Friday 1st November 2013 – by Robert Stewart
What is the Holy Grail of skiing to you? Floating through deep powder snow with the sun glistening off every flake as it sprays all around you? Or perhaps, getting down a blue run and feeling that sense of achievement when you get to the bottom, how you’ve improved and how desperate you are to get back up and try it all over again?
Whatever it is and whatever level you might be, we are all searching for that special feeling, the true point of excellence in our own abilities. That’s why we ski and that’s why we keep coming back; and all along you thought it was the Gluhwein!
I think every skier is looking to find that one simple answer to help improve their technique. ‘There must be some secret that top level skiers have that they don’t tell us about’. ‘Those weeks of ski instruction are fun, but ultimately I’m still struggling to get past the same place, stuck in a rut no matter how many weeks I try to improve’.
I wanted to find out if there was anything that stands out, one single reason why the famous ‘plateau’ is often discussed, but rarely broken. So I spoke to Hugh Monney, Director of the BASS network (British Alpine Ski Schools), highly renowned ski instructor and author of several books including, ‘Ski Performance Breakthrough: The Science of Skiing, The Art of Performance’. Surely any book that combines art, science and skiing together has many theories about how we can improve as skiers?
What I found out is that actually Hugh had one, very simple, but effective ‘secret’ about taking your skiing to a higher level and that is this; ‘skis respond to very subtle inputs’. Hugh then describes how centred balance must be the first priority for any skier who wants to develop their skills.
‘There are two key advantages to centred balance skiing’, says Hugh right at the start of our conversation. ‘One, your body responds athletically and two, the skis behave as they were designed to’. ‘Any object has a centre of mass and there is an optimal place to balance on the foot and also the ski’. ‘This place is actually indexed marked on the ski boot and also the ski and these index marks line up perfectly’. If you balance perfectly through the centre of your foot then the ski can behave in the way it was intended to behave’.
‘Centred balance puts you in the place where these subtle inputs can be applied, and also allows you to react to the large forces that are subsequently created during a skiing performance.’
Well that sounds easy I think, it’s also something you don’t normally hear being discussed by many ski instructors though.
But Hugh points out that, ‘British trained ski instructors (BASI) have used centred balance as the first building block of ski performance for the last 20 years or more. I wrote it into BASI’s training system in the early 90’s.’
Why is this so important to our skiing, I ask Hugh.
‘How can you be expected to ski without balance’? ‘From a beginner to a professional, if you’re skiing without balance and accurate co-ordination, nothing else works.’ ‘It’s also very tiring and therefore no fun, it all starts with being centred in the right place’.
Hugh talks to me about how he’s been teaching centred balance for many years to his pupils and how it forms the core of his philosophy and ski course program. Five years ago, one of his clients, Martin Breach, was inspired by Hugh’s coaching to invent and patent a new device that specifically trains centred balance. The device became reality in 2010 and is now known as the SkiA Sweetspot Ski Trainer.
Hugh immediately connected with the ski trainer and started to use it himself and with his clients. It has four different levels, green, blue, red and black (of course!) and as you’d imagine, they get harder as you go through each one. The four colours represent the width of balance blocks that fit under the device which attaches to any adult ski boot. The idea is that you stand in your ski boots over the balance blocks to train your body into being in perfect centred balance.
So I asked Hugh what the Sweetspot Trainer could do for our skiing and how it worked. ‘As we now know, skis respond to very subtle movements.’ ‘By training the central nervous system and developing the skills required for centred balance, you develop the ability to use these subtle inputs, producing a stronger and more athletic performance’. Hugh uses the trainer in a variety of ways with his clients, ‘it’s great to simply use it for five minutes every evening in the chalet the night before skiing’. ‘It really is a fantastic augmentation of their skiing development’.
The trainer can also be carried in a backpack meaning a sneaky five minutes on the slopes is possible too. I tried this last winter when I got to test one of the trainers for myself and found the results quite compelling. After a five minute routine where I balanced on both the blue and red blocks (I’ve been skiing 30 years and I find the black blocks almost impossible), jumped onto my skis and made medium radius carving style turns down a groomed slope, I immediately felt a strong connection with my skis and a heightened sense of balance. One key point to make was that it simply felt very very good.
The other advice about the trainer is that it can be used at home. It doesn’t have to be a long routine, five minutes is the optimum time and if you do that every day your centred balance will start to improve very quickly.
I was still unsure how this ‘static’ device translated into improving your skiing when travelling at significant speed. I wanted to know from Hugh how this could possibly work, ‘it’s a dynamic device!’ said Hugh. ‘You have to move, balance and train the body to adapt to the balancing challenges.’ ‘You can develop these abilities on the Sweetspot Trainer, in a simple environment, then transfer these skills to your skiing, it’s a progression’. ‘When you feel the clarity of movement from edge to edge (the trainer has a slight rocker so that you can move from one edge to the next) you don’t end up throwing away all your balance’. ‘This is what untrained skiers do all the time, causing them to become exhausted’. ‘This is a major cause of tiredness in many skiers’.
‘This is where everything changes for the skier, the light bulb moment that turns people trying to ski into skiers who can craft balanced curves in the snow’.
There was one more aspect of centred balance that I wanted Hugh to clarify for me. When top Alpine ski racers turn, they change their balance through the turn, typically starting on the front or ball of the foot and ending on the heel. I understand the concept of being in balance, but how can we learn to really grasp the complexities of movement through our feet with a device like the Sweetspot Trainer?
‘Everything stems from being centred’, says Hugh. ‘Slalom racers have been mastering the ability to apply a pressure wave along the ski, using small, subtle movements for a long time’. ‘To be able to create a dynamic flow of movement through the foot requires a very high skill level that takes a great deal of practice’. ‘The Sweetspot Trainer can help you to acquire the skills to become an effective, powerful athlete because it creates that sense of connectivity to the skis required for the precise inputs that only the very top experts normally achieve.’
Interview by Robert Stewart (Freelance Ski Writer)
About Robert > The Skiing Department
SkiA Sweetspot Trainer Website > www.skia.com
SkiA Sweetspot Video > Vimeo-SkiA
About Hugh > BASS Directors
About BASS > www.britishskischool.com