David Day 2

Given the poor conditions at La Plagne David decided to try Tignes and Val d’Isère for this session. In fact later on in the day I had to drive to Mégève in Haute Savoie (near Chamonix) and found that they had been closed already for two weeks – so La Plagne was in fact doing very well surviving under such extreme conditions and the fact that so many lower lying resorts are closed is probably why La Plagne was a bit over-crowded. Although we ended up by starting off from Tignes we could just as well have started the day in Val d’Isère but the fact is that Tignes is a few hundred metres higher and the descent into Tignes at the end of the session would probably be better and easier than in Val. The reason for my later travels to Mégève is that Christiane was giving a concert in the evening and so I was just giving her a hand (not performing). You can find some of the recording at MadeInMountains. Once again I’m digressing a little bit here.

Melanie had finished the day a bit discouraged yesterday after a few falls towards the end. Despite that I was unable to focus on her specific issues with four people in total requiring attention. I knew that Melanie’s stemming was part of her difficulty and that drilling both the pivot and dynamics a bit more would help anyway. Sometimes also it takes a while to be able to separate out the movements that a skier is making – it can be much more obvious with beginners but more proficient skiers tend to blend their movements well and this can hide quite a lot from view until you get to know them better. My aim yesterday had been to focus on the children also so my attention had been in that direction and also Melanie had been quite quiet and so she had slipped under the radar a little.   Later in today’s session I was able to pinpoint exactly the source of Melanie’s difficult and why the dynamics probably worsened the situation but we will return to that later. Meanwhile as I expected Melanie skied confidently and more safely in the far better conditions that we found in Val d’Isère.
Developing the Pivot
Warm up
Our first run went off-piste and down a small gully. There was a slight covering of fresh snow over a frozen base of transformed Spring snow. The frozen base was a bit lumpy but not enough to throw anyone off. This was intended to be an interesting warm up and it appeared to work well. 
Placement of the Skis
Once onto the training slope the coaching began in earnest by going straight into working on development of the Pivot. Today I explained that pivoting permits you to ski with the feet kept downhill of the body. Standing in a steep couloir off-piste that would be more obvious – in places like that you are clearly better off keeping both your feet below you on the mountain. It’s this positioning of the feet that causes the skis to remain on their uphill edges. If you separate your feet and move the uphill ski further uphill then it will eventually have to go onto it’s lower, inside edge – which is what happens in a snowplough for example. Do that in a steep couloir and you are probably going to get a fright – yet often it is precisely this that people do – an uphill ski stem, to deal with steep terrain – in an attempt to remove the first part of the turn. Ironically the uphill ski stem actually works when done in a certain way so it is not to be discounted completely – but it’s much better to develop move general skills and then only only use the stem very occasionally and when the entire skiing level has moved up a notch and there is some awareness and control over body rotation (Defining Your Level).
Saying that the ski is “downhill” of the body is perhaps not clear enough. Imagine straight lines coming perpendicularly out of the mountain towards the sky. The line passing though the feet would be the lowest on the mountain, the Centre of Mass would be further up the mountain and you head would be intersected by the line the furthest up the mountain. 
Placement of the skis below the skier on the mountain is what leads to skiing with the feet close together in a narrow stance. This narrow stance used to be seen as the goal for perfect skiing – although it was never recognised that this meant initiating the turn on the uphill edges. The revolution in ski technology brought about by carving skis – which clearly permit people to exploit the inside edges of their skis much better – has driven ski teaching completely away from this narrow stance. The “feet together” dogma has now been replaced with a “feet apart” dogma and that’s all that is taught in ski schools today. Nevertheless you will not see competitive mogul skiers skiing with their feet apart – because they are not carving they are pivoting.
Using the Foot
When  preparing for the pivot from the uphill ski the foot is allowed to roll over onto it’s inside edge inside the ski boot. The shaft of the ski boot running up the lower leg acts as an exoskeleton preventing the ski from flattening and keeping it on the uphill edge. The first thing this leads to is the ski beginning to side-slip more easily. The foot being on its inside edge permits the adductor muscles to be used and eventually this also permits the abdomen to be used actively. At this stage of development this can be quite an important issue because feeling the foot and adductors clearly will help to cultivate the inward pulling actions necessary for a good pivot. David was struggling with this because of his highly developed two footed outward push. The feeling has to come from the feet upwards through the body so the best place to focus for getting this right is on the sensations in the feet. It can take a while to separate out the sensations – but any tendency to push outwards – despite looking very similar to the untrained eye – will cause a breakdown of performance at one level or another. Melanie worked hard to overcome her tendency to stem and found that depriving herself of a preparatory stem left her with a lot of difficulty initiating a turn. This is a phase that has to be accepted to be able to get beyond it and discover other options. It’s really not a problem that Melanie didn’t quite crack it this time – it will come after a few more attempts and with persistence. All this reveals is how deeply the stemming habit is ingrained and how limiting a mechanism it actually is. In the video Melanie appears to be having more difficulty than anyone else with the pivot – but the reality is that she is the only one not unconsciously “cheating” at the start of the turn. Thomas and Hanna were getting something out of the pivot but that strong tendency to “push out” can be seen in the video. Sometimes though they appeared to me to be getting it right. This has to be trained much more on easy terrain with more exercises (skiing on one ski etc.) until the correct skills are worked out and engrained.
Which Ski?
I demonstrated that either ski, or both skis can be used as a platform for pivoting. This is the reason why people often talk about skiing on two skis off-piste – because they are using a two ski pivoting platform where in deep snow the skier is not dependant upon a single pressurised edge for support. In fact doubling the surface area of the base of support off-piste is a good idea for ensuring an efficient pivot – but this must be executed in a mechanically correct manner with an inward pull, or it will lead to the development of a poor “two footed” stance which is detrimental to all other aspects of skiing. You can stand on two skis with the body still oriented and committed to a one legged stance – with the resultant forces still passing through one hip joint. David was in fact tending to come off his outside hip and fall onto the inside one – and this is a legacy of his “two footed” pushing outwards habit – which pushes the skis away and causes a fall onto the inside leg for support. Ironically David was worsening this issue by trying to use dynamics – his attempt to throw the body into the turn caused him to kink at the waist and move his weight over his inside leg – instead of creating a global motion of the Centre of Mass inwards and remaining strong over the outside hip. More video feedback and a few individual exercises are needed to sort that out.
I showed that the use of support from the ski pole was necessary for pivoting on the “wrong” ski, but we didn’t have to time to study this very far or to work on it. 
On the flat everyone had a go at jumping. Hanna was the best at jumping initially because she was the only one to extend her legs as she took off. Everyone else retracted their heels – which makes for a harsh landing. The full extension of the legs makes sure that the Centre of Mass is launched into the air and that the full length of the legs are available for flexion and shock absorption on landing.
Traversing the hill no one had any trouble when jumping on the move, so we went straight into jumping with the pivot.

