Monday 30 December 2019

Beginner Skier Important First Exercise

A Basic Exercise For Learning How To Ski


Here is an exercise for a beginner skier that will make your first trip down a hill a success.  It is a difficult at first but a little practice it becomes easier.  It is important because includes one basic move and three main skills.  It trains one leg at a time so that when you have to make your first stop you will be able to move your legs in the appropriate manor.  It is a fundamental move in turning and stopping.  
When I give a lesson, I use this exercise to determine a student’s skill level.  As you progress you can use this exercise to test your own ski level.  If you are following my lessons one or two circles should be sufficient for a start. 
You form a large circle by pushing one ski out sideways, with the tip of the ski staying fixed, and the tail of the ski forming a circle.  The picture shows 6 segments as it makes a good diagram, but the number of segments can be more or less depending on how the length of your skis and legs.  The motion should be slow and smooth of the snow surface, like spreading soft butter on a piece of bread.  No lifting the ski. It is easier if you use one ski on and one ski off.  You push one ski as far as it is comfortable in each segment.  Switch the ski to the other foot and rotate in the opposite direction. When you revisit this exercise, 2 skis on will be fine.
It is best to form smaller segments first and gradually enlarge them as you become more competent.  At first, it is important to get the motion as smooth as possible ignoring your body position.  As you improve it try to turn your body to face sideways across the rotating ski.  This is a skill called pivoting or counter rotation.  It is dominant at the end of a turn and the start of the next.
The other two skills are pressure control and edging control.  For controlling the pressure, you must press more on your heel than your toe.  For controlling the ski edge you must tilt your ski at just the right angle for it to move smoothly.  Some of this won’t make sense until you try.
I'm an instructor for VISAS, Vancouver Island Adaptive Snow Sports. My last student was a 9 year old Asperger's Syndrome boy. I told him when in motion on skis it is best to lean forward. He asked my why. I told him it increased his rotational inertial, making him more stable and less likely to fall backwards. He replied " I don't know what rotational inertia is." I told him that is because you are not a mechanical engineer. That seemed to satisfy him.  It is a mantra for all new skiers. Bend forward when in motion. Try to include bending forward in this exercise. 

Saturday 16 November 2019

Getting Ready For The New Ski Season

Error in my Manual, tried to make this clearer Sorry
I started my preparation in July somewhat haphazardly by trying to bike ride for an hour, three times a week. At the start of my ride, there is one long hill in Parry Sound up one of the main streets that required some effort. The rest of the ride is relatively flat. Haphazard in the sense, that I’m not very consistent.
But August this year, I tried running again. I haven’t been running for over 6 years because of the condition of my right knee. I covered my repair process in a blog 2 years ago (Alan’s PRSF Skiers Knee Witchcraft)*. My first run was about 20 minutes. It was not really a run it was an old man’s shuffle. I found that my leg muscles had dwindled considerably, my calf muscles in particular. It was painful. During the next 3 weeks, I gradually changed my shuffle into some semblance of stride. Now I can actually jog. On my last outing, I was up to 10000 steps, about an hour. I had 3 methods of monitoring that day, my phone, heart monitoring watch, and my Fit copy watch.  My phone gave me the lowest count so I ignored its ability to count properly. 

The only rule I have is that I get my heart rate up to about 120 bpm with a max of 130. I learned about this from a long-distance trainer when I lived in St. John’s NL. He told me the training effect started after 20 minutes. It seems to work and is fairly safe. Initially, my muscles were so weak, that moving was fast enough to get my heart rate up to speed was a problem.  My heart rate started at 105 max and by the end of the three weeks it was at 134 bpm. I slow down to get to my 120- 125 bpm range.

My conclusions are that jogging gets the right muscles strength for skiing.  It takes much less time than walking and riding, and gets your legs using the needed pressure on the ball of the foot. I was also pleased that my knee has recovered to a state where I jog again.

The first lesson in my manual includes learning to feel your feet.  As an intermediate skier, I was told about this many times over the years but took a long time to sink in. When I decided to write my manual there were many questions I had about how we teach skiing. I could find no reason why this particular issue is emphasized at some intermediate stage instead of at the beginning.   Applying the right pressure on my skis, at the right location, and at the appropriate time, during a turn is a central concept to my method of skiing. This way of steering skis requires the least effort for making turns.

So for anyone wanting to make skiing a pleasure rather than an effort, work on learning how to feel pressure on feet and condition the needed quads and calf muscles.

