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Teaching a beginner with some coordination issues

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
The following is a description of a lesson I taught last week. I would appreciate getting feedback and ideas about the questions I raise and how best to help the skier described.

The other day I had a student who I would say was in her early to mid twenties. She was part of a group lesson of three people all from Ireland. When I asked them about skating, soccer, or other sports they all indicated that they did not participate in any of those sorts of activities. They also mentioned they do not get a lot of snow where they are from. The other two progressed more then she did. The guy was linking turns and riding up the beginner carpet lift. The other woman was linking turns, but was a few more practice runs from going up the carpet.

What I noticed about the third woman was she had trouble with coordination. During the boot exercises for instance she had a very hard time sliding one foot while stepping with the other. She kept stepping with both feet. Later on she was the one who had problems side stepping and then herring boning up the slight slope we where working on. And finally she was able to pull off a couple of turns to the left but not to the right. Of course I tried the usual demos and instructions with her but they did not quite put her over the top. At one point she asked me what she was doing wrong which is always hard for me to say exactly since I can’t tell how a student is distributing the pressure or how they are recruiting or failing to recruit the necessary muscles. I am sure more careful examination of the skier in action, looking at their skis and tracks could reveal more, but in the context of a group lesson at night it is very hard to tell at least for me.

At one point when her upper body was rotated say 60% from the direction of travel as she was looking at me and trying to turn towards me I thought maybe if I developed a better understanding of what she was doing wrong I could give her more exact instructions for her situation. The weird thing about that particular turn – and I have seen other beginners do the same thing – is that they are separating their upper and lower bodies in a way that a lot of intermediate skiers need to be able to do. The problem is they are not getting something right lower down. I am guessing that she was somehow tensing the lower body bilaterally and hence locking in her skis and edges while rotating the upper body freely. She was rotating her upper body because I had instructed them to look and turn their bodies in the direction they wanted to turn towards. This only works if there is tension and a connection between the upper and lower bodies as far as I can tell.

I also started to wonder how edging plays into the picture for a student like that. If I knew before hand what difficulties she was going to have would I have been better off not to have emphasized how a ski works on edge at all and instead encourage the student to develop the ability to keep their skis flat so that rotary forces would have more effect? Even if that did work, is that a short term gain that leads to a long term setback? Figuring out how best to instruct each individual student given their strengths and weaknesses is a real challenge as one size does not fit all. Being able to quickly access what each student needs in the group setting is very challenging. I find myself sort of throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks when I encounter a student like that in a group setting as I don’t know exactly what is going to work for them.
post #2 of 15
Thread Starter 

Err, make that a "beginner" not a "begginer"

Sorry about that, I should have spell checked it first.
post #3 of 15
#1, she was Irish so she probably couldn't understand a word you were saying.

You are frightening me with the body rotation stuff. There shouldn't be any.

You do not mention how her fore/aft balance was and that is critical ... but since you don't ... can we assume it was good?

Many students do not respond to verbal commands especially when it comes to edging and pressure .... and face ... this stuff is hard to put into words.

Take off your skis and ...

After you have her in the gliding wedge position, have her look straight down the hill while you are holding her shoulders. Now, have her look to the right with her face .... with her face only ... hold her shoulders (which are pointing down the hill).

Now .... (she ain't goin' no where yet)

Get down on your hands and knees next to her left boot. Pull on the boot slightly to duplicate the edging and slight rotation (wedge increase) that you want. Just ask her if she felt that.

Now ...

Have her look to the right (face only remember) and duplicate that the edging and pressure at the same time!

When words fail ..... this stuff usually works and IMHO .. I could skip all of the verbal stuff and just teach intro turning by this feel thing alone.

BTW ......... we all are one side dominant when it comes to turning. Stll am, but I forced myself a long time ago to lessen this by starting each run with a turn to the weak side.
post #4 of 15
Originally Posted by tlougee View Post
Sorry about that, I should have spell checked it first.
Fixed it for ya.
post #5 of 15
Thread Starter 


Thanks BillA for fixing the title of the thread!

Thanks to Yuki for your response. I have actually tried what you are suggesting which is to just physically manipulate the students body the way it needs to move. It is a good idea and I wish I had thought of it in this case. I have used it with kids in particular by skiing backwards in front of them and bending down to move their ski tips.

To answer your question about this skier's for aft balance I would say it looked about right and what you would expect for a beginner. We did work on stance during the course of the lesson.

Sometimes I try to bring myself back to beginner land and pretend I am turning in a wedge for the first time. One thing that I am aware of is that I am pressurizing the outside ski more then the inside ski ( some people describe it as "softening" the inside ski ) as well as the edging and steering that is going on. I wonder how one could communicate that pressure differential between the outside and inside ski to the student using your "hands on" technique?

