David Day 1

First time ever starting the day at Les Coches! The road up to the little ski station resembles a motorway and seems completely out of proportion. Normally in the summer I either cycle up to La Plagne 2000 for a workout or up through Peisey to Les Arcs 1800 and down to Bourg St Maurice, but today (after 6 years of living at Aime across the valley) I realised that there are some other great empty roads to climb and that they are probably all interconnected somewhere along the top. Anyway – that’s not what this report is meant to be about!
Prior to teaching anything I filmed David, Melanie, Hanna and Thomas. The focus was to be on Hanna and Thomas because they were the youngest and least experienced skiers. To begin with conditions were quite frankly horrendous. The ski company is doing an amazing job of keeping the place open but last week’s +32°C temperature in the valley has certainly removed a great deal of snow – plus there is the fact that we have the least amount of winter snow in France since 1949. The problem we had was that everything started out as sheet ice and was seriously overcrowded with people frantically scraping past in all directions. This is not that place for anyone slowly wanting to traverse the width of the piste or to concentrate on learning anything new – so that fact that everyone was able to cope with this was actually quite impressive.

Initial Assessment
Hanna was clearly very uncomfortable with the conditions – what I couldn’t tell at this early stage was whether this was a purely technical issue or if she was making herself anxious for other reasons. – such as staring at the snow – plus I didn’t know if she coped much better than this normally. For this reason I decided when watching this descent to focus on pivoting skills with her – so that I wouldn’t be asking her to do anything potentially threatening (difficult perhaps but not threatening). At this stage Hanna was really using a very big “stem” pushing her outside ski out into a plough and then stepping the inside ski beside it. (What I hadn’t yet noticed, but is clear on the video is that she was moving her Centre of Mass strongly towards the outside of the turn and this is what was really throwing her off) There was also a strong twisting action present to try to force the stemmed ski around.

Thomas was also very tense though this could have just been a response to being on ice. Thomas was quite stiff with an overly wide stance for security and a tendency to push his outside ski away. The resulting turns were classic “tractor” turns with the hands held a bit low and whole body rotation. David’s basic posture was good though.

Melanie was a much more confident skier that either Hanna or Thomas and could keep up a much better flow and rhythm at a higher speed. Characteristic of Melanie’s sking was a small but definite stemming of the outside ski to initiate the turn and  this was accompanied with a twisting of the foot and ski into the new turn and so a loss of support from the foot and ski (twisting flattens the foot and ski). Posture looked good and the overall level was relatively strong.

David was clearly the strongest skier of the group and had a good level of competence at parallel skiing. Charcterestic of Davis’s skiing was a two footed heel push to the outside of the turn and an up/down timing pattern which to his credit was clearly executed. Davis’s knees had a tendency to point outwards so next time I’ll check the set up of the ski boots (Later checked and they were OK). There was a stem visible also and the knee issue is more likely to be due to a lack of use of the adductor muscles and other basic mechanics that are not in place yet.

We started working on the pivot straight away due to the icy conditions on the mountain and the need to ski in the fall line to avoid people. To start with I just wanted everyone to practise side slipping on the ice and to get the hang of standing on the top edge of the uphill ski while doing this. This was mainly to benefit Hanna and to get her confident about skidding sideways. Whenever you get stuck on a steep icy, narrow or otherwise troubling slope then all you need to do is to sideslip or even step down the hill – it is definitely not an obligation to “turn”.  Sideslipping is the basis of  direct fall-line skiing and the rapid pivot of the skis so lots of practise at this is very useful.

I demonstrated how the pivot is executed from the top (outside) edge of the uphill ski – and how this can be initiated passively by a slight motion of the body forwards and downhill – or more actively by a “pulling inwards” with the adductor muscles. Most people are completely unaware that a turn can be started on this edge. The moment people are placed on skis they are normally jammed into a snowplough position and on the inside edges of both skis and from then on the turn is executed on the inside edge of the outside ski and that’s all they ever hear about it. I pointed out that this inside edge becomes an accelerator when the ski is pushed out into a snowplough and so it doesn’t give much control and in addition by being jammed on the inside edge it can’t pivot or turn very quickly. Furthermore the stemmed ski has been pushed out with the abductor muscles of the legs – exactly the wrong muscles and coordination required for skiing. Lots of changes to be made then! To help move things on quickly I supported each person with my ski pole and pulled them one by one though a complete pivot so they could feel the action of the ski – starting the turn on the top edge – slipping into a turn and changing edge when pointing downhill (in the fall-line) and finishing the turn on the inside edge. At all phases of the turn the skier is on an uphill edge (except momentarily at the change of edge) and so always has the ski available as a brake. I had to help Hanna down a steep, narrow, overcrowded section and we sideslipped together (her holding onto my pole) most of the way but when the opportunity was there I tried to get her to feel the pivoting action by controlling her global movements in a turn. Conditions were however strongly against us. The pivot is a way to ski in the fall line – it is a braking action and is useful in bumps, steeps, deep off piste and many tricky situations. Pole support helps the pivot  (where as it hinders racing turns) and we very briefly looked at this issue.

