Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Last day of Academy, truck breaks down on the way home!

OH, I apologize for dropping off the face of the earth for a few days, that happens occasionally when I go on the road, MUST get more disciplined about finding the time to blog while I'm out there...

To see a slideshow of all of the photos we took at Academy, click HERE!

SO, the last day of Academy was JUST AWESOME, I skied with Mike Hafer in the morning again, and something SIGNIFICANT changed in my skiing in the mank! YAY!

I had been making this movement earlier in the week when I went out and made some turns with Brent Amsbury, and had been feeling it even way back in Bridger at the end, but I wasn't sure mechanically why it worked, and why SOMETIMES I could do it, and sometimes I couldn't.

Over the course of the week, I'd skied with Bobby Barnes from Winter Park, and with Mike, while I was skiing with Bobby, he had asked me to move through the transition while flexing, ie, a retraction turn. He had suggested that I keep a close platform and stay very two footed, as we were in shin to knee deep mank in 60 degree temps. This kind of snow tends to grab your skis and not let em go, the finesse and touch it takes to steer well is exceptionally challenging, its hard as hell on your body, and it requires precision.

I love it! (all except for how much it hurts when you screw it up. ow.)

Okay, so here are all the Lego Pieces I was holding in my hands all week. On day five, we clicked them all together and they made a little car that goes!!

Initially at Academy, I had been thinking of softening the down hill leg to begin the new turn, then opening the ankles, as I had been practicing at Bridger. But this snow allowed me to begin the turn that way, but I was ending up back, in and holding on. I was not able to make short or medium turns, i was having trouble picking my line, and skiing it, I felt like my skis were running away from me.

I tried not squaring up to my skis as much with my upper body, keeping an approrpriate amount of counter, (ie body facing to the apex of the next turn), and this helped me unwind, but I still felt stuck often, and it still felt like a 50/50 chance wether every thing would be in the right place to move down hill and change edges.

Bobby asked me to soften the downhill leg more, and my understanding of it made it hard for me to soften the downhill leg and stay two footed. I found that I'd soften and change edges, begin the new turn, but the new outside ski would submarine, the new inside ski would float, and I'd get rocketed back, while my skis squirted ahead, I'd loose my counter, square to my ski tips, and ski it back uphill totally out of control.

Bobby worked with me on flexing both feet through the transition, and getting long in the apex, it felt almost like I was pushing my skis away from me in the apex, schmreary and creamy, compact but light, a down unweight, but not fast, just soft, in the transition. I followed him down some less cooked snow and watched his hips and legs work. It was harder than I thought it would be to copy this movement pattern, I got momentarily frustrated with myself, I usually feel that I can copy a movement and feel it in my body, then go away and work on owning it.

For some reason, the timing was so odd, so opposite, that I couldn't keep it up, I couldn't feel what I was reaching for. I had a little discussion with myself on the way down about letting go of expectation, it doesn't matter what you NORMALLY can do, its time to just do what you are trying to do NOW.

I asked myself to focus all of my energy on seeing exactly what the movement was that Bobby was doing. When was he moving down, was he moving down or pulling his legs up, how far across was he moving his body? Was he moving his body, or allowing it to move? How and when was he getting long? What did getting long do to the forces in the turn? Was he pushing his legs away, or extending over his platform?

I mentally slapped myself in the face a few times and found my "record" button in my mind. Finally, at the bottom, my body put the new movements all together, and I felt it for about three turns. I didn't understand why it would function in the mank, but I did understand what Bobby was demonstrating, and how to make my body do it. Two more runs in the deep stuff trying to just do the move, it was easier, once again, to practice it in bumps, than to try it in the chewed up chop n slop (just like when I was trying to learn to open my ankle before my exam).

I was having trouble with speed control, but I was determined to get the "move". On the last day, skiing with Mike, I wasn't using this move, I had relegated it to a "trick", because I couldn't make it work in the mank. I knew I needed to revisit it, but I was frustrated, and went back to "at least I can get down the hill" mentality, trying to hone my old pattern enough to make it work (let me tell you how well THAT worked out...)

Mike had been asking me to move along the length of the ski more, rather than so laterally so fast (a common problem for me), and I told him about what I'd been working with with Bobby. The lights went on. YES! Move along the length of the ski, after the fold, after the flexed transition. I started playing with it. Something started changing.

Then, we started talking about counter again, a strong inside half, core. When I tied my outside shoulder pointing at my inside knee at the bottom third of the turn, suddenly, I could flex into the transition, suddenly, I could get long, along the length of the ski, I could have counter without being inside too far, I could move the ski!

