – ploughing a furrow with her head after the skis went into a high speed wobble during a shuss. Instinctively  I had tensed up the adductors on both legs when the wobble set up on my own skis. Audrey remained stable off-piste and did an amazing job of holding it all together to cope with the difficult snow.

After the off-piste excursion the weather changed and visibility deteriorated so we headed back over to Solaise to the Lac d’Ouilette for an early lunch. After Lunch we would work on a revision of technique because Audrey found herself a bit wobbly and confused upon returning to the piste (probably due to the monster headplant) – plus I’d planned to do this anyway.
Exercise one: Pivot on top ski.
This exercise still managed to present a fair amount of difficulty. Huw forgot to go sideways instead of forwards. Audrey tended to follow the skis all the way around the turn losing all upper/lower body separation. Both managed some good pivots and some bad. (Earlier when pivoting also on the glacier I noticed Audrey still lifting the tip of her inside ski and digging in the tail when turning. This was corrected by pushing down the tip which then corrected the body position – allowing it to fall forwards better into the turn.)

Exercise two: Pivot on bottom ski.
Pivoting on the lower ski really forces the CM to be set up over the ski and supported by the pole. Good Upper/lower body separation is also needed. We focussed on the use of the pole to get the CM moving over the downhill ski and using the pole to support the body moving into the turn centre throughout the turn. The hardest part of this pivot is the end because most people allow the CM to be lifted out of the turn prematurely so they then shoot off down the hill.

Exercise three: Set up on bottom ski then switch to top and pivot.
Using the pole to set up the body over the lower ski – ready to pivot with it – but then lifting it up and placing all the weight on the previously weightless top ski. This makes sure the CM is well over – about half way between vertical and perpendicular in relation to the uphill ski. 
Exercise four: Coordinating pole use and jumping.
Traversing slowly, bending and heavily planting the downhill ski pole then using it to assist a coordinated two footed jump. Both skiers had trouble controlling their speed at first and both poorly coordinated the pole and jump – especially Audrey. With a few corrections this improved.
Exercise five: Short swings.
The jumping was now take into short swings to encourage vertical movements, pole use,  rhythm and upper/lower body separation at the hip joints. To start with both skiers stepped rather than jumped. This improved when it was understood that the amount of turning of the skis in the air should only be quite small. All the time the adductor / stance would be reinforced.
Exercise six: Ski in Le Manchet – completing turns.
Exercises can only be  tolerated for a certain amount of time so we went for a ski with the intention of applying some elements of the above on a suitably steep slope. The descent was started off with the aim of  controlling speed by comleting the turns correctly and passing the body over the lower ski with the use of appropriate pole support, correct stance U/L body separation etc. Pole use is slightly different when the skis are runing more forwards than sideways – it is slightly later and just a touch supporting the body slightly AFTER the new turn is initiated. Huw managed some nice and tight turns with good form all round.
Exercise seven: Manchet off-piste – corrections.
We moved over onto the Arcelles off-piste area and worked on a lower (mid stance) stance – as we had done earlier by “sitting”. Audrey was not using her poles to begin with and was rotating though the end of her turn – that is – following her skis too much. Huw was not so comfortable once again off-piste. Audrey corrected her problems and found herself automatically linking controlled turns thanks to her body position and pole use.

Exercise eight: Using the end of the turn to anticipate the next.
Audrey realised that with this last development she started being forced to see where the next turn would be – prior to completing the current one – but that this happened automatically. We exploited this for the next exercise which was to use the “lifting up” power of the ski at the end of the turn  to  be a signal for anticipating the following turn. Thinking of the turn completion this way worked for Huw who experienced the “bounce”  happening to him for the first time (instead of him “trying” to bounce). Using the energy from the skis/system in this way is like tapping into a resonance and a perception shift is required to think at least one turn ahead to deal with the “flow” and linking up of the rhythmical turns. Qualities such as this are the real reason why people love to ski and it’s what they feel when bounding down deep fall line powder, or fluidly dancing down a mogul field. Well executed slalom and all good skiing have this quality. (Resonance is best felt on parabolic skis. Zag skis and Fischer slalom skis are excellent for this.) When things “happen to you” in skiing as opposed to trying to make them happen, it is a strong confirmation that you are on the right track with development. The shift in perception experienced is also to some extent an altered state of mind – one that is a prerequisite for creativity in general. It’s as if the mind resonates with the environment – opening to it – instead of trying to impose itself and control everything.
Drinks break then swap skis and off down the Mattis off-piste beside the “L”
Exercise nine: Falling to the inside of the turn by default – or even – to a fault.
Huw was given my Zag Bigs to try out off piste but I didn’t realise they were 20cm longer than he is used to. He ended up suffering from what he described as “Zag Shock” syndrome. All we worked on was once again using the pole to ensure that the body fell to the inside of the turn all the way though. If you are going to err off-piste  then do so by falling to the inside – it keeps speed down and makes falls safer.

Audrey’s objective for the week was to be able to ski off-piste and in this she clearly succeeded. At the start of the five days she was a bit lost and confused in her skiing. She was relatively unaware of her movements which were largely emotionally and unconsciously driven – and reinforced through inappropriate early education in skiing. By the end of the five days she simply looks like she knows what she is doing – and she feels that way too.

Huw managed to fundamentally change his stance and support, despite using skis that do not give great feedback or support off-piste. The changes came a bit late to manage to build on them – but they still permitted Huw access to better exploit most of the work he had done during the week. In general Huw is much more secure and agile than in the beginning and is much better placed over his skis. There is a need to exaggerate actions more in general – but that will come now that the foundations are more solid.

High up on the glacier Huw demonstrated his passion for acquiring expensive photographic equipment by discussing the Hassleblad that he had “left at home” while taking out his trusty iPhone to take pictures of the stunning scenery. Perhaps I’ll not bother buying that expensive Canon SLR after all. Crap photos are better than none at all. At least you can blog them if nothing much else.

The “coming together” of things, particularly for Audrey on this occasion, was predicted on day one of the course when I explained how complex systems and human learning are based upon a non-linear process of self-organisation. Many different basic things have to be altered throughout the system and when this is done the system naturally self optimises. The writer Edward de Bono understood this process many years ago from his study of chaos and complexity and he specifically coined a term to describe it – “Lateral Thinking”.

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