Derin, Defne, Emir

Asking Derin what she had learned during the past few weeks in the private ski school misleadingly named “Ecole de Ski Français” the answer was “To use the poles and put the weight on the downhill ski”. Now look at the video and spot the pole plant! 
Derin has picked up a few things from the ESF – all of them detrimental to her skiing and body so I will list them all here first. 
1. Her previously good natural timing has been reversed. In the short turns she comes up to start the turn. She should be coming down to start the turn and was previously doing so.
2. When in the air she is pushing her skis outwards and sideways to get them below her. Previously she was getting early pressure on the outside (uphill) ski at the start of the turn because of her natural timing. Pushing the ski outwards is a major fault and incorrect coordination for skiing in general – she was not doing this previously.
3. She has no pole use whatsoever.
4. The body posture is completely inappropriate for any pole use and correct development of control.
5. She falls back against the back of her boots because the timing she was taught is wrong and unnatural so she looks for security against the boots instead of pressure under the feet. The acceleration downhill at the start of a turn is incompatible with an upwards projection of the centre of mass.
6. She is trying to compensate for the loss of control by forcing her knee into the turn – and sometimes collapsing the ankle in the process. This has probably been taught to her as well. It puts her at risk of a broken anterior cruciate ligament.
7. The incorrect timing can provoke long term lower back injury.
8. The short turns are initiated on the wrong edges – the inside edges instead of the outside uphill edges.
This is only a portion of the observable issues so on the mountain we moved straight on to addressing the most critical ones.

Derin remembered our previous lesson from a few weeks ago about the Centre of Mass – but she didn’t really understand what it was all about. I explained about a bicycle because Derin likes riding a bicycle. The bicycle has to fall over into a turn and so comes down at the start of the turn and back up to finish. Bicycles and skis both do the same job. In fact on skis you can try to fall over to the side as hard as you can and the ski will always be stronger than you and bring you back up. This means that you go down to start a turn and up to finish one. The Centre of Mass has to be made to make this movement pattern because it drives everything.  We didn’t have time for exercises but I wanted Derin to start to think in the right direction. Perception of Centre of Mass is a long term development issue and does not happen in one complete revelation overnight.

We looked at Derin’s carving because she was standing only on one edge with the knee over the outside ski exposed to danger. The video above was taken after working on trying to stand on two edges. At very low speed the skis can be placed on the two left or two right edges and the Centre of Mass balanced between the two or even over the inside leg. When moving forwards the skis generate a strong angular acceleration and place the pressure automatically entirely on the outside ski – this being a result of dynamics. Derin was able to do the exercises and start to become aware of her edges and stance in carving and the use of her Centre of Mass – but her knees and feet were not supporting her correctly – especially with a strong tendency to try to edge the outside ski with the knee. This is dangerous and has obviously been taught to her – it is a very common feature of French ski instruction. We then had to go inside to both warm up (it was extremely cold) and do some exercises to understand how to use the feet and legs properly.

Magic Spots
Derin removed one ski boot and we looked at how to stand strongly on the foot so that the ankle wouldn’t collapse. Initially this means standing on the heel. Derin now bent correctly at the knees and hips. From this position we worked on rolling the feet from edge to edge – which cannot be done on flattened feet. She felt how standing as she was previously only the knees moved from side to side, twisting dangerously. Now I helped her to feel the “magic spot” under the foot, just in front of the heel. This was easy because we discovered that it’s very ticklish. If you stand on that spot then you can easily keep your shin in contact with the front of the boot – which she was able to feel with the other leg which still had the boot on. This is another “magic spot” on the shin. When you can stay on the two magic spots when skiing then you are able to generate the best control over your body and skiing. When leaving the café we carved by rocking the feet and locating the magic spots. We then returned back to Tignes focusing on magic spots all the way back. Rolling the feet in the direction of the turn helps to prevent the “pushing outwards” and starts to develop the correct coordination.

Defne is certainly skiing faster and this is probably a result of her discovering how to carve. Her short turns had similar coordination to Derin’s though there was a light use of the poles and no vertical movement. I’m not going to make another list of issues here so will just recount the work that we covered. Emir was skiing strongly too but his carving was also better than his short turns. For the above reasons I chose to work on pivoting and short turns.
Hand Carriage
Defne had picked up the habit of skiing with her hands practically in her pockets. I had been informed from the Slalom Stade that her previous instructor also skied this way in front of her. There is nothing worse for causing a skier to lean back against the ski boots than developing the habit of skiing with the hands dropped and back. Emir was doing a bit of the same so I got them both to hold their poles like a bar in front of the body and ski holding them up. I explained how bad a poor arm carriage was and how you cannot do any sport – tennis, goal keeping – anything with your arms held like they were doing previously. This would be a prelude to learning correct use of ski poles later on.
Despite having successfully having taught Defne pivoting twice before it was completely erased from her memory. This is what happens with coaching and why good athletes sack bad coaches – whatever you are being trained to do will override anything you did in the past. Defne actually thought that you had to start all turns on the inside (of the turn) edges of the skis. We started by pivoting on the uphill ski and then did some on the downhill ski. I showed how it can be done on both skis as a single platform below the body on the mountian for security on steep terrain. Emphasis was made on strong use of the pole for support to move the Centre of Mass downhill without changing the edges of the skis. Emir was better at pivoting on the lower ski than Defne. This is due to Defne’s need to develop better posture and angulation – but there was not enough time for that today. We did some short turns again and Defne showed a very strong improvement and was clearly managing to integrate the pivoting instead of pushing outwards as she was in the video. She used to be able to do this anyway about a year ago so there may be some unconscious body memory helping along here.
On the final run home we went off-piste on a steep bumps run where I could show the value of good pivoting. Most skiing is about pivoting and turn initiation on the uphill edges. Emir relished the challenge of the bumps and his better posture and control over the pivot meant that he had no problems. Defne was reluctant to experiment on the steep bumps – even slowly and in controlled steps. More work on posture, angulation, pole support and pivoting skill will make the transition to bumps and off-piste much easier for her. This will also give her much more success in slalom when the same properties are applied to carving. (Note: Poles are not used as a support in slalom.)

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