Suddenly, the timing came together. In a countered position, for a shorter turn, squeeze the air out of a large beachball that is resting on your thighs, that your tummy and spine are curled around, that your hands are hugging. As you squeeze, squeeze up with your thighs, down with your chin, in with your hands, transition! Change edges, curl your spine and arms the other way as you get long, hold that deflating large beach ball with your concave chest and shoulders, squeezing as you lengthen.

Suddenly, I wasn't stuck. Suddenly, I could make short and medium turns. Suddenly, I had speed control. Suddenly, I opened it up into a large radius turn, my skis squirted away from me and I went down HARD! Man, when it goes wrong in snow like that it just goes TERRIBLY wrong!!!

I got after it again and again, trying to keep the timing, trying to think about how it tied together with the core to make sense for me. I can't wait for summer back country to keep working on this! I think about last June when Kurt came out and skied in the Beartooths, in that thick, manky snow, and those hoppy short radius turns he was making on the Gardiner Headwall. And I remember thinking, ooh! That looks like fun! And just getting SPANKED over and over again, bogged down, couldn't move.

Now, I have the beginings of the key to working the ski in snow like that, I can't wait!

My afternoon elective was zipperline bump skiing with Kurt, and I met this awesome chick Hartley, who was game to just charge it, figure it out, get the timing down.

This is INCREDIBLY challenging skiing, trying to make a round turn when you are charging down the trough, but it was an excellent way to keep working on that essential retraction move. Kurt mentioned that I was extending too early, I was anticipating the trough, and getting thrown back because of it, so I waited "just this long" as Squatty says, and managed suddenly to stay in the line!

I was so excited! I found a little kicker at the end of the bump line and threw a huge (for me) 180 off of it, skied out clean. We did it over and over, working on pole work, steering the ski even though the line feels straight, waiting a split moment longer to extend, (start late to finish early!), and hitting the jump at the end of every run. By the end of the day, I was floating enough on the 180 that I didn't have to force my feet around (Thanks, Dave Oliver!), and I felt like a giant truck spring in the bumps. They were slow and forgiving because they were so slushy, so it was a perfect day to learn!!

I took off after that to do some demos on the Skier's Edge Machine, MAN, my legs were COOKED after a day in the mank and the bumps, but whatever, I managed to do 103 turns in 60 seconds... whew, that's pretty lousy, but I'll take it after that tough week!!

I got to use the Life Beat computer system that they have, and that was amazing, you can see how powerful your turn is on one side versus the other, how far down you go on each side, its very precise and an awesome training tool!!

After that, I headed back in to do two massages on our tired and achy admin staff, and then it was time to put on girl clothes and get ready for the banquet! It was so fun, Cindy and I had gone to the grocery store and bought party hats and a spiderman table cloth, party poppers, balloons... Cindy got a slide put into the slideshow that said "Happy Birthday, Mike!" (Of course, its not his birthday...)

People had been coming up to him all week saying "Happy Birthday, Hafer!" Oh, it was so funny. The wait staff came out of the kitchen and sang happy birthday to him, and we all popped our party poppers.

After dinner, we headed up to the Aire lounge where everyone commenced to buy Hafer birthday drinks! (You see, there is a method to the madness...) It's not the meanest prank I've ever played... conspiring to get the whole academy to get you drunk on their dime, I mean, come on!

Mike was a great sport, it was super fun to be in his group, I learned a TON, changed my skiing, was inspired by his, and loved that he didn't mind playing!!

It was a late night to be sure, and the next morning we packed up to head out of dodge. It was sad to say good by to friends new and old, Justin and Ana were heading to Moab to go climbing, I was sorely tempted to join them, Kurt, Andy, Schanzy, and Cindy were heading back to Aspen, Stacey (who worked ALL WEEK leading groups in Kids programs, giving indoor presentations and just generally HIT IT OUT OF THE PARK with huge groups), headed back to Beaver Creek.

I was psyched to get on the road, I felt so good in my soul, happy and free, a great way to wind up the season, it was sunny and warm, I was happy, content, maybe even a tad blissfull, and I hopped in the truck and headed down the canyon.

When I became momentarily terrified because my truck was shimmying like it was going to flip! I drove in first gear so that I could brake with the engine, and then hightailed it to Firestone, where they checked my brakes. Turns out the front ones needed to have the rotors re machined (even through they checked them at Firestone in Bozeman before I left... grrr), and the rear brakes had to be completely replaced!!!

