Columba & Cameron 4

Chill Out day today! Both boys were physically tired and needed an easy recovery day.  They were a bit under-dressed for the wave of cold weather (they need more layers) so this combined with tiredness made it hard for them to resist the cold – but nothing a hot chocolate couldn’t sort out. The session focused around non demanding technical issues and just skiing within limits – apart from a few slalom gates…  

Clouds Illusion

Wind and weather were coming in from the  South East with gusts of 130km above 2500m in some places. We were just on the edge of the bad weather with a line of dense cloud getting thicker from the Bellevarde towards Tignes and Mont Blanc where it was a sinister black. However, towards Solaise the sky was clearer. Columba thought that this meant the wind would blow the clear area towards us. The explanation of why that didn’t happed is interesting! It’s extremely useful to be able to read the weather in mountains or at sea – especially where hot chocolate is not available. The photo on the right from yesterday shows a cloud perched on the top of Mont Blanc – but it’s an illusion to think of this as an object – it’s a “process”. The air rises up the mountain and condenses as it passes over the top – so it becomes visible – then it evaporates as it descends on the other side and vanishes. You see part of a current of air with the “cloud” indicating a process. Although the wind today was blowing from the South East the dense cloud was moving towards the wind – because the process of condensation was happening earlier and earlier in that direction. Apparently the spiral arms in the Milky Way are the same thing – they don’t rotate but the galaxy does rotate – the spiral arms being a sort of traffic jam as the stars pass through those areas.

Skiing Illusions

I’d already mentioned a few of skiing’s primary illusions to the boys – the number one being “balance”. Skiing is an intelligent organisation of accelerations (intelligence of ski design and skier) and the opposite of balance. (Called dynamics in physics). People go to amazing lengths to try to justify their heart felt illusion – I’ve heard some wonderful attempts from PhD qualified engineers – all completely idiotic in the end.  Interestingly, Physicists never make this mistake! One illusion we discussed concerned centrifugal force, because it is relevant for understanding slalom. I didn’t use this term with the boys – I just asked what would happen to a ball on a string, when being swung around in a circle above my head if I let it go when it was between me and them.  One answered that it would hit him – and the other answered that it would fly off to the side instead. The second answer is correct – because there is not outward directed force – it’s an illusion. Centrifugal force does not exist. The skier completing a turn needs to know this – because rather than fight to stay in a turn he has to know when to let go the turn. The boys were getting “late” in the slalom course because they imagined this force throwing them out of the turn and fought to resist it when they should have been letting go. Another illusion is that you think you can look and work out what someone is doing. You cannot! When a baby is born everything works but it is blind because the brain has no database for interpreting the world. By using all the senses together a database is built in the brain and vision develops. This is why a very clear and accurate understanding of something complex like skiing is required before you can even see what is going on. Your brain needs the appropriate database – then you can see! This is why I will not teach any standard ski technique – because the database is completely wrong! Professionals are consequently unable to even see what I am teaching. (I have a lot of fun with this!!!)


Cameron had his issue of being caught on the back of the ski boots and we hadn’t found time to deal with that up to now. I had him stand across the hill and feel how he was perpendicular to the traverse and standing comfortably – not leaning on his boots. The trick is to head of down the slope and adjust to get perpendicular with the slope so that the stance feels exactly the same. Most people make the mistake of remaining vertical to gravity when heading off down the slope and this sends them to the back of the boots. Once the feeling is clear then it’s easy to use as a reference. In technical terms we relate to the “normal” force to the surface we are standing on – perpendicular to that surface. (We do not “lean forward”!) Columba’s issue was his tendency to round his lower back. This is a trickier issue to correct. First of all we looked at pelvic tilt – raising the pelvis up at the front, then releasing the hip joints and bending at the knees and hips. This way Columba was able to bend at the correct joints – not in the spine. This is a hard issue to work at. For Columba learning “chirunning” would help him immensely to protect his back as his body grows and develops.