Sunday 24 February 2019

How Skis Turn

Ski turning is a fundamental part of alpine skiing sport. How well people ski is defined by how well they can make their skis turn in all conditions of snow surface and terrain. So the questions how do skis turn and how do you make them turn.
Ski design has evolved over many years with each year bringing in a new wrinkle to make skiing easier or to explore a different form of skiing. This blog is about how all mountain and recreational skis are designed to make skiing better.  It is a engineers perspective trying to make a very complex process easy to understand in common language. To this end, I will leave out all my coded technical engineering term.  
First, ski turning is a symbiotic relationship between three main components, the skier, boots, and skis. The boots and skis are chosen to fit the skier so all can work together to make a turn.
The turn.  The turn is made of 3 parts.  The first part is the transition or start of a turn.  This is a dynamic process, moving forward in a curve fashion.  The perfect curve is an arc of a circle that is split into 2 parts at the middle of the curve.  It is not quite perfect since the arc is used to both change direction and control your speed.  Controlling speed is the none perfect part.
The ski slides slightly sideways through the arc roughing up the snow. A “carved” turn has the minimum amount of roughing called side slipping and leave a very narrow snow path. On the other extreme where both skis are in a snowplow or wedge shape maximum of roughing or side slipping occurs. This latter form of skiing maximizes the amount of ski path width and side slipping for a beginner. The ideal path of a turn has a uniform amount of side slipping on both halves of the arc.
The ski.  Here is where it gets a little tricky. Skis are made in many different shapes and sizes for the many different uses. 

All Mountain Ski
I will stick with the all mountain ski that can be used on both hard packed and light powder snow. Newer skis are becoming wider under the foot and little longer again.  Basically, they are narrow at the boot mounting in the middle and wider at the ends. This hourglass shape makes skis unstable for moving in a straight line but helps to make turning much easier (Figure 1). Also, skis usually have flexible ends that will bend for a given load. The amount of flex will depend on what the ski is used for.  I’m assuming the boot and skis fit the skier.
When a ski starts sliding it is like turning on a switch, it becomes alive.  As soon as it starts to move it gains kinetic energy with speed. The ski must then be controlled.
To make a moving ski turn is a simple process.
Knee Tilt
You, the skier, must tilt your knee (figure 2) in the direction you want to go and at the same time  press on the ball of your foot to move the balance point forward (figure 3). 

Ski Pivot Locations

This engages the front portion of the ski tending to bend the ski (the darkened area on the ski in figure 1). The more you press on your toe pad the more the ski will bend and turn on the forward pivot point. This puts more pressure on the front of the ski and relieves some pressure on the back. You can then control the size of the arc and the amount of side slipping. Hence the shaded area showing the change in of the arc shape with the change in pressure, in the (figure 4).  As the turn progresses the pressure on the boot moves back to the heel and thus the pivot point.  The transition starts again.

What is this kinetic energy that I slipped in? Simply, it is the ability to do work. As soon as you start to move you have it.  You have to stop to get rid of it.  In skiing, you push snow out around. This will either slow you down or if you push hard enough you’ll stop. You can also use some of this energy to move your skis around by just pressing on your skis at the right place and time. This is similar to riding a bicycle where it takes very little energy to steer the bike. You use a small amount of energy, in order to move a large heavy object, in a different direction.
The boot. I use a relatively soft forward flex boot and like to keep my boots loose on hardpack snow. This allows my ankles to bend but still have the side rigidity of the boot for making the ski’s metal edge dig in. The boot has another function in that when clamped down in place it will stiffen the centre portion of the ski. This function helps when skiing on ice conditions. It also ads weight for kinetic energy.
The Person.  How you stand on skis is most important in making them turn easily and effectively. If you can shift the pressure on your boots from toe to heel equally well, then you are centred on your ski. The easiest way is to just move your boot forward and back under your upper body.  Leaning and/or moving your hands back and forth works. There are other ways to start a turn such as pushing on the middle of the ski or on the boot heel. Pushing on the middle of the ski takes more effort and time. Most people are taught to ski this way.  Pressing on the heels moves the ski balance point to behind the boot, also a way to ski. In the adaptive sports application there are some people that can’t bend forward or get their weight forward, then this is another option.
Remember this is about skis turning not skiing.  The person must add the skills and timing to make turning happen.
Basically the ski is shaped and bent to follow a chosen path.