Short Swing
The jump should be seen as the end of a turn – the rising up out of the turn. When in the air there is no resistance to the skis pivoting but an active swing of the skis is essential – coming from the adductors and the abdomen. Obviously not only the adductors are necessary because both skis are swinging simultaneously. You need to be more aware of the adductors though because this is what keeps the hip of the “outside” leg in the turn centred and below you as a pivot point for the upper body to work around. The main weakness that everyone had in executing short swings for the first time was a consistent lack of use of the poles for support. This is a braking mechanism essentially and it requires a rather accurate placing of the Centre of Mass over the skis – which is greatly aided by support from the ski poles. 
The short swing when used as a single turn instead of a series of rhythmically linked turns is called a “jump turn” – and it can get you out of a lot of trouble in tight spots off-piste.
The timing and movements required for the short swing are just an exaggeration of those required for any other pivot. Pivoting is helped by “unweighting” the skis. Unweighting is achieved though a powerful use of the legs and skis though the end of the previous turn. Traditionally the opposite is taught – that the up-motion is at the start of the turn – but this teaching is also ignorant of the fact that the oustide edge of  the ski is being used to initiate the turn and so it is taught in a snowplough on the inside edge – leading to great confusion. In racing (inside edge) turns the opposite – a build up of pressure – is required at the start of the turn and this is achieved through the use of dynamics that pass the Centre of Mass over the perpendicular to the slope at the turn initiation.
We concluded the Pivot session with a little spinning. Spinning 360° is fun, but it’s also a great way to discover the edging control required for efficient pivoting. Thomas predictably was the one who caught on to this the quickest. The key here – as in all pivoting is that the skis always remain below the Centre of Mass on the mountain. 
Why Pivot?
Sometimes people wonder why I choose to call this “pivoting”. The point is that the skier may travel directly down the fall-line without moving across the hill – so the skis are literally pivoting around a point that is travelling in a straight line downhill.

Developing Dynamics

Leaving the Pivot behind we went straight into Dynamics. Although subtle dynamics are also the real key to effective pivoting, it’s best to use strong inside edge skiing to develop the skills of dynamics and then refine and tone this down when applying it to pivoting. When pivoting the dynamics are confined to somewhere between “vertical” and “perpendicular”, whereas when initiating the turn on the inside edge we are going beyond perpendicular – and trying to increase this motion of the Centre of Mass as far as possible.

