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EXERCISES AND AWARENESS
THE PHYSICS ALWAYS WINS. It’s that simple. Therefore … relax, stay in the proper body architecture, ride the skis, smile, enjoy what may become, if not a passion, certainly a very thrilling moment in time.
But seriously folks, in your experience you know how to work with gravity. When you were a child, more than likely you rolled down a hill or rollerskated in a park or bicycled in varying terrain. When sitting on a bicycle riding down a hill chasing your friend, the plane of your head was in front of the plane of your feet, your spine was canted forward, your hands were comfortably in front of your torso (on the handle bars).
PILATES: An excellent form of exercise for life. Not only for skiing. Any kind of core work will be positive for ones existence. Pilates is a complete exercise system. There are many Pilates programs on the market. If you have access to a REC CENTER or GYM, check their class schedule or ask a knowledgeable professional about which of the individual programs to purchase.
What I offer here is less than tip of the iceberg. You may develop your own program with a little creativity and memories from high school. Start with an exercise ball and perform all manner of calisthenics using the ball to position yourself in such a way as to stress the core. Sit ups for instance would be done with your back on the mat and your lower legs on the ball. Pushups, as well, put your feet over the top of the ball, extend out and voila. Add jump rope &/or cross-training, what ever.
Always stretch. Try laying on the ball facing up with your spine over the top, balance point near your coccyx, so that your feet are off the floor. Stretch your arms beyond your head and let gravity pull your extremities down. Hold for a while. Exacerbate and enjoy the stretch.
ATHLETIC STANCE: The following is empirical and will vary depending what is needed at any moment in time.
The foundation of one’s body architecture in any sport. From the bottom of the feet up: feet flat pointed ahead; ankles and knees soft and springy; spine canted forward; arms forward as if on bicycle handle bars; elbows slightly bent, as with the knees, relaxed and ready, and shoulders loose.
Lower body as if you were standing at a base line on a tennis court ready for the serve. Upper body as an open boxing stance. The spine wants to be parallel to the lower legs.
PHANTOM CHAIR: Sit against a wall in the following position: your back is straight and flat against a wall; your upper legs horizontal; your lower legs vertical, as if you were on a chair that disappeared. Stomach to femur is a right angle as is the femur to the tib/fib. Hold this position as long as you can. Repeat several times. Three sets several times a week would be great … several times a day would be better.
BELT OR JACKET PULL: Try this with a friend. Stand in front of the friend, assume an athletic stance with your back to him/her. He/she will hold your belt or the lower seam of your jacket FIRMLY. As they pull, you resist them pulling forward from your core. This action simulates the intended direction of energy while aggressively attacking a slope. (Remember skiing is a “GO” sport, an offensive sport.)
MOUNTING THE SKI: Get used to this on the flat first. To mount the left ski place your right foot in front of the left foot 6” to 12” while straddling the skis. Place the left toe into the toe binding squarely and firmly. With this action the ski will probably slide forward aligning the heel into the heel binding. The center line of the foot should be parallel with the center line of the ski between the toe and heel bindings. (If not, the heel will not fall squarely into place.) Step the heel firmly into the heel binding. Be sure to hear the clean snap of the spring loaded binding element engaging, locking your boot into place.
When doing this on a slope it is far easier to put the downhill ski on first. If you are putting one ski on, place yourself so that this ski is uphill.
Do the following exercises in both directions. For example the side steps - do several facing skiers right then turn 180o (counter clockwise … never turn facing uphill) and do an equal amount facing skiers left. Beginner skiers stay on the flat surface, playing with getting used to your new big shoes until you are comfortable with the new nuances of balance and motion - dynamic balance. As you gets more proficient the awkwardness will dissipate and a unique and appropriate style will evolve. Have patience and perseverance peppered with proper correction.
SHUFFLE: Stand with your hands on top of the poles. While using the poles for balance, simply shuffle your feet back and forth. This is a great way to start to give the brain some stimuli about sliding as well as keeping the feet working independently.