Saturday 9 February 2019

A Short Introduction to Alpine Skiing

Strathcona Provincial Park
(large park in the middle of Vancouver Island) 

If you want to learn how to ski there are several things you must learn to do.  There are relatively easy things such as acquiring the necessary winter wear and need ski equipment. Then you must learn how to put on ski boots and skis. Then, the harder part when your skis are on, you must learn to turn and stop. Be forewarned, skiing can take over your mind.
Turning is a little hard to describe because there are several ways to turn and several reasons why it is important to turn. Starting with something easy, turning is necessary to take you in the direction you want to go.  Turning is often for self-preservation to avoid dangers and bumping into other skiers or snowboarders. Turning is also used to control your speed.
Turning to control your speed is of most interest to a beginner skier for several reasons.  Gravity is the thing that pulls you down a hill. If you do nothing to control your speed you will go faster and faster. What will slow you down is the snow dragging on your skis and the wind drag you create due to your speed increases.  You will eventually reach some limiting speed depending on the steepness of the hill and if a wind its direction.  On a beginners hill, your final speed may be about walking speed or as fast as you can peddle a bike.  On really steep hills your speed could be anywhere from 120 to 160 km/hr. I have never even approached the higher speeds.
To control your speed on skis you must learn how to make them scrape sideways on the snow surface during a turn.  This is basically what you need to learn as a beginner skier. This is what your beginner lessons are primarily about. You must learn to ski a serpentine path down a hill, with each turn controlling your speed. The steeper the hill then more effort or energy you must use to make each turn. You progress to this skiing level.
If all you did was make turns down a hill, skiing would soon lose its attraction.  To enjoy skiing you must learn to meet the many challenges along the way.  Steepness is one, but there are different trails and terrain with moguls, glades, jumps, and bumps, etc. Speed is good for generating adrenaline and excitement. It can be addictive.
And then there are the 3-4 different ways to start a turn that got me started on the path to develop and create my ski method for beginner skiers. I reached a point in my skiing where I could not improve and couldn’t figure out why and what to do.  The secret was learning how to steer my skis quickly and efficiently. The question was why didn’t I learn sooner? And then, what and how soon could I have learned? This is what my manual and video are all about, how to become a good skier in the shortest and most efficient way.
This blogging site is for beginner downhill skiers, people returning to the sport and those wanting to improve their skills.  Highlighted is my free Manual, AlanR Method, Learn to Ski. The manual has 3 sections. The first section is about preparation to start. The middle section is lessons on how to ski. This section includes 6 sequential lessons which are based both on how skis turn and 5 basic skills we needed to learn in order to control skis. The last section is the background of a few of the basics.  

Tuesday 22 January 2019

The Genesis of My Manual

Early Morning Mt. Washington CA
This problem was put to me by Ryan and Jen, two of the best ski instructors on Mt. Washington (Canada). We were at the halfway point up an 8-minute high-speed chair ride.  How does a bicyclist going fast around in a circle, leave the circle at speed?  I had 2 solutions right away. The connection to skiing absorbed my skiing for the next year.  
Have you figured them out yet?  Most cyclists find a solution subconsciously and with experience work out both solutions.  On a bicycle, you can steer it under you to get your weight relocated on the appropriate side or you can peddle harder and accelerate out of the turn.
 I have written about one solution previously, the Dynamic Transition. The other solution, accelerating out of the turn, I left alone.  This is the stuff that should be examined by those interested in the dynamics of ski racing. On skis, you can’t peddle faster but you can certainly accelerate.  This is far beyond beginner skiing.  But it is where I found a different way to ski.  
I had been taught most of the pieces but had never been able to assemble them in a usable fashion. The clue was to steer your skis under you similar to when biking.
The concept of steering skis is not well thought out or applied. It is certainly not given space in most ski journal and videos on the internet.  What I found in the year following my epiphany was that steering skis is the easiest way to make them turn.  The design of shaped and softer more flexible skis are a great enhancements. They allow a skier to shape and engage the front portion of the ski and thus control the size and shape of the turn. My first attempts at steering skis were part of the fun of skiing that I was missing.  I tried steering my skis under me while going fast on a short uphill. My skis flew out from under me landing me on my backside, but it was such an amazing and unexpected happening that is spurred me on. 
When should we have learned how to steer skis? Why was this technique not included in our lexicon of ski knowledge? The way we teach skiing hasn’t really changed much in the last 50 years. It was time for a change. Making skis turn is simple.  If you tilt your knee in the direction you want to go and you lean forward to apply pressure on the ball your foot, the ski will turn. There is a but, you must learn to get your body in the right position to make it happen. I found that the 5 basic skills that we learned are most important to make this simple move. I place equal emphasis on these skill in my lessons. I also changed the rules on how beginner stand and move.  
My years of teaching beginners became criteria for determining the best approach. I like the progression approach where each lesson builds on the previous.  I like the idea of making every minute count and every motion skill related. All the backup information is in the manual.
My lessons are skill based and beginner oriented. They are fastest, most complete and safest path to parallel skiing.  AlanR