Biff's biffs and (maybe) breakthroughMy apologies in advance for a long post, but I had a great day and it felt like a breakthrough.
I tried this out on snow today. It was complicated by conditions (relentless cold fine rain all day, poor coverage, incredibly wet heavy snow from the last few days, measured at 86% humidity before most of the rain) and equipment problems. I found out yesterday from the shop that the bindings have essentially failed on the pair of skis I use for GS—the left ski heel release releases at about 60% of the pressure it should resist. (Had them checked out because I suspected that.) In retrospect, skiing today with that known heel prerelease problem, when I’m working on getting more forward, in terrible visibility, going into heavy wet gloppy snow, was not one of my more brilliant decisions. (Six (!) binding prereleases today. A power-biff record even for Biff.) The shop is now, as I type this, replacing those bindings with some others I had on a different pair of skis, in time for this weekend’s opening club league GS race (if it doesn’t get snowed out.) In the meantime, at the very end of the ski day I worked on another variation for Rick’s early season balance progression drills: Make all your right foot/left turns committed way forward, on the balls of your feet/nearly over the handlebars, but make all your left foot/right turns in neutral, balanced on the whole foot, so you don’t pull out of the binding.
Early in the day, I spent some time trying to get the feel of what I understand as a specific kind (or kinds) of waist steering turn. (My limited understanding is that waist steering is a much broader category, of a variety of moves using core muscle recruitment, in a variety of different circumstances.) What I was really trying was (at various times) two slightly different things: (1) to create early knee angulation and a substantial edge angle through a forward rotation/drop/lateral displacement of the outside hip (hard to explain, but the kind of thing I’ve been working on in the doorjamb at home and what we’ve discussed above—it’s kind of Chubby Checkers*), rather than through counter (my traditional approach, and essentially something like an “opposite” way to create the edge angle, in terms of where the hips are going); (2) in the last half of the turn to drive the (old) outside hip and ski forward dynamically to finish the turn and launch toward the next imaginary gate (essentially, rotating in the turn with the outside hip going faster.)
I found (1) educational and fun. It was a great way to shake myself out of my rut (must…increase…counter) and the turns had a very different feel to them. I felt more like I was driving my knees into the inside of the turn (and toward the next imaginary gate.) The turns didn’t have quite the same “bite” as a turn with a lot of counter. (Hard to explain, but when I really throw a lot of counter into a turn, there’s a point where the ski fore body really digs into the snow for a forcible redirection.) These turns were smoother, less of the “j” turn you get with that counter/bite. And they came with fewer of my usual bad habits. My outside hand didn’t get left behind, and I stayed forward. Excessive inside tip lead didn’t seem to be a problem.
But the real striking “feel” thing was when I tried (2) really driving the outside hip through late in the turn. It felt fast and dynamic. I was a little inconsistent, but there were times when it really felt like a huge acceleration. And it felt directed forward through the imaginary course. And it kept/got my hip forward. Again, no problem with excessive inside tip lead. And it was a completely different feel than upper body over-rotation and having my tails wash out. (Let’s just say Biff here knows THAT feeling, thanks to a checkered past includes having reached for a few slalom gates…) It wasn’t led by the shoulder, it was led by the outside hip, and the outside ski just accelerated.
So on an easy intermediate run, after trying it out, I played with it a bit, now trying three turns with counter, now trying three turns initiated with the Chubby Checkers move instead, now trying three turns where I paid attention to finishing the turn with a dynamic drive forward/faster rotation of the outside hip.
I was skiing with my daughter midweek, in pouring rain, so we were just about the only people on the hill. So after a bunch of self directed intentional skiing over a couple of hours, I just made a bunch of runs going flat out, ripping GS turns, not paying much attention to counter/waist steering or anything else. I think that was some of the best free skiing I’ve ever done. My inside knee was deeply bent and angled inside. My hands were forward and my weight was forward—not sometimes, but always. (Twice pulled out of my binding that way without hitting any bump or loose stuff. And that from backseat Biff.) And I was achieving huge edge angles close to the snow.
Now, it was pretty easy conditions (no one on the hill, shallow easy intermediate pitch, no gates so I could make my turns anywhere.) And it might be a coincidence—I made a lot of progress in a week of racing camp two weeks ago, and may have pulled even more of that together mentally since. But I don’t think it was a coincidence. And improved skiing typically turns up more strikingly in easier free skiing before it crosses over into the gates.
It was as if all my self-known bad habits (not being forward enough, getting back on my heels periodically, excessive inside tip lead, lagging outside hand, getting too tall in transition, not bending/rolling my inside knee enough) disappeared all at the same time. (Thank you, genie, and for my other two wishes, about those ligaments and my relentlessly pinched/late line choice…)
When I got home, I told my wife it was the best I’d ever skied. If our GS race actually goes as scheduled this Sunday (8 ball and weather man say "not likely"), I’ll have a gate and timing light reality check on whether I’m really making progress. (Bad habits do have a way of reappearing in the gates where it’s steeper.) Unless it also gets snowed out, there’s a one day race clinic on Saturday, and I may also get to make some turns night skiing on Friday, so I might be able to cement some of this progress into muscle memory where it’s steeper. In any event, today was a complete blast.
*Gary, in answer to your question about what I’m calling here the Chubby Checkers turn initiation (I don’t claim to understand Waist Steering completely--there's an understatement--but I have been inspired by it and do aspire to understand it. And it’s even possible that I did some of it today.) As I try to recreate the move once again on carpet, it goes something like this: Start in an athletic stance, as if you’ve already started the turn to the left, balanced on the little toe edge of your left foot, and the big toe edge of your right foot, with a little knee angulation so your feet are to the right of the legs they support. Have your weight on the balls of your feet. Now, early in the turn to really get to business, simultaneously, (1) drop your center of mass a couple of inches, (2) rotate your belly button to the left, (3) let your right hip (A) sink to the left, and (B) rotate forward, as (4) your right knee (especially) bends and angulates much more, increasing edge angle. On carpet, to make it more resemble the move on the snow, also twist your feet to the left. On snow, that turning of the feet would be accomplished by the edge angle+sidecut, and possibly rotating the right hip forward would also have a tendency to pull the right ski through the turn more.
( I think, technically, what I call bending the right knee and increasing the knee angulation is rotation of the femur in the hip socket, which is augmented or becomes more pronounced when you also rotate the right hip forward at the same time by pointing your belly button to the left. But bending the knee and increasing the knee angulation is how I describe it as an effect and how I can best follow it.)
PS Good luck in the gates this weekend, Gary. (As they say out here, "ski like an Austrian." See, I did so get back to the original topic.)