Saturday, March 21, 2015

Training 2015/03 Skiing!

A slight change of pace. No BJJ this week. I the week out west with the family at Big White. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to take in a few mornings of lessons. The first day was really just a great opportunity to ski with my wife, brother-in-law, and two nephews. The second day was because all of my skiing partners had decided to sleep-in but I still had to get the kids to ski school, etc.

Day 1

It was a beautiful day with a bright blue sky and decent snow conditions. Unfortunately, my new-fangled RFID pass wasn't functioning so we stuck to the high chairs, mostly the Falcon. We spent the session primarily working on what the instructors call "performance" i.e., really working the down hill edge. The drills primarily focused on tail lifts in order to really get that bottom edge to bite. Some of the cues that our instructor gave us included focusing on lifting from the knee to get the appropriate degree of foot spacing and to really carve out the curves. As always, my lazy right hand gave me some grief by being where it shouldn't be. The problem with this excessive hand movement is that it tends to torque my body a little bit leading to some challenges when we aren't necessarily looking for performance. One of the key issues with the tail lifts was to really get the right degree of hip angle to maintain that edge. It's an interesting feeling because it really shouldn't be about the knee angle but about the hip. Caving the knee leads to a loss of torque in the pelvis and an inability to fire the glutes (i.e., it's like a really crappy dead lift). The other issue here is that you also need to keep your upper body relatively still, pointed toward the fall line, and over that downhill ski.

All of this work on edging and "performance" led to some discussion of whether or not you really wanted to ski that way. Weren't stem christies and javelin turns '80s exercises? To conclude, we started doing some side slipping for a reason I really couldn't grasp.

Day 2

The second day was me, a fellow who I had met the previous day, and a lovely Australian woman. The conditions were really not as nice. We started doing the same drills and our instructor pointed out something in my style. When carving the turn, I push out (or lose) the tail edge toward the end of the turn. The instructor noted that this problem was a symptom of not shifting my weight back over my ski... Huh? I don't thing that I have ever been told to shift my weight.

We then started doing some drills that weren't performance focused. During the ride on the lift, the instructor basically explained that skiing is just skiing but -- from an instruction perspective -- there are two ways to do it. The first is carving on edge for control and speed. The second is basically keeping the ski flat and controlling the ski with the feet and the hips. This second style becomes more importance for western-style skiing (e.g., trees, bumps, powder, etc.). The problem with shaped skis is that we can become a bit lazy and simply ski neither on edge nor flat!

The next drill involved short radius turns. All three of us sucked at it and demonstrated a tendency to step around the turn (i.e., we wanted to go from edge to edge). Our instructor worked on a series of drills to develop some sensitivity to this issue.

The first drill was the side-slipping drill we had done the day before. Start side slipping and shift your weight back and forth. As you shift your weight back, your skis should turn toward the fall line of the hill. As you shift forward, your skis should bear up. Apparently, it should feel a lot like slalom water skiing... but I'm a terrible water skier! The drill from the previous day now became apparent. Sometimes, turning isn't about carving but about weight shifting.

The second drill involved slipping across the hill. Basically, point your body somewhat down and to the side of the hill but keep your skis oriented more towards the fall line. The hill should slip obliquely under your skis. There is no edge involved. Keep the feet closer together that you would with edge turning because the radius will tighten. I quickly noted that the knee-first-tail-lift approach we had done the day before led to a wide stance. The other issue is weighting. Just because you're keeping your skis flat or off-edge doesn't mean you sacrifice your hip angle. You still want your weight riding over that downhill ski.

This exercise really tightened up my turns and gave me insight into a completely different style of skiing. You pass up the edge control but you gain stability by using two feet.

After a few runs of experimenting with this short-radius non-performance style of skiing, we moved to a different hill. The Australian wanted to do some bumps so we went to the rather intimidating Flagpole. The first half of Flagpole isn't steep but it was incredibly cruddy. It was choppy from the day before but had some drifting fresh snow that made the conditions particularly challenging. Carving turns with an unweighted uphill ski was ill-advised but the two footed cross-glide we had been working on wouldn't have worked either. So our instructor introduced us to the idea of the 1000 hop turn. Basically, you just keep hopping as you move through the short-radius turn. He explained that in the cruddy conditions you can never perfectly time your turns so you keep your skis moving. This approach worked very well in moving through the crud and it enabled consistent timing.

We then came to the bumpy section of the hill... and it can be really bumpy!

Our instructor explained some of the tenets of mogul skiing. It's just like what we had been doing: flat ski, control across two feet, some hopping because timing can be challenging, etc. There were, however, a few additional considerations. The first was the pole plant. It should be firm (i.e., relieve your weight with the pole plant) but it also needs to be close. Think of keeping your elbow glued to your side. During the pole plant you don't want to lose upper body position. So, as one pole is planted, your navel should basically be one pole distance from your downhill ski tip. For timing, focus on turning on the top of the mogul when the ski tails and tips are clear. This approach will make two foot control much easier. Then, ski down the back side of the mogul.

The firm pole plant is important but you want to clear that pole quickly. If you don't, your arms will end up behind you and you'll get torqued around. Keep those hands where you can see them!

When learning, aim for getting two moguls at a time, then get three, then get four., etc. You really need to rep this stuff. For some reason, I find sound effects really help my skiing. Shouting "boom!" on each and every pole plant helps (as do engine noises when carving turns). But perhaps this is just a personal thing.

Our last run was pretty basic... but I completely bailed. I was experimenting with the cross hill glide when I probably should have carved. My instructor looked at me and said: "That looked painful... Now, just ski." Wise words. Drills are valuable and important but ultimately you have to put it all together.

I can't wait for next year.

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