Top Up 2016

After watching all four ski I decided that with Jenny’s skiing being very similar to Leonie’s from last week – and that with Leonie improving so much – it would be appropriate to try the same approach with Jenny – which would also be a program for addressing fundamental issues with the three stronger skiers simultaneously. Leonie had almost five days – but working with her through her particular issues had provided insights that Jenny could perhaps benefit from. With Jenny having only half a day of coaching she might not get quite as far – but as she had retained much from previous years this could still be very significant. This set the scene for the session.    


The session began with James being asked what he felt with is feet when skiing. James answered “nothing”. “Nothing” is pretty much what most people think about when skiing – or they are concerned about how they look, how fast they are going (especially people named Andrew apparently), where their friends are, which lift or restaurant they are headed for etc – basically a lot of superficial noise. Skill is a trained and acquired quality – a programming of the body and mind to be able to do something that is not instinctive to the point where it is automatic and unconscious. However, there are endless layers of skill and when one level is acquired then it becomes the base for building the next level. The need for awareness, attention and focus actually grows – it doesn’t disappear. This “mindfulness” brings its own rewards as focusing within the body induces calmness and removes stress, tension and anxiety that come from otherwise being otherwise distracted by the external world. Effectively, your thoughts are engaged directly in the moment and not absorbed in worrying about consequences. Through mindfulness and internalizing your thoughts within your body you then relate to the outside world more accurately, rationally and with better results. The recreational skier who is anxious, terrified, frustrated or bored by the end of a week on skis has missed the boat entirely in this respect – but it’s not usually the skier who is to blame – it’s usually the teaching. First of all, you can’t even visualize if you don’t have sensible (literally – relating to the senses) and accurate technical information to work with – because the physical results just won’t add up. Most people don’t even start to focus correctly – because when they are not taught correctly they simply can’t. Being taught “balance” and “snowplough” or “up/down timing” is like being brainwashed into mindless oblivion. When you do have the right information, understanding, perception and the opportunity to practice – then make a point of being mindful – applying attention, awareness, focus and visualizing with all the senses as much as possible. The rewards are unlimited if this is done – otherwise the ubiquitous learning plateaux are the usual long term outcome. In skiing attention can sequentially move between individual aspects such as muscle tension in a foot to the slight rotations between the base of the spine and the 12th thoracic vertebra – but mostly it should be directed at the centre of mass and its overall motion. Skill levels are associated with ever finer and more detailed selective muscle relaxation. Muscle contraction takes energy – consuming the ATP molecule at a cellular level. What most people don’t realise is that it takes more ATP to relax a muscle than to contract it. Relaxing requires focus, effort and practice – and is very counter intuitive in many ways.  

Feet, Adductors, Skating

Beginning from the feet upwards everyone was asked to stand on their heels – specifically the fronts of the heels just beneath the ankle joints. Supporting the body from here permits the feet to be clearly rolled over onto their inside edges by using the subtaler joint just below the ankle. This also activates the anterior tibialis (shin bone muscle) and strengthens the ankle – providing stability and security – enabling feedback and transfer of power and pressure with the shaft of the ski boot – both laterally and in the fronts. Both feet were required to be rolled inwards and the corresponding adductor muscles tensioned right up to the groin. Previously I would have taught both feet to be rolled to the left or right together – one being on the inside and the other being on the outside edge – but this common understanding appears to be limited and generally inappropriate. Rolling both feet inwards and tensioning both sets of adductors provides core stability and a correct technical base for all aspects of skiing from pure pivoting to pure carving. This became clear to me through apparent paradoxical issues with pivoting whereby it was already clear that no matter which foot or ski edge was used it was always necessary to remain on the inside edge of the foot. Later this proved to be effective in carving for maintaining a powerful stance on the skis – and to instigate “double carving”. We used skating exercises to cultivate the required feelings and control – skating on flat terrain on the inside edges of the feet and skis. Going across a slope the uphill ski would have to remain on its outside edge – separately from the foot being on its inside edge – thus developing the feeling whereby the lateral stiffness of the boot comes into play to permit this. The reflexive response is to let the foot roll onto its outside edge to match the ski – so the opposite has to be cultivated – prioritizing the stability of the body and the body’s geometry. The skating in steps was simply taken to the end of each traverse with the final skate onto the uphill ski then being used as a platform to allow the centre of mass to fall downhill into a turn – the point being that the turn initiated from the uphill edge of the uphill ski and that the foot and body were already oriented over the inside edge – thus clarifying that there is no need to be on the inside edge of the ski to start a turn – only the inside edge of the foot. We didn’t have a lot of time to practice this as the overall goal for today was much further along the progression. Everything so far was just to establish a base to develop upon.  

