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BEGINNINGS (see footnote 1)
G-D is certainly an excellent engineer!
These days people flock to the gym. We have all manner of influence to keep our bodies in shape. From movies and commercials to print media as well as sound bites regarding the perfect body! Also, we have all manner of assistance to achieve that lofty but vain goal – from pills and diets to personal trainers to guided classes with all manner of games and toys and gadgets espousing the quick fix for our body’s integrity and well being. This has all come about in the last four generations. For the first 100,000 +/- generations of our history, since we have become bipeds, we were hunter/gatherers. Our food source came from whatever we could forage or catch. Therein laid our exercise!, and our motivation for living. The three initial needs – shelter, food, and procreation – were met in crude but efficient ways. Guided by instinct, guile, & hunger.
Now, the plethora of gadgets to run (or is that ruin) our lives – automobiles, cell phones, television, interactive technologies, video games, ipods, computers, satellite communications – all manner of control and attachment, seemingly has moved us so far away from our roots that to go beyond the limits of “civilized control” is almost unfathomable. The last four generations, maybe five we have become a society of ultimate control and run by the fear of the unknown. We have learned how to manipulate the environment and soon will be controlling weather systems. Our children are over protected and over coddled. Our activities are restricted by the limitations of our physical experience of the universe … individually. Our food is controlled (processed) and some would argue not healthy. Our actions are controlled. I submit to you that even our thoughts are controlled.
When learning a new endeavor, especially a sport or motor skill, more than likely our mind stays in the “WHAT IF ZONE” instead of the “ZONE”. With the possible exception of that part of our being that is challenged by some intrinsic or extrinsic value. Being challenged, in my humble opinion, puts one in a positive state of mind.
I want you, my readers and friends, to be challenged. I want you to be excited to let yourself feel and smell and taste and hear and, of course, see the environment in the same manner as your ancestors did. Being in the moment. For the thrill. For the experience. For the “BEING ALIVENESS”.
Skiing (see footnote 2) is an offensive sport. We do not resist gravity we flow with gravity. There is no right or wrong. There is only efficient and inefficient. During a day of free skiing you do several thousand turns. Certainly you can turn using the entire body flamboyantly and actively or you can turn using a more quiet, flowing stance, using skills and tactics with which you may effect these turns effortlessly and easily. So the question is – do you want to be wasted at the end of the day or ready for a night of dancing?
Remember, the physics always wins. Therefore body architecture, turn shape, and intention are the important keys to continuing the flow of the vector downhill. Intention dictates turn shape dictates speed control.
The first hurdle is getting comfortable with the slide. Understand that it is already in your experience. That the bio mechanics involved in skiing are similar to or equal to many of the mannerisms needed in most sports. The difference is that in all other sports the proximate cause of motion is intrinsic. Motion is caused by affecting muscle movement supported by the skeleton. Sometimes the muscular/skeletal system is supportive, as when one is depressing the accelerator of an automobile or pedaling a bicycle, for example. The proximate cause of motion in skiing is purely extrinsic – gravity.
It’s not necessarily about the going downhill or the physics thereof, it’s that the mind gets confused because … every proximate cause of motion that we do in life in the universe is intrinsically empowered. That is, as stated above, the intended movement is caused by muscle stimuli supported by our skeleton. Our muscles supported by our bones cause intended movement. The proximate cause of movement in skiing is extrinsic, is gravity. One simply stands on a platform maintaining dynamic balance. So the mind gets confused – why am I going, how am I going, how is this possible, I’m not doing anything. Until we get comfortable with the slide, with being able to control the vector efficiently by essentially not doing anything, until we make that transition, getting involved with higher performance will be difficult.
Athletic young male new skiers are the most difficult demographic – try to tell an athlete to not do anything … simply to stand … simply to feel and experience and not think. I have to digress here and mention that any instructor worth their certification will have new skiers on flat or very mild terrain. And as one gets more skill, the initiation of new technique(s) will always be on comfortable terrain.