$820. Now. Uh, I don't have $820. Neither does Tom or anyone else I know!! Thank God I'd done some massage, so I had enough money to stay in a hotel overnight, feed myself and get home. But how to pay for the truck?

I applied for a Firestone line of credit, and miracle of miracles, I qualified! 22% interest. Ow. But in the long run, this might prove to be a good thing, because I need to establish good credit separate from Tom, anyway, so here's a place to start!

Back in Bozeman, now, the next challenge was re-integrating into school, which was terrifying, I was fairly certain they were going to tell me that I couldn't come back... I had my second Feedback massage (like a hands on practical exam) the day I got back, and it went okay, I have some work to do for sure, but the great thing was that I met with Ruth, our head of school at Health Works, and she was really committed to having me in the school. She's not just willing, but she desires me to be there, and let me catch up. I am SO GRATEFUL!!! Because of this, I will graduate, I will be able to get a good job in Aspen.

So I feel right now like someone has taken an arm full of stepping stones and tossed them out in front of me. Here you go. If you step on each of these, you will get where you want to go.

With the help and belief and support of a GREAT many people, I will meet all my goals this year, I will survive the tough tasks I set before myself, and we will be in Aspen in August!

Passing the three, getting to Academy, working hard to represent my sponsors and say thank you to them for their support, learning and practicing massage technique, getting an official job offer from Aspen... that's where we are.

Now, graduate from school, rent or sell our house, find a place to live in Aspen, sell all our stuff on Ebay, get a massage job in Aspen, and make the move, so the kids can start school at the end of August!

It will be a big summer, but I feel ready, and excited. The last obstacle? Going back to work at Tonic Salon, I've been gone so long, I'm scared to go back. But I have a stack of phone calls to return, people want massage, so HERE WE GO!!

Thanks for reading!!


windeehill said...

Kate - thanks so much for all the updating! I know there are a lot of folks out there always waiting w/ bated breath to learn what goes next!
Skiing the 'mank' - is this what we'd call mashed potato here in the East? Wet wet sticky stuff that doesn't let you turn? You want to push it rather than ski it? Slush??
I wanted to work on this myself this Spring - having just for the first time ever skied powder (big powder in Tahoe)
I applied what I'd learned there; instead of looking for the carve, keep the skis more parallel & downhill all the time, using that 'push' or pressure motion that works so well in the deep. Extend and go long and be patient - that's what worked for me this year!
Somebody who knows even told me that I looked good doing it! YAY!
Am I saying the same thing you are, in a diferent way? Some of your terminology is a little alien to me, but if we're talking the same stuff, then it is great to read your blog and see what you've done to solve the movement mystery.
Good for you - your skiing life is keeping you focused on the future, and that's where your dreams are. You go.

a said...

Hi, Windeehill!
Thanks for keepin' me on it, it helps a lot! I want to post every day while I am on the road or at an event, and about three times a week when I'm not, (or more if I've got something burning in my mind), but knowing my readers are out there waiting keeps me honest, and on it!!

Thanks for the push, I need it!!

Okay, so to answer your question about the Mank. I don't have a HUGE amount of experience skiing in powder, this year was my second year trying to unlock the mysteries of that amazing experience, and I posted a bit about it.

Here it is from my take, but take it with a grain of salt, and geek out with it with a couple of other people. I may post this as an actual post, by the way, so we can get a discussion going!

Yes, Mank is Mashed Potatoes, but sticky, hence the Monkey Snot terminology... think of shin deep slop, wet snow, starting to slide, sticky, deep, sucks your skis under. Hard on the knees. I'm not sure what spring snow is like in the East, but I'm assuming wet spring snow is wet spring snow, and this is like late afternoon, way past corn, into slushing and warming.

Yes, extending in the apex is key, that feeling of pushing your feet also was in the mix, but instead of feeling like I was pushing them "away" I guess, pushing your body into a long position against that platform.

Because if you push your feet away, your CM will be most likely out of balance, too far inside, and then, just like in carving, you will get wound into the hill and have to make a big move to cross your platform again.

At first, it was helpful to think of not bringing the tips too far across the fall line, keeping them pointed more down the hill, but as I got into more challenging and steeper terrain, what I realized is that you still need to shape the turn, you just need to listen with your feet and legs and be PATIENT, so that you aren't trying to haul the skis around to make a slowing movement, but rather, bringing them around in time with what the snow wants to make a round turn in these conditions.