One last impression, last year I was working on skiing on one ski and as I rode up the lift with only one ski on I was amazed at how easy it was to flip my boot only foot back and forth. You know that feeling after you swing a heavy bat and then swing a light one? It really opened my eyes up to just how much I was using those muscles to steer with. I never realized I was even using those muscles!

Any way I will have to try your technique next time I have a chance and work on it some more as a standard teaching tool.
post #6 of 15

Welcome to Epic!

Yuki has some great ideas.

It sounds like there are 2 issues your student encountered.

The first is knowing the difference between rotating the leg (foot steering) and edging. The body position in the wedge is the give-away. If the knees are pressed together in the wedge, she was edging to make the wedge instead of rotating both legs in the hip sockets. There are a couple of drills I use to learn leg rotation beyond the initial boot drill. Scootering the ski in a circle w/ the ski on the outside foot. The task should be to turn the ski in the shape of the circle by moving the tip of the ski inwards and have the foot and tail of the ski follow the circular path. The second part of the task is to not cheat and lift the ski in the air while turning it, but to turn it in the snow (this makes people balance over the ski as they rotate the leg). I never proceed to another activity until this is mastered in both directions.

Another way if isolating leg rotation from edging is to have her stand on a pole laying flat on the snow. Take the tip of one ski and rotate it back and forth, and then have her do it. Repeat with other foot.

The second issue this lady has is fear. The turn to the right is usually more awkward for people and has to be mastered on very gentle terrain. If the terrain is two steep, they lean into the turn putting the weight on the wrong foot and also putting the outside ski on a wicked high edge. If she could master scootering on the left foot, she can master the right turn.

Hope these two items are things you can start to recognise while teaching in the future and re-mediate people with those issues.

post #7 of 15
Thread Starter 
Thanks very much Ron for your insight and suggestions. During the lesson we did preform the one ski circle exercise that you mention. It was actually doing that exercise with just ski boots that first altered me to the fact that this student may have had some coordination issues as she could not keep her outside foot on the snow. Based on your advice it would seem she would have been better served if I had worked on this basic skill some more before attempting anything else.

We are also taught to have the students make circles with the ski on their inside foot. You do seem much more concerned about getting this exercise down pat with the ski no the outside foot which makes sense to me and I am wondering what further benefit if ant there is to having the student preform the circles keeping the inside boot on the snow and later with the ski on the inside foot?

I have also witnessed the pole under the ski trick to help teach students how to rotate their legs in their hip sockets to steer the ski but I have rarely used it myself probably because I had not appreciated just how important this skill is in getting a turn to happen.
post #8 of 15

We are also taught to have the students make circles with the ski on their inside foot.
If you teach direct parallel, this drill may have some (but limited )benefit. If you teach a wedge turn, I find this only puts students in a very uncomfortable state of mind and has really little to do with how they will quickly learn to turn or stop by turning. An exercise is only useful if there is a particular task involved and it can be directly related to their skiing.

The first turning I do with students is stepping around a turn with the feet in a wedge shape. There they learn to rotate both legs and also learn diagonal movement across the skis (how cool is that?). They also learn to stop in the process.

I have also witnessed the pole under the ski trick to help teach students how to rotate their legs in their hip sockets

The pole under the foot is wonderful for young kids too.

post #9 of 15
How do you teach them to make the wedge in the first place. It matters how you do it. If the skier is starting with feet together and pushing tails out, they are edging and pressuring the skis strongly and may tend to ski "edge-locked". Also, if you try this yourself, you will probably feel your CM move back as you go into the wedge. If you start in the straight run with the feet apart and then twist the ski tips in as much as the tails go out, you will end up with a "gliding wedge" that is a little more relevant to what you are trying to do.
post #10 of 15
Originally Posted by tlougee
She was rotating her upper body because I had instructed them to look and turn their bodies in the direction they wanted to turn towards.
Looking solely at your wording above I'm wondering if your instructions inadvertently locked up her pelvis and hips thus preventing a smooth turn entry. An uncoordinated person is often just a person who instinctively moves in an ingrained, preconditioned manner rather than moving in a newly shown manner.

Whenever a student (at any level) is having problems initiating a turn I look at their old-turn Tip-Lead and pelvic position at transition. If the Tip-Lead is big or the pelvis is rotated too far downhill then it likely 'binds up' their ability to initiate the new turn properly. A common instruction that helps with this is to suggest they 'slide' the outside (downhill) ski straight forward & past the old inside/uphill ski just before they try starting the new turn. I describe it as 'stepping slightly forward' into the new turn with that downhill foot.

This move has several benefits in that it unlocks the hips and pelvis to enable proper leg and foot re-positioning (further releasing old turn while & tipping things to the new inside), enables easier pronation/supination of the feet, moves the upper-body Mass forward in relation to the new primary stance foot (f/a balance assist), gets the 'strong inside half' thing going right away.