Therein lies the predominant psychological hurdle. And my basic field of interest. Trust the physics instinctively, or, fearfully be overly conscious of the potential dangers. Every movement that we initiate in life is initiated through intrinsic powering. And here I will try to introduce an interesting concept. You are two people. You are conscious, thinking, aware, always planning, strategizing, comparing, maintaining control, reactive. A relatively slow method of dealing with the environment. And, you are also instinctive, sensing, responding, proactive. In sportsone should maintain an open instinctive perspective. Keeping the senses alive. Looking everywhere, seeing everything, listening to everything, smelling and feeling the environment, tasting the air that one breathes. It is an awesome awareness that most of us control freaks never experience to be totally open and awake and alive! … I dare ya!
We affect changes in direction (turns) by assuming different postures and angles in our body in combination with movement of the feet including rotational movements, fore and aft movements and lifting and settling movements, and combinations thereof. Of course there is more. It gets complicated if one cares to study the science. For purposes of this essay, however, I choose to keep it simple.
Humans are hardwired to anxiety. There is a negative feedback loop going on. Anxiety begets more anxiety. If you look down a hill and are experiencing an irrational amount of trepidation, it is likely that what you will interpret in your (conscious) mind is a malicious hill that is much steeper and has more and uglier terrain variations than is real. We have all experienced this in some form or other. Fear has no value. If you are fearful of the bunny hill, it is likely that the fear is the same value of fear that you will feel when encountering a life threatening situation.
You must also realize that if gravity will pull you downhill, then, as you finish the turn, approaching 6:00 and cross through the gravity line, given enough momentum, you will continue uphill slowing down as gravity resists you. Newton’s first law of motion states: Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a straight line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it. I believe it is fair to paraphrase and state that a body in orbit or following a trajectory will continue in that orbit or trajectory unless acted upon by an outside force. So, do not lean or affect any awkward changes to your stance while turning. Simply ride the skis around the clock face.
The relationship of the knee to the foot is critical to the relationship of the ski sole to the snow, called the ski/snow interface. You will go in the direction your knees are pointing. If your lower leg is perpendicular to the slope, theoretically your ski is now flat and should be able to turn under your foot or slide in any direction. Attempt to make a bowtie pattern under your foot by pivoting the flat ski under your foot. If you lift your foot keeping the ski parallel to the snow surface and affected a windshield wiper pattern in the air, where the center of the turning wiper blade (if you will) is under the center of your foot, then lower your foot to the snow and keep turning the windshield wiper, you would make said pattern.
If the ski/snow interface describes an acute angle such that the inside ski edges are engaged, and your knees are pointing to the inside of the turn, then you will necessarily engage the inside edges and turn in this direction. For example, imagine you are at the top of an easy run (based on your ability and confidence). You are facing into your start (in the gravity line, facing downhill). You affect motion into the run and point your knees to the left thereby engaging the inside edges for a left turn. To exacerbate the turn you do two things (as an expert!) – lower your knees angulating inside and twist your feet towards the left (left tip left to turn left - see footnote 3). If you remain in this position, you will necessarily continue past 6:00 to 5:00 and up the clock face counter clockwise until the resistance of gravity eventually stops you and starts to pull you backwards downhill. Before this happens though, as a prudent skier, you would affect the necessary change of body architecture to affect a right turn and continue to serpentine down the run.
When experimenting with your first turns notice your body architecture. Understand that the following ideas will keep you focused on going downhill and in a proper position to set up for the next turn: Uphill hand over downhill ski or that the uphill hand and shoulder is higher than and in front of its counterpart. One is always focused on going downhill.
While you are here reading, check my section on exercises and awarenesses. NOW – Let’s get on the hill!
1. See definitions and explanations as necessary.
2. Everything that we learn at day one and become comfortable with will change as one becomes more adept and comfortable. The body architectures will become more focused and more dynamic. The transitions and choreography will become more smooth. This section is meant as a tip of the iceberg awareness to a complicated dance that keeps getting better. The choreography that I display coming down an expert powder tree slope will arguably be much different than what a beginner skier will display in their comfort zone. I submit to you, my readers, that we are experiencing equal amounts of fun.
3. Bob Barnes – Training director Keystone Ski Resort, Keystone, Colorado.