Hips, Posture, Fronts of Skis

Moving up the body only Jenny was properly aware of how to work with the pelvis and hips. The boys had totally confused and literally dangerous interpretations of posture control taken from weight training and rugby – so this turned into a very valuable part of the session. James in particular was actively hollowing his lower back, tilting his pelvis downwards at the front as he had been instructed in the gym to do so. Static loading demonstrated to James and William how in fact “neutral pelvis” reflexively activates the postural muscles which protect the spine – and that this nearly always requires an upwards tilt of the pelvis with a relaxing of the hip muscles when flexing. If the lower abdominals are not felt to contract reflexively under load then the spine is in danger. The contraction compresses the fluid filled organs creating a “hydraulic sac” which distributes the vertical load over the whole cross sectional area – instead of only through the spine itself. Skiing poses a special problem for posture and is an exaggeration of the same problem created with “over-striding” in running induced by thick and soft heels in running shoes. Notably in skiing any effort to face the shoulders downhill for “anticipation” causes the outside hip to be pulled in front of the ribs and for all postural control to be lost even more surely than with the above pelvic tilt problems. When you combine pelvic tilt with this issue it’s a surefire one way trip to disaster for the spine in the long run. When the shoulders are turned downhill during the turn completion then you can visualize the spine (from the pelvis up to the ribs) twisting slightly in the same direction as the turn – bringing the hip around in front of the ribs. Static load testing in this position reveals that the postural muscles will not activate and there is no protection for the spine. Those also with a poorly tilted pelvis will even kink their spine sideways – and anyone can see that there is an unnatural problem present. (James was doing all of this!) The antidote to the above is to pull the outside hip backwards during the turn – twisting the spine deliberately in a counter direction to the turn from the bottom up. This stretches the supporting hip backwards opening up a space between the ribs and the hip joint and allowing the abdominal muscles to contract under load the fully protect the spine. Pelvic tilt is quite simple here – always tilt upwards at the front – because the pulling backwards of the hip tends to tilt the pelvis downwards. James had a lot to focus on to correct his posture but he did a good job once it was understood – the pelvic tilt being the main issue in his case. William had a different problem due to facing his shoulders strongly downhill to be able to pivot effectively – so he had to swap this for facing his pelvis downhill instead and reversing the twist in his spine. He did a good job of changing this and looked vastly better on his skis as a result. The point of all the above was just to integrate everything from the feet up through the body in a coherent biomechanical movement pattern. In reality we move from the core – the centre – and working from the core actually aligns the femurs correctly for using the adductors and the feet. The overall effect can be felt directly through incredibly smooth and effective turn transitions. The switch from pelvic rotation one way to the other is made during the turn transition and is once set it assists angulation and anticipation as the turn develops. All of the above was aimed to eventually allow the possibility of being able to maintain contact in the fronts of the ski boots throughout each turn and so to be able to use the fronts of the skis – everyone until now having a tendency to end up on the tails of the skis – particularly in steeps, bumps or off piste. I demonstrated to Jenny how – without skis on – standing across the slope, if I “sat down” I’d fall backwards. However, facing down the slope I’d settle comfortably on the fronts of the ski boots – without the ankles collapsing and without falling backwards. With all of the components of movement built up correctly this frontal pressure can be maintained and exploited throughout the turn as angulation and anticipation are developed – the bottom still sitting uphill on that invisible chair even at the end of the turn. If any of the components – feet, adductors, hips – are out of alignment – then this can’t be achieved and so the skier starts to rely on the tails of the skis and finds ways to compensate. The point is that even in unpredictable off piste snow the directing power of the ski, stability and security all come from the fronts and there is no danger of being pitched over the fronts as would happen if this was all constructed incorrectly. The boys in particular did an excellent job towards the end of the session applying this very effectively off piste.  

Short Turns, Pressure Feedback, Turn Development

The overall goal for the session was to help Jenny turn into a more stable and secure skier on steeper terrain. Typically an anxious skier like Jenny will rotate defensively on the steep and skid sideways to brake – dissipating energy and trying to slow down but in a very unstable and insecure way. What the skier really needs to do is to sink the centre of mass down into the turn, not only resisting the build up of forces (partly due to opposing gravity) later in the turn – but to use the skis to build up the forces (pressure) and exploit them. When you get deeply enough to the inside of the turn then you win the battle against the ski trying to lift you up and so out of the turn – but this takes control, coordination, strength and determination. The energy is used then for directing the centre of mass – either farther around the turn, across the slope or off into the next turn in a stable and controlled manner – this can be viewed as “turn development” and is a complete contrast to the skidding, dissipating failure to control the mechanics. Speed is controlled then through choice of line – any single fully completed turn being able to totally stop a skier – or the rhythmic linking of many shorter turns in the fall line etc. Rhythm itself generates stability and when the timing is correct the effects of the energy harnessed tunes into a natural resonance (like someone on a trampoline). To help Jenny I set her up statically in an angulated stance to represent the build up of pressure through the turn (holding her arm) and then physically pulled her out out of that position directly over the fronts of her skis – and each time off she went into a successfully pivoted turn. The “anticipation” is in effect the knowledge or intention that the deepening of the turn and build up of pressure is going to provide the entry into the next turn. Preparation with the pole – for solid pole support during the turn transition – is critical here. If there is not enough angulation or pressure on the fronts of the skis – then the angulation and pole preparation will not be adequate and this is very visible – usually seen as the complete absence of pole use in even short pivoted turns (fast dynamic turns do not require pole support). The first stage for Jenny to develop is the containing and build up of pressure during turn completion on the steep – instead of just giving into the situation and drifting sideways. Jenny was able to make progress with this – and this was the target of today’s session. The boys also did a good job with greatly improved coordination in all aspects. Andrew linked it into his awareness of the need to use pole support in bumps – but tended to be a bit on the tails in general – though he is more likely to hold onto the information than the boys – of course, that remains to be seen. The video clip is when working on the steeps. The boys performed markedly better later on off piste with the same principles.    

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