Henri – Second Morning

Down to business today. Henri knew a good chunk of the theory and had a good grasp of the physical actions involved – but putting it together and making it work is another story.

Clip 1. Carving introduction
Clip 2. Improved dynamics – but still very static
Clip 3. Trying to be more aggressive but not getting there due to the piste being narrow – defensive and static
Clip 4. Breaking through – getting faster – natural down/up rhythm – better dynamics


Skiing does not resemble something mechanical like a car. Car mechanics are linear and predictable. If an important part of the car breaks then the car won’t work at all. Skiing is holistic which means that it will work even when parts are missing or wrong and that it’s not necessary to have everything functioning for it to work. This allows you improve progressively and to focus on one thing at a time – plus this removes any undue worry about not doing things as well as you would like to. Another aspect of this is that the final product is always rather complex and unpredictable – a bit like baking a cake with an unknown recipe – reflected in the fact that every human being is different. The final product is “more than the sum of the parts” and that is why it can never be completely explained directly in terms of parts. We can however, with experience, work out what parts to work on to bring around certain results – but more often than not the system reveals to us it’s own solutions before we actually understand what the underlying problems really are. 
We went for a brief forage off piste to let Henri see that his dynamics would work there – and that it wasn’t necessary to be perfect at it. Any improvement in dynamics will help and because the ski loads up like a trampoline in deeper snow – lifting you out of the turn prematurely if you are not aware of this – then this is a great way to improve and increase your dynamic range. You have to hold your centre of mass well inside the turn and try to err in that direction  – because the most common mistake is to be taken by surprise by the “lifting up” power of the ski and to get pitched out of the turn instead. Henri did well off piste for the first time.
Later on when Henri was struggling with increasing dynamics on the piste and I had to decide on a strategy I was confronted with this “holism” problem. Would Henri’s rotation make increasing dynamics impossible or would my gut feeling that he just needed to be more aggressive work despite the rotation? Impossible to say. Given the limited time available I decided to push Henri to be much more aggressive – to REALLY try to fall down into the turns and not hold back – and to increase speed to help with generating forces. The great surprise was that when he did this – not only did it work very well, but the body rotation disappeared. That was an outcome that couldn’t be predicted – it was unique. Normally rotation gets worse as a defensive reaction.
Dynamics part 2
We worked through some of the skating exercises from yesterday after warming up. I wanted Henri to properly step up onto his uphill leg during the final skate in each turn – so that he would commit 100% to the leg (and hip) that he would be standing on for the next turn. This was to counter his tendency to crouch down onto two feet instead of stand up strongly on one leg. The up motion would come from the lower leg and then the dynamics executed while standing strongly on the upper leg. The fact that the upper ski was on the top edge is irrelevant. Turns can begin from either edge. With this skating step turn the push up is difficult because it is against gravity and the forces produced by the skis – so it has to be very deliberate. 
The next stage is to use the push up more dramatically – instead of going against gravity – going with it! I had Henri jumping up when on his uphill edges going across the hill and trying to land on his lower edges going into a new turn. This is an another way to make the legs active and coordinate the powerful up-lifting effect of the skis with the use of muscle power and appropriate movement of the centre of mass.
The reason for these exercises is to develop the last part of the turn where the body has to come back up out of the turn (think motorbike). When making flowing turns with forward motion the turn transition (from one turn to another) requires that the skier goes through a phase where the body is perpendicular to the slope with the skis flat on the surface and sliding across the hill. This actually means coming up and almost right over into the next turn on the lower ski. In racing a large percentage of turns are actually started on the lower ski.
Getting the turn completion correct guarantees a good start to the next turn – but it can be scary to commit to that degree at first – until you know that it makes you bomb proof!
Henri really needed to increase his confidence moving at higher speeds and nothing is better for this than learning to carve. Once a skier can hold a ski carving on it’s edge then the feedback received is much more solid and clearer – plus the accelerations (linear and angular) are a whole magnitude greater. This accelerates learning because the number one key to learning is feedback.
Henri got the idea of standing on two edges, rocking his feet and moving his centre of mass over the inside ski (and weight when static). He had some resistance to letting the skis run along their arc and in the video you can see that once there is some speed the skis are allowed to fall off the edges – not so much for pivoting but more for braking purposes. Henri did get the basics and understood the goals plus he did become faster. This has to be done on relatively gentle and wide, empty slopes.
Dynamics Resistance
There wasn’t a lot of time to get a result with Henri and his inexperience of sliding sports meant that he needs time to adapt. I could see that his attitude on skis was defensive – controlling speed through braking rather than pure turning and choice of line. This defensive strategy is learned. To try to provoke a rapid change I explained to Henri that skiing is all about accelerations – about really trying to fall over – about speed. This is what brings it all to life and counter intuitively this is what generates real security and control. Henri had understood the theory of dynamics yesterday – but not the spirit of it. It was time to change that. When Henri really tried to fall over and accept the speed – then the magic started to happen. The last clip in the video sequence shows a very natural timing – which “happened to” Henri – instead of him trying to make it happen. He looks like he is skating and the turn transitions are good – this is no accident. Henri was starting to replace his braking strategy with dynamics and starting to ski.

There wasn’t time to work on upper/lower body separation and on how the hips move and spine twists – all protected by the active core muscles. Likewise there wasn’t time to work on Henri’s desire to improve his running capacity. The following link ( Ed Pirie ) is a free pdf format ebook written by one of the greatest runners in history – and he gives some very good technical information. More important information still can be found in the book “ChiRunning” by Danny Dryer (search on Amazon). Dryer in my opinion is extremely insightful and accurate. It should be relatively easy to make the changes advocated by Dryer when young – and could make the difference between a sporting future that lasts a lifetime or one that terminates early though chronic wear and tear injuries through poor mechanics. Speed is just a side benefit!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *