Alex, Tariq, JJ and Joydip

Minus 17°C and clear skies meant a cold morning guaranteed. The clear skies over the Rocher du Charvet were captured here in this early morning spectacle…

Tariq, Alex and JJ were quickly out the door in the morning and ready to ski – except that somebody had forgotten to give Alex skis – which upset him a bit. Never-the-less I offered him a piggyback lift all the way down from Legetaz to the Intersport shop in town to get his skis. This meant a rather disorganised start as the others had to follow regardless of their levels. Skis sorted out we then headed for the chairlift up the Face de Bellevarde because the queue for the main Olympique chairlift was enormous. This was again not ideal beause I didn’t know how the weaker skiers would cope with the short connecting path across the face to the second lift up to the training area plateau. All went well though and we were soon up there and able to go for a warm up ski. It takes a run or two to get used to sliding after not being on skis for a year so it’s best just to warm up by skiing for a while before trying to learn anything new.

Video of the boys skiing prior to changing anything…

Despite being at slightly different levels the boys were all able to ski on anything up to a red run standard – with JJ falling over frequently at this stage but compensating for that with a positive attitude. The first thing was to try to to get everyone skating. Correct muscular coordination for skiing is related to skating and so any exercises involving skating will help. Snowploughs use the opposite and wrong coordination so the idea is to replace ploughing with skating. Alex started off with slight problems on his first skating moves and immediately shook his head in despair because he couldn’t do it. I told him straight that there was no pressure to get this immediately and certainly no reason to get upset or frustrated because skills can take a lot of work and practice to develop. You certainly don’t give up and shake your head immediately when you can’t do something – on the contrary, that’s when you concentrate and get to work to change things. We skated around turns on very flat ground just to get the feel of it for the moment.

After a hot chocolate and warm up we went straight into dynamics. Prior to explaining anything we sideslipped down a steep section and I was really trying to use this as a means of training the boys to drop the snowplough stance. Placing the uphill ski into the snowplough position turns it into an unwanted accelerator – while in the parallel position close to the lower ski and beneath the body on the mountain it remains on it’s upper edge and acts as a brake.

Not wanting to use physics to explain I described dynamics (Newton’s second law) in terms of a “Magic Wall”. Using an exercise where the skier pushes his shoulder against mine (where I substitute for the Magic Wall) the skier can feel the pressure on the appropriate foot when pushing against me. Pushing the right shoulder against me the pressure is on the left foot. Alex knew that to turn right he needed pressure on the left foot but when he tried to do this on his own he moved his body to the left – over the foot. This is also how Alex skied in the above video and how he would have been taught in ski school. I showed that pushing against my shoulder or the Magic Wall meant moving the body the opposite way – in the same direction as the turn. The Magic Wall is invisible and only appears when moving forwards – on each side of the skier. The more you believe in magic and the harder you push against one of the walls the more stable you become and you turn in that direction. Basically your job is to fall over – in the direction of the turn – and the ski will bring you back up. The ski is stronger than you and it generates this Magic Wall that will always defend you if you commit yourself to “falling over”. To enhance the dynamics we had a run in a half pipe which the boys definitely enjoyed. Here in the half pipe the banking of the sides helps to encourage the “falling over”.

From the top of the Tovière (2695m altitude) we could see Mont Blanc which at 4810m is the highest mountain in Western Europe. Skiing down all the way to La Daille we were working on the Magic Wall and trying to reduce the tendency to snowplough. When working directly with dynamics increased speed actually helps so I was encouraging slightly higher speeds when possible. The boys were good at following my line which is set to encourage control of speed though turning instead of braking. Tariq was the strongest and most experienced skier but Alex probably learned and improved the most during the first session. JJ seemed to have a bit of trouble listening and with the brain/body connection – but that just means that I need to help him more in that direction for the time being.

Complete Beginner
Joydip had apparently tried skiing for one hour at some point in the past. I told him to forget that and we started at the very beginning. The start was delayed however because somebody had taken his skis by mistake so we had to go and get some more from the hire shop in town. This was a good choice to start from the beginning because it gave an opportunity to build up some fundamental skills which would otherwise not have come naturally to Joydip. Walking around on one ski at first Joydip fell over consistently when we tried to slide a little – but after about 20 minutes that stopped happening. The body adapts rapidly to accelerations if given a chance.

Skating was definitely alien to Joydip so we sidestepped up the hill – but at first the skis were still slipping away and despite identifying the edges of the feet and adductor muscles on the inside of the legs grip just wasn’t there to be found. It dawned on me that each time joydip wanted to move he first placed his centre of mass directly over his foot and flattened his ski. He was trying to get the power of the leg instead of using gravity to just fall. This flattening of the ski caused it to slip away from him. When stepping or skating we have to grip with the edge and let the body fall to the side ( inside between the skis when skating). This is an interesting issue because the whole of skiing is just a development of this basic action. You can see in the video that Joydip eventually developed a good feel for this movement.

After climbing up the hill Joydip had to use the poles for a “bull fighter” turn and then straight run down the hill. Interestingly he was quite comfortable with straight running and didn’t resist the accelerations. On his final descent I told him to just lean very slightly to the left and he would turn left and right to go right. This small motion of the centre of mass is enough to make the skis work – and he got it first time.

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