Drinks Break / Feet
During a drinks break we looked at the feet and how to strengthen the ankle by standing on the heel and how to activate the adductor muscles by rocking the foot at the subtalar joint. It was explained that rocking the feet cannot be achieved when leaning on the front of the boot with the ankle collapsing and the best way to avoid that scenario at this stage is to stay on the heel. The rocking of the feet from edge to edge also ties in directly to the use of the ski edges. When a foot is rocked onto its inside edge the forefoot actually turns slightly outwards (away from the turn) placing the foot on its edge. The habit that everyone in this group already had was to twist the foot in the direction of the new turn – which flattens the foot and ski instead of edging it.

I’d explained earlier that it is an error to “lean forwards” and that the aim was to stand perpendicular to the hill – which in the case of traversing meant “vertical” and in going downhill would mean tilting downhill to remain perpendicular – but the stances are identical relative to the skis and the snow surface – you do not “lean” forwards and correct stance never feels like leaning forwards.

It was when looking at the video during this break that I spotted Hanna’s real problem – dynamics. Without consolidating the pivot any further we would move on to dynamics straight away. Pivoting takes a while to coordinate anyway and has to be returned to frequently and given time to sink in.

The basics of dynamics were explained during the drinks break – and how people confuse  various concepts of “balance” (refer: Emperor’s New Clothes). To introduce dynamics on the mountain I used my standard exercises of pushing against the shoulder and feeling the various results of pressure at the feet. A strong push gives a strong pressure on the far (outside in a turn) leg/foot. Push towards the right gives pressure on the left foot. Even when there is no immediate pressure on the shoulder if the person accelerates the body across the gap against my shoulder then instant pressure is felt on the far foot. If the motion is slow then the opposite happens and the near (inside in a turn) foot receives all the weight and pressure instead because it was not an acceleration. The mechanics of Dynamics is about “accelerations” (Newton’s second law F=MA), and the ski maintains an acceleration of the skier away from a straight line towards the centre of an arc (Centripetal force). In reality this is a simple consequence of the ski trying to lift the skier up and the skier trying to fall down.

The main shift in perception here is that the skier has to try to fall over – not try to stay in balance. The skier’s job is to fall over and the ski’s job is to bring the skier back up.

Hanna was initially confused but when she caught on it transformed her skiing – she started to move her body in the right direction and it all started to work for her.  Hanna was starting to make some very nice parallel turns with no stems at all when the conditions were favourable.

Thomas said to me that he felt it was much easier and just a lot less effort – which because I hadn’t mentioned this effect to him told me that he was getting the correct result – and his skiing looked much more relaxed and fluid with a generally narrower stance.

Melanie was making good progress and the fall in the video is due to her small stem/twist action still being in there despite the dynamics being applied – basically the inside ski in the turn was caught on it’s inside edge slightly (late in the turn) – but if the dynamics had been increased that would not have happened anyway. The deeper snow amplifies the “lifting up” effect of the skis and so the dynamics need to be increased pro-actively to deal with this.

David did well to put aside his heel pushing and replace it with dynamics. The turns even in the slush looked much more fluid and stable as a result. There was a a bit of confusion about how to incline the body naturally and so there was some bending and twisting at the waist and locking at the hips, but overall there was a big improvement and the other details will have to be ironed out later.

To help with David’s transition to dynamics we looked at timing issues because Davis’s up/down timing was interfering with the natural down/up timing that comes from dynamics (just think motorbike turning). We used skating exercises to get the legs to synchronise with the timing from the dynamics. Skiing with dynamics you can feel the pressure cycle – one leg to the other – is just like skating. By actively adding skating then it makes the vertical motion much more powerful and effective – assisting the skis to lift/direct the skier’s centre of mass. This effect can then be directly exploited in many different ways. We didn’t have time to get into that but with the exercises that we did Thomas  in particular picked up a good natural rhythm from the skating. David also managed the timing which is encouraging because this is a very difficult thing to “reverse” from the way he had been trained.

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