This way, you continue to travel the speed you want to travel, rather than the speed that the snow seems to be dictating, which in Mank can be a VERY straight line, which is very scary, because when it IS time to turn, this snow will grab your skis, and over the handlebars you go.

So I would say, the difference between Powder and Mank for me is this:

In the powder, when you can't really feel the bottom, or its knee deepish on a soft base, start in a straight line, depending on the slope, and then, when you get going just a bit slower than you want to be going for the rest of the run, start bouncing, compressing and compacting the snow under your skis.

Obviously, on a very steep pitch, like here at Bridger going off the cornice into the Saddle, that may be one bounce and you are ready to turn.

On lower angle terrain, you can just bounce and go straight all the way down.

Once you get the feeling of compacting the snow under your skis, try bouncing down onto the snow, compacting, and as the skis release, twist the skis together as a single platform across the fall line while they are light. Compact again, then twist across the fall line while they are light.

The light phase is a retraction feel, for me, I was allowing my skis to come up under me and twisting as they crossed under me. In this way, I never felt like they were stuck or diving, and I wasn't hauling my feet around with my upper body.

I practiced this with Mary Ball, who has done a TON of skiing with extraordinary ski photographer Lonnie Ball, and she gave me the hint that when it's time to come UP out of the pow, and twist, throw both your hands UP into the air, (I think of that old Saturday night live sketch SUPERSTAR!)

You don't want to do this in all your skiing, because you are cueing with your upper body, but its a great drill to really feel what its like to get your whole body into the up and down movement, and it allowed me to get "sporty" with the compaction of the snow without trying to pull my skis across the fall line with my upper body in a twisting motion.

Using this idea, I was finally able to keep my upper body moving down the mountain, but having quick feet under me, and still enjoy the sensation of just letting it rip. That was a nice, much less scary sensation!

The next piece of the puzzle for me was opening the ankle at the top of the turn, so I was reaching with my feet at the top of every turn. This magical little moment was brought to my by Josh Spuhler and Weems Westfeldt, and Weems put it this way: its a tiny move, 10% change, with 80% effect. Its hard to pinpoint, esoteric, but once it came into my skiing, my skis felt free to move, turn and play in any conditions! This is the move that unlocked the Level 3 for me.

Mank, conversely, feels more like it wants to suck my skis under. If you compact it under your skis, it doesn't let go, now you are just freight training under it.

Its still a retraction turn, but your intention is different. I'm in the process of working on an article about intention in skiing, its something I learned in Massage Therapy, and I think there is really something to it.

The mechanics of a basic retraction turn are the same, but with some subtle differences. By the way, if you want to REALLY feel an awesome retraction turn, get on the Skiers Edge Machine! WOW!

Okay, so here is the Mank turn: The skis are on a fairly solid platform, that is keeping them kind of rail-roading through it. I felt that I could think of an Edge Change in this snow, where as in blower powder, I'm thinking of skiing in a big box of feathers, trying to squish them down to find a trampoline to bounce off of.

So I started this off by traversing into the hill rather than going straight down it, starting with smaller turns, and then opening it up as I found my rhythm, it helped because I was afraid of ripping my knee to pieces while learning this stuff.

So you are traversing across the hill, get that long "push" feel, at the same time, curling your body into that old school "comma" position, legs long, spine curling, hands holding a beachball, abs engaging as you try to squeeze all the air out. As the feet come back around at the bottom of the turn, allow BOTH of them (retraction) to come up under you and change edges at your max flexion.

Now, your skis are across the hill pointing the other way (and YEAH, I brought the all the way across the fall line because I didn't want to gain a huge amount of speed in this snow while I was learning.) Key to not high-siding here is CORE STRENGTH and engagement. Skiing into and out of counter, thinking about that big beach ball.

Now your edge change is completed, and you begin to extend, but now, engaging your core in the other direction. squeezing the beach ball into your other thigh, feeling the push, like you are trying to push your body away from your feet, but your awesomely strong core won't let you.

Skiing this kind of manky snow felt to me like a huge amount of functional tension in the core, with precise and sensitive feet, listening to every phase of the turn. Being present in the moment is also very very helpful.

Loosing the judgmental voice and simply being diagnostic while learning to ski this snow made every turn better than the last!!

Best of luck to you, thanks for the questions, and thanks for reading!! Let me know if you have any more questions, and what your other ski buddies say, I'm excited to discuss this!