PUSH & SLIDE: First time, please do this lightly. Set your poles behind you towards the tails of the skis and push off the top of the poles, pushing yourself forward. Set your poles towards the tips of the skis and push off the top of the poles, pushing yourself back. Repeat several times. Keep your core strong. Keep your knees soft and absorbent. Stay upright over your feet. Get used to sliding … tall.
Combine these two. Push and while sliding … shuffle!
TIP POLE PUSH: Set your poles by the tips of your skis. Lift your ski tip slightly and push this tip into the set pole attempting to knock it down. Push against the pole for some time, maybe for 30 seconds or so. Since the pole is set in the snow it should not move. The purpose of this is to get you aware of the muscle group that fires when we are turning our feet. Do the other.
SIDE STEPPING: This may sound a little complicated since it is (presumably) the first awareness of utilizing ones edges. Try this on flat terrain first then on a gentle slope then a steeper slope. Essentially we are using the skis as big shoes walking sideways. The elements to be aware of: small, confident movements; the relationship of the knee to the foot determines the relationship of the ski to the snow (the ski/snow interface); when stepping keep the ski sole parallel to the snow (there is a tendency for beginners to lift their foot in such a manner so as to keep the tip of the ski in or closer to the snow than the tail - not good!).
First - while standing in place lift you leg then the other. Keep the knees high and proud.
Hold the ski parallel to the slope. Alternate lifting the legs several times. For an adult of normal height lift the ski a foot or more off the ground. Get used to the broad range of motion needed to advance and become a proficient high level skier.
Second - take small steps sideways keeping your skis across the gravity line. As you step keep the distance of the step within a few inches so that the A-FRAME described by your legs at the widest is within the width of your hips. This is necessary because as you take this exercise onto the hill you must stay on the uphill edges. The uphill hip should be vertical above or uphill of the uphill edge of the uphill ski.
Third - take the exercise onto a slope. Keep the knees soft and able to roll laterally over the feet. The knees should be vertical or uphill of the foot, thereby keeping the edge engaged. If the ski slips laterally you are not engaging the edge sufficiently. Roll the knees into the hill more. One thing to notice - if your lower legs are vertical, then the skis are level and the uphill edge will necessarily be engaged. If the lower legs are perpendicular to the slope the skis will be flat and you will slide laterally.
The following exercises are for higher level skiers (from level 2 to 9), but if you try them and "GET IT" ... get them ... kudos to you. By all means trying something new, different, crazy, stupid, whatever, is a great way to expand your skiing consciousness. Of course, with all exercises, try them first on an appropriately comfortable slope then increase the challenge. DO NOT PRETEND OR PLACATE YOURSELF. The more you are athletically appropriate and assertive, the faster your learning curve will assimilate the new feelings. Play lots and play hard! "Play" being the operative word. Good luck and come back often. Remember that as the extrinsic values become more challenging, you must become more challengeable.
As a child you may have experienced a toy airplane powered by a rubber band. Remembering this toy, imagine the proximate cause of why this flying machine flew. One would wind the rubber band taut then let go. It would fly because the rubber band would unwind thereby turning the propeller causing … blah, blah, blah … the rubber band is releasing its tension, re-aligning to its comfortable position at rest (its default position) … enough for our purposes. When employing our muscular/skeletal system appropriately – twisting and articulating at the finish of the turn and then realigning to full extension at the middle of the turn, then repeating the process – we are putting ourselves into repetitive cycles of the “tension/release dance” (as I call it!). As you go through the cycle of serpentining down the slope, you wind up and crumple, as the rubber band, then extend, thereby re-aligning to the default or at rest position of the muscular/skeletal systems. Then repeating as the slope and conditions demand. Essentially we are creating a power source that is totally efficient … effortless, self-propelling and self-fulfilling and totally invigorating! Runners that may be reading this can liken this to a “RUNNERS HIGH”.
Much of the choreography implied here will be affected by your style, athleticism, intention, etc. Certainly there are basics you must adhere to as a new exercise is undertaken. However, as with everything that is physical, once you acquire a certain level of proficiency your style develops and takes over. This is fine as long as the energy continues to flow efficiently.