An interesting test before skiing is to ask the student to step around an upright-planted ski pole just ahead and to their side (without their skis on). When the person steps around the pole, see how they initiate this turn. If they step forward with the foot furthest from the ski pole they're probably rotating their upper-body at the same time and turning their pelvis further downhill (locking things up even more). If they do this here, they probably do it while skiing as well so it pays to help them reverse this pattern.

Teach them to step forward just even with the pole using the foot furthest away... and then to initiate the turn with the foot closest to the pole which steps forward, slightly to the side, and ends up slightly angled into the new turn. During this 'inside step' move they should also be moving their upper-body-mass forward with that foot as it moves forward. If you do this yourself, you'll notice this pattern causes you to twist your pelvis somewhat toward the outside of the new turn leaving you with a bit of counter and a leading inside-half.

post #11 of 15
tlougee, in addition ot ron's and yuki's great advice, let me ask you: was she able to just traverse the slope in boots only?

The reason I am asking that is she may have some disbalance in her shoulders, pelvis, a scoleosis, or just a knee / ankle that she favors (your mention of her making turns in one direction and not in the other suggests that may be the case).

Then it may be easier to teach her to turn in the telemark-style fashion, by stepping out with the foot that becomes inside the turn. Walking is a basic skill that we (most us, anyway) are capable of doing, and telemarking turns may be more efficient in getting her to ski.
post #12 of 15
With the experience you had, my first thought would have been lets check boot fit. Over the holidays I had a similarly struggling student. When I checked her boots I discovered that while the boot length was correct, her leg only took up 1/2 the volume of the cuff. We needed to fill the empty space to give her any sense of control.
post #13 of 15
Yep, I was about to suggest something about boot fit. If the rental shop was out of her size, did they put her in a size or two larger? Was the extraneous layers of long underwear, snow cuffs, etc. out of the boot and the boot buckled tightly enough? Could her feet have been weird shape so no boot fits without custom work?

To judge fore & aft balance, look at her ski tips as she skis. If you see light under the tips, they ain't workin' for her! I've seen a couple of gals press forward against the tongues and arch their backs. The net result is no tip pressure and tips light or off the snow. If the ski tips aren't engaged in the snow, none of us can ski well.

I teach wedging and wedge turns using ankle tipping. Roll both ankles in to wedge. Flatten the inside ski to turn that way. When they are skiing pretty well, have them get in touch with their feelings...in the soles and sides of their feet. Have them tip one ankle to the outside and follow it with the other, then flatten both, then tip the other ankle to the outside and follow with the other foot. Always lead with the weaker muscle group and the stronger group will easily follow...thus the tipping of the foot to the outside first.
post #14 of 15
Originally Posted by SoftSnowGuy View Post
I teach wedging and wedge turns using ankle tipping. Roll both ankles in to wedge. Flatten the inside ski to turn that way.
post #15 of 15
Thread Starter 
Hi Guys,

Let me once again thank everyone for the their input. I have been putting it to good use in my lessons.

1. epic we teach the wedge in the way epic describes, by rotating about the center of the leg not pushing out the tails. Having said that not all students are able to get that right away. This is where it would have been better had I spent more time in the boots and perhaps placed a pole under the students ski so that the move could be executed easier.

2. michaelA I get what you are saying about needing to come back to a neutral position in the transition in order to initiate the next turn smoothly. I have also played around with the stepping around a pole thing and tossed it around with some other instructors.

3. AlexG this student was able to traverse the slope in boots only to a degree. She had a lot of problems sliding one boot while stepping with the other around a circle. Herring boning up a slight slope was also a challenge for her, but that is not all that unusual. Your comments concernng a stepped turn are interesting in that I was reviewing another ski schools begginer progression which includes just such an exercise. We do not use that in our progression however that does not mean I won't try it if the situation seems to call for it now that I am aware off it. I need to make just those types of turns on my cross country skis. I have no idea how it would effect a students progress in learning how to make alpine turns.

4. KAZOOSKI and SoftNowGuy you may be on to something with the boot fit as about half way through the lesson this student comneted that their ankles where hurting. I stopped right then and looked at how she was buckled up and offered to help her adjust them or go in and have them check the fit but she declined prefering to keep going. I did not find it surprising that a rental boot and all of the walking around in them might cause some irration which is how she basically described how it felt but that may have been do to a loose fit as you suggest.

5. epic and SoftSnowGuy, yes our technical director went over just this move recently. He set us up in a gradual traverse in a wedge and said now just flatten that downhill ski and presto the turn just starts to happen. Since you are in a wedge with both skis on their inside edges to some degree, flattening the downhill or inside ski leaves you with the outside ski on the edge you want. I liked it and have started working with that as well.
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