Foot Forward Technique

Once Cameron’s  fore/aft issues were dealt with this opened the door to being able to work on a major component of ski technique – namely “foot (or feet) forward” technique. Turn radius is controlled by a combination of dynamics and pushing the outside foot forwards. The driving of the foot forwards does not put it in front of the inside foot, instead it tightens up the turn. This gives the ability to “work” the ski. Essentially, it’s an element of skating. The exercise I have developed to communicate the sensation of “pushing” is done without the skis on and actually teaches several other things at the same time – which I won’t go into here. It’s an incredibly effective exercise which immeasurably simplifies the learning process – and is the result of many years of experimentation and evolution in teaching.                   The foot is initially swung though the air with no ground contact. It’s important to not “turn” the foot – all the action is up in the hip joint only. The foot then makes a light line in the snow with the whole edge of the boot. Gradually pressure is applied so that resistance is felt and pushing is necessary. This simulates the pushing required for skiing. The pelvis must not turn during the swing of the leg. (This helps to develop hip angulation – which we will begin to look at later in the session) Both the boys could feel much greater grip and tightness in their turns. Columba felt it was the single most useful thing he had learned so far.


Despite the poor conditions and strong wind I wanted the boys to work on this in the slalom. Fast times were not the goal today – just technical work. The foot forward technique helped both of the boys take a faster and tighter line – but with the consequence that by going faster they were struggling with the steeper sections. This is how slalom works as a training tool – moving from one challenge to the next as speed increases. Columba was clearly skiing more on one ski than before which is a great thing to see. Cameron looked amazing in certain turns but was caught out on his inside ski – probably due to a slight skid. Both were fighting to deal with higher speed. The answer to this is to generate more “proactive” dynamics at the start of the turn – to literally throw the body down towards the snow as hard as possible. We will look at this tomorrow if the conditions allow.













  Both Cameron and Columba are in the “Silver” category for slalom. An instructor would be expected to be comfortably inside the gold category with the fastest racer at 21’45. The gates are about a second apart so the good racer would be finished when the boys were still six or seven gates back up the hill. This gives an idea of how much scope there is for development. However someone skiing that fast would have spent about ten full seasons race training normally – including summer and autumn! Working intelligently you can get into the gold with only one or two week’s skiing per year – I already have one 13 year old boy who has done this with no other race experience.


When filming I thought that Cameron’s fall was due to lack of hip angulation. In fact this was not the case – it was the other way around. He lost angulation due to falling. Nevertheless it was time to introduce hip angulation as a subject. Yesterday on the steep off piste terrain both boys were suffering from a lack of hip angulation. It’s one thing having angulation generated naturally though exposure to physical constraints in slalom (natural selection etc.) and another thing to understand and build awareness. My simple way to show angulation is to use ski poles for support and to incline with the body straight. When inclined (say, to the left – uphill) I would pull back my right hip keeping the shoulders and feet still facing forwards. This causes my bottom to turn to face uphill slightly and then it can be moved uphill to create an angle in the middle of the body – “hip angulation”. Watching the skis they can be seen to edge much more as the angulation is increased. This is one set of parameters needed to control turning radius in slalom. It’s important to realise that this is not how angulation is normally taught. It’s normally taught by facing the shoulders outwards (downhill). This is however completely wrong for the human body and it wrecks the lower back. I won’t go into that in detail here though – suffice to say – just pull back the hip. We worked on this in general skiing and on longer carving turns where Cameron in particular could feel the edging effect. Cameron’s angulation was slightly too much sideways. The upper body has to bend forwards over the hip joint when it is pulled back – not sideways over it. Once again this is a skating action. (Everything in skiing is either skating or dynamics!) Next thing was to combine the pushing forwards of the foot with the pulling backwards of the hip on the same leg. It’s important to make this connection because it stops the foot being pulled back along with the hip! All of those actions with the hip work to prevent “rotation” and many other technical faults. This all becomes even more critical with pivoting, short swings and bumps – but it is much more easily introduced with dynamics as we are doing here. The reason the boys have struggled with short swings and bumps is mainly due to lack of angulation and control of rotation. This is the real reason I wanted to introduce this subject promptly. The isolation of the hip (pulling it back) is directly from “chiskiing” – see the fixed page: Chi Skiing

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