Skating and Resonance
Picking up the thread from yesterday we went straight into skating downhill and then increasing the dynamics towards the inside of the skate. This skating timing is the same as for the short swing but smoother and drawn out over the full skating stride. Everyone had some clear skating action of the legs going and received some sort of appropriate feedback. We are really looking for a resonance here. When the dynamics and the power of the legs are properly synchronised there is an unmistakable resonance which can be explosive and very powerful – as is any mechanical resonance.
Extending Dynamic Range
The relatively icy piste underfoot was in reality not ideal for extending the dynamic range. Softer and grippier snow gives people more confidence to accelerate the Centre of Mass further into the turn. Skis need to be very well tuned to cope with such icy pistes – the same reason why racers need to have razor sharp skis. With the right skis and good dynamics ice poses no problem and is in fact the preferred surface for racing – but not for learning. Just like pushing the body against my shoulder builds up pressure on the “outside” ski – so does accelerating the body down the hill and into the next turn. The greater the pressure the more the ski bites and grips. Most people “back off” on the ice and try to stand upright because they are afraid of falling over. The correct solution is of course the opposite – but this has to be learned. 
David did have the greatest dynamic range in the family, but was hindered by failing to move the body globally as a single unit. I wanted everyone to just follow the skis around to keep it simple and clear, but David’s training to “face downhill” was interfering – just as this had also caused him to develop his strong heel push. Learning to “face downhill” without a proper grasp of the underlying mechanics causes the skier to push the heels out rapidly to get the skis around and underneath the body quickly again.
Melanie had the next largest dynamic range (though still only a fraction of what is possible) but this is where her real problem became clear. In trying to extend the dynamic range it became obvious that Melanie was being limited by rotation. The body was not following the skis it was in fact being used to drive the skis around – it was turning though the turn ahead of the skis. This rotation was started with the small stem at the turn initiation. Melanie was initiating the turn while still standing on the lower ski – it was not only that the upper ski was being forced out into a stem but the entire body was starting to spin into a turn. The problem with this is that the skis are not generating the turn and so there is no real control later in the turn when the forces build up and so this becomes very difficult to manage. The rotation has the effect of preventing the Centre of Mass from getting into the turn – it effectively does the opposite and throws the Centre of mass outwards. The result is a high speed skidding though the second part of the turn without the security of the body being well to the inside of the turn. This is why yesterday Melanie snagged her inside edge in the slush and was thrown over – and why she struggled more when trying to increase dynamics. This problem is the exact opposite of the one David experiences – when he blocks his body from rotating and even from following the skis. The solution for both issues however is the same – developing appropriate upper/lower body separation linked to correct mechanics. I asked Melanie not to go to fast for the moment because this rotation problem can be risky – it has to be dealt with directly before ramping up the speed. I wrote yesterday that her problem would be solved by increasing dynamics more – but that is only partly true – rotation actually prevents efficient dynamics.
Thomas is coming along fine and although not yet very adventurous with the dynamics he is developing a good natural stance – with upper/lower body separation, independence of the legs, (pivoting included) and a strong sense of support on his outside leg. This is happening spontaneously (though not all the time yet) due to working on good basic mechanics and having little previous “technique” in place to interfere.  As Thomas gets more confidence in the dynamics this base will serve him well. Melanie wanted to hear some “encouragement” perhaps being given at this point through compliments. There is an argument for that but experience has taught me that the best encouragement comes from results. Our exercise had been in “extending” dynamic range and the only one who actually did manage that at this point was David. Good coaching requires clear feedback which can make it seem harsh at times. If compliments are reserved for “effort” or to support a qualitative “success” then things remain clear and positive.
Hanna slipped under my radar a bit at this point but she did seem to understand that she could replace her “plough” with either dynamics or pivoting for initiating a turn. On steeper slopes she still didn’t have a lot of confidence but that’s only a question of experience now and applying the material she has been learning to gain assurance that it does work. Hanna didn’t manage to increase her dynamic range at this point but later on – when we skied down to Tignes at the end she certainly did. The important point here is that although she didn’t get a result immediately from the exercise – it got her thinking. Sometimes the results come though later when we are skiing. It’s for this reason that I like to drill and train people at the start of a session when they are mentally fresh and can absorb information – then finish the last hour or so by skiing a lot more and giving the work a chance to come through into the skiing.
Off Piste
We took advantage of the solid base of Spring snow to go off-piste and apply some of the technique we had been working on. The beauty of off-piste is that you escape the crowds and find yourself rapidly surrounded by nature and wilderness. The combination of dynamics and pivoting give you the basic tools required to negotiate anything you might encounter off-piste. Everyone coped fine although Hanna was understandably a bit apprehensive. Thomas had a go a copying me with the pivot for some fall line skiing in softer snow. I did point out that when using the dynamics the push up at the end of each turn was especially important off piste. This is in fact the case for either dynamics or pivoting. Had the snow been deeper we would have had to work on that a bit more beforehand. 
Descending back to Tignes it was a bit slushy so to keep up any form of speed and stability good dynamics needed to be used. I persuaded Hanna to ski close to me following me so that she would be able to copy my line and perhaps my movements now that she understood them. Hanna did this very well and kept up a good speed all the way down to Tignes without stopping. Thomas was very pleased at skiing with this speed and correctly felt very good about his skiing. It’s feelings like this that encourage us to do more – and when that becomes the norm there are other levels available where it happens all over again. So far I haven’t found a limit to that process! Well done Hanna and Thomas! No Thomas – you are not a better skier than your dad – not yet! (soon though – but remember who pays!)

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