BULLFIGHTER TURN: I am facing skier’s right. The proper body architecture at this moment would be to position my lower leg shafts parallel to my spine. My knees are soft and ready (springy). The spine slightly forward. Imagine a boxer in a soft defensive position. My arms are relaxed but forward as if my hands were on imaginary bicycle bars. My poles are angled to the snow surface similar to the lower leg shafts with the pole baskets behind my feet. Uphill edges are engaged.
I twist (see footnote 1) facing my whole torso (see footnote 1) downhill then place my poles in the snow downhill of me so that the line between them is perpendicular to the gravity line and there is at least a little more than hip width between them. 2 to 2–1/2 feet apart would be ideal. Kinda like a racer’s gate. I keep the pole handles under my palms, not gripped. My poles need to be far enough downhill of me so that when I pivot, my skis do not hit them. I lean on the poles being sure that the front shafts are securely pinned into the snow. Here is the critical moment from which you will experience either success or failure. I am leaning on straight shafts from shoulder to snow – no angles except the functional angles needed for the exercise.
Slowly and carefully I pivot around an imaginary shaft coming from the center of my hip girdle down into the snow. Lift the downhill ski, turn the ski (pivot point under the center of your foot!) in the air a few degrees pointing the tip slightly downhill, keeping the bottom parallel to the snow surface, then step down. Only a few degrees though … you do not want to step on your uphill tail! Bring the uphill ski parallel to the other by lifting the ski, not pivoting the ski on the snow.
If the arms – the foundation of support – are solid as you pivot parallel to the gravity line and remain centered and square above the gate, then you should not slide forward. If the skis start to slide, make the angle between the arms and torso more obtuse by pushing the skis uphill as far as necessary. Keep your core solid.
Continue pivoting to the right until your skis are perpendicular to the gravity line and you are facing 180o from your starting point. Relax.
MIRROR: Stand in front of a mirror in your athletic stance and simply turn your feet one way, then the other (180 degrees), pivoting on the balls of your feet. Keep your torso square in the mirror. Do not turn from the hips up, inclusive. Hands on the bicycle bars throughout. In fact, touch your hands to their image. As you pivot, rise as your feet turn from right to front then "crumple" your knees, complimenting the completion of the turn from front to left. Then reverse the process.
Throughout all of your progress and game playing, give yourself permission to be a kid. (Think like a kid, ski like an expert!) Give up any notions of being pretty on skis or otherwise being graceful when trying new things. Implicitly, through the acclamation process you will feel and look awkward (at best). This is good. If you are not feeling awkward or uncomfortable, if you are not stretching and using your bio-musculature differently, so that at the end of the day you hurt (so good!), then you are not doing anything new or different and necessarily not learning.
SHOOTING LAYUPS: This is an exercise to simulate extension and flexion. Also this takes a little childlike imagination. The basket is below you. Maybe in the parking lot or at the bottom of the run before you. Dribble the ball next to the outside ski. The shot is taken as you approach the gravity line. On the analog clock, as you approach 3:00 on a right turn or 9:00 on a left turn. Immediately catch the rebound and dribble … low … through the bottom of the turn, 6:00. The timing will vary as you get proficient (as everything changes with proficiency and personal style) but essentially you extend into the turn and flex after the gravity line.
FOUR POLE EXERCISES FOR AWARENESS:
1) FRAME: Hold the poles vertically in the center of the shafts, arms extended creating visual boundaries or a frame within which a target will center. Pick a target in the distance that you can see all the way down the desired section of the hill you are skiing. Keep said target in the center of the frame. If you do not see the target within the frame, you are turning your body, sometimes (most of the time) too far uphill or away from the desired direction. Keep the frame square to the desired direction of travel (downhill!). It is easier to separate the upper and lower body if your knees are bent – appropriate body architecture, appropriate crumpling.
2) TRAY: Hold the poles across the palms of your hand so that when you are facing downhill they are level as you would hold a tray of drinks. As with FRAME, keep the tray level as you serpentine down the hill. Picture in your head a dollar sign ($). Your skis are the "S" while the tray is the straight line going in the desired direction. Your skis turn under you. Be a snooty servant serving afternoon tea to your stuck up employers. Do not spill the tea! If the tray goes off the center line (as will happen often until you get adept at separating the upper and lower body), keep the tray parallel to the slope. (Of course this is not level and the tea will spill, but it is appropriate body architecture.)
3) DRAG: This is a little more forgiving than the two above in that you may stay following the direction of the skis. The objective is to counter weight appropriately. Let the poles drag in the snow (as if you were dragging two pizza boxes next to your boots) while you are turning down the hill. If you are leaning (counter weighting) wrong, the outside pole will not be in the snow (and you will lose the pizza box, and our lunch!). Assuming the parallelity of the extremities, keeping the line across your shoulders, hands, hips, knees, ankles parallel to the slope. What I mean by this is: if I took a video of you turning down the hill, then looked at each frame, these lines would be parallel to the slope below you. So, if you followed my analogy of skiing around a clock face, on a right turn if I looked at the frame with you at 3:00, all these lines would be level. If I looked at the frame of you at 6:00 your downhill shoulder would be lower than and behind its counterpart as would your downhill hand, etc.
4) STATUE OF LIBERTY: While holding the inside pole in the air pointing to the sky, reach the outside pole as far as you can scribing the longest possible radius in the snow. Do not let the inside pole drop behind the vertical line from your shoulder. (Remember that the uphill hand and the uphill shoulder are higher than and in front of their counterparts. This exercise employs the extreme.)
1000 STEPS: Run – as if you had big sneakers on your feet – through the turns. ACTUALLY RUN! Lift your feet alternating like … running. The body architecture in running on a hill in a circle or a figure 8 is exactly the position(s) we need to assume while skiing through a turn. Start by taking your skis off and running around. Circles &/or figure 8’s. Do this on a moderately confronting slope relative to your confidence and experience. Or, next time you are in a park, run around! Be aware of the body architecture in varying aspects of the turn on a hill.
INSIDE SKI TAIL LIFT: By lifting the inside tail through the turn you will gain a sense of their stance – inside or outside, fore or aft. One must keep the tip in the snow guiding the turn. The longer you can keep the tip raised, the more balanced you are.
THUMPERS: This is an alternative to the above. “THUMP” the inside ski – lift and set as if you were stepping the ski – through the turn. Do this as if there were a hinge on the tip of the ski fastened to the snow thereby thumping the tail up and down leaving the tip in the snow as above. Again the longer you can do this through the 180 degrees of the turn, the more balanced you are. Once this is accomplished do the tail lift described above.
SHUFFLE TURNS: As with the 1000 steps, shuffle through the turns. This actually not only tunes your balance but also gives you some feeling for independent foot action that may be necessary in certain conditions on the snow. SSSWWWEEEEEETTT!
SIDE SLIPS (see footnote 3): (This exercise should be done on a slope that does not have a lot of loose snow. If you are motivated enough, the best slope is one that is hard packed, fast, and a high blue or low black.) Stand on a slope in an appropriate athletic stance with your skis perpendicular to the gravity line. An appropriate athletic stance for this exercise: Knees and ankles bent and soft; back slightly rounded as a boxer would stand; the lines across the shoulders, hands, hips, knees, & ankles are parallel to the slope; the spine is perpendicular to the slope; butt is over your feet; feet, of course, are athletically functionally apart. To be balanced on the slope you must have the knees uphill of the boots. (If you were to drop a plumb bob down from each knee it would fall some cm’s or more uphill of the boots depending on the steepness.) Thereby you are balanced on the uphill edges of each respective ski. The lower legs move simultaneously and are maintained parallel as the knees roll down hill affecting the ski/snow interface so as to flatten the ski. As the skis approach flat the pull of gravity releases the edge hold on the skis and the skis will begin to slide laterally down the gravity line. Let them go inches at first then roll the knees uphill to re-engage the edges. As you get comfortable let the skis slide laterally for more distance until you can control the speed and direction (see falling leaf below). Do not over release the edges. Gentle, gentle. If you over edges to the downhill edges, they will engage and produce a huge oowie, possibly breaking your clavicle.
FALLING LEAF (see footnote 3): If you close your ankles – lean forward – the tips will drop. If you open your ankles – lean aft – your tails will drop. Have patience. Be aware this is on flat skis. Your body architecture wants to let the skis drop, let yourself flow downhill. Depending on the slope, the developing dropping of the tips or tails may be slow. DO NOT TURN. Simply slide laterally affecting the falling leaf pattern by weighting the tips and tails appropriately.
PIVOT SLIPS (see footnote 3): This is a direct function of and an advanced technique employing side slips. Master slipping before attempting the pivot. Stand relaxed on your uphill edges perpendicular to the gravity line. Your torso is focused down the gravity line. Therefore you are twisted, ideally your skis/torso relationship are 900 opposed. Slowly release your edges simultaneously. As you begin to slide maintain a flat ski/snow relationship. Slide a bit then re-engage your edges. Just to awaken your system to the side slip. Repeat this in both directions until you are comfortable and fluid. Be aware of the potential “oowie” should your downhill edges engage. Now, pivot around a center shaft below your COM. (Remember the imaginary shaft coming from the center of my hip girdle down into the snow from the description of the BULL FIGHTER TURN?) At the highest level of competence for this exercise, the hips and boots describe straight lines parallel to the gravity line. You must maintain flat skis for this exercise. The lower leg shafts maintain a perpendicularity to the slope, the feet turn freely. There is a slight extension at the beginning of the exercise and a slight flexion or settling at the bottom of each turn. The upper body stays focused and still, straight down the gravity line.
INTRODUCTION TO POLE USAGE:
ERTTP - Extend, Reach, Tap, Turn, Punch. This is the mantra you should repeat loudly as you actually perform these actions in the process of poling. The extension is when the hips or core crosses over the feet, defining the turn transition. The reach of the new inside pole or downhill pole contributes to this action by pulling the body forward into the quadrant in front and below the graphic turn. The direction of the reach will vary depending on the choice of a long radius turn (slightly downhill of the direction the skis are pointing) or a high performance short radius turn (more directly into the gravity line) or any in between. (Imagine an 18” tether connected from the palm of your downhill hand and the downhill hip, thereby pulling you into the turn as you reach into the turn.) The pole tap is the moment when the edges actually release and the skis become flat(ter) as the skis drift into the gravity zone (line). This is quite exhilarating. Of course … the turn is next … after we are in full extension in the gravity zone, we must crumple laterally, point the knees and drive them into the turn while rotating our feet and edging/skidding as necessary/desired. The punch is simply a reminder to keep the new uphill hand forward. (Actually the uphill hand is automatically in the correct position if the skis turn more than the upper body. If there is a twisting between the lower body and upper body.) Remember that the uphill hand and uphill shoulder is higher than and in front of its counterpart. Also the Extend, Reach and Tap are almost simultaneous. This all happens fast, so, in the beginning, play with the mantra and my descriptions in your living room or where ever you may be reading this. Then on a very comfortable slope where you can maintain some slowness, thereby getting a sense of what is supposed to happen through the mantra. Then working to a slope that is comfortable and at speed. Remember that the conscious mind makes for very slow manifestations of your choreography.
Anatomically the ball and socket joint at the top of the femur into the pelvic girdle gives us the most efficient method for appropriate range of motion in space.
Hips are part of the upper body.
SIDE SLIPS are purely engaging and releasing the edges. Nothing else moves. The body architecture is focused and still with slight extension and flexion in the desired direction – straight down the gravity line.
Be very clear that the only body parts moving are the opening and closing of the ankles causing fore and aft movements. FALLING LEAFS demonstrate some minor edging and pressure skills.
5. Pivot slips are pure rotary. Nothing else moves at the ski/snow interface – just the flat skis turning.