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by Terry McLeod
In March 2010 I attended the AASI Rider Rally held at Copper Mountain, Colorado. For those who know me this might seem quite strange since I am primarily a skier and have snowboard gear that’s almost as old as the sport itself. However, this year there was a free ski/terrain park group offered for alpine skiers and that is what motivated me to make the long drive halfway across the country to attend.
For those not familiar with it, the Rider Rally is loosely modeled as a National Academy for snowboarders; four days of on-snow clinics, evening events and after hour socials all hosted by members of the National Demonstration Team. This year the indoor sessions were held at Woodward at Copper each evening. This is a new facility that has mats, trampolines, foam pits, skateboard parks, and Snowflex™ for indoor skating, skiing, riding, and jumping. It’s pretty hard to describe how incredible this venue is, and we had the run of it every night. This photo below gives you an overview but for a better idea it’s worth surfing around their website: www.woodwardatcopper.com.
Usually we think of training/educational events as being important because of the topics they cover, the quality of the clinicians, the opportunity to learn new teaching methods and skiing techniques. These are all important and do comprise the largest portion of the information that I came away with, but not far behind were all the conversations and insights that came from hanging around other teachers, trainers, supervisors and managers from resorts all over the country. Whether we were sitting on a chairlift or a bar stool, it was easy to go down the path of “what do you do at your area?” on topics that ranged from line up methods to pay systems, beginner terrain and techniques to staff training and development. Sometimes you ended up feeling like it would be so great to teach at that person’s area because of some cool feature, while at other times it was very encouraging to realize that I didn’t have to go back home and live under the giant corporate thumb that they have to deal with. By the end I was able to come home with at least three different things from these conversations:
Best practices (a team of staff from several departments who confer on terrain park features and design for example).
Dreams of what we can try to develop over the long run (terrain that’s easy to access but out of the way with low-end, progressive beginner jumps and rails).
Appreciation and relief that I’m in a more casual, Northwest, work environment (I don’t pay taxes on the coffee cup I’m given for employee appreciation day).
Returning to the topic of on-snow clinic content, the biggest concept that I left with is how possible and important it is to break down a new trick or feature into very small increments that build on each other and create success at every step along the way. A lot of the freestyle crowd has a fairly go-for-it outlook on sports and it’s easy to get caught up in this when teaching (“here’s a couple pointers, now you just need to commit!”).
Presumably though, the people who are willing or motivated to take a lesson may be somewhat less inclined to just “go big,” after all, they’re coming to us for advice. Either way, when we take the responsibility of guiding people through maneuvers that are challenging for them, we owe it to our students to make it safer and easier than if they were on their own. Here are a couple of outlines as examples.
Whirly birds/Surface 360’s on the snow
Timing the Surface 360
Add minor pop motions
Time the pop movements
Go to a small jump, surface 360 beside the kicker/rolling over the knuckle (no air)
Time the spin to finish on the landing
Time the pop to the knuckle
Straight air off the kicker for speed check,
Time spin and pop with take off.
Obviously it could take some time and several runs to work through all of this, but that time and mileage is what keeps things both safe and successful. Here’s a sample for an “urban on” to a box or rail, where you approach it from one side and use a slightly directional jump rather than coming at it dead center. If students are learning this move they already have some basic box riding skills, so we won’t repeat all of those steps for this progression.
(can also be used for lip slides)
Review the solid stance that you’ll use while sliding the box.
Introduce nose and tail presses as a way to adjust/correct while sliding the box
Adjust your approach to the box so that you’re in line with one side of it, rather than centered
Introduce “directional jumping” for take off
Walk the takeoff of the box from the side that you’ll be jumping from
Approach & takeoff from the side (urban on)
Another obvious fact is that you need to have available and choose appropriate features for learning new tricks. Just like in all snowsports instruction, we need to be on comfortable terrain (features) when introducing new movements and/or maneuvers. There’s nothing wrong with returning to that big, wide flat box in the kiddie park, or that short, flat jump to teach and practice new moves.
In summary, the Rider Rally is another example of an event that serves to inspire on multiple levels and it has provided me with more tools to coach and connect with students in the terrain park environment. I encourage you to move outside of your normal training group and take advantage of the many higher end training events that are available, whether it’s through PSIA/AASI regionally or nationally, or other organizations like USSA, USASA, National Sports Center for the Disabled, National Ski Patrol, American Avalanche Institute, American Mountain Guides Association, or anything else.[connections_list id=12 template_name=”div_staff_bio”]
by Kate Morrell photos by Ron LeMaster
This article is essentially about turn transitions, and specifically how they relate to making carved turns on groomed terrain. As you may know, the turn transition is that portion of skiing that is from the exit of one turn, to the beginning of the next (see Fig 1). I like to think of turn transitions as the main course when it comes to cooking up a well carved turn and want to share a few important ingredients that all of us as ski professionals need to be able to apply and comprehend when cooking up a good transition.
These ingredients are early pressure, moving through a balanced athletic position, and maintaining cuff pressure to both cuffs. This is not something new, or exciting, or a fad concept that will go away over time but is something that makes up the most critical part of the turn. Skiing well in the transition makes the rest of the turn pretty easy which is why the best ski racers in the world fight to be good at it and spend the better part of their careers working on it.
The transition is where a skier establishes early pressure to the new turning ski. The earlier that pressure can be established, the higher up in the turn we can begin to carve the ski to the fall line. Yes, for sure, 100%, believe me that establishing early pressure is what we want to do when carving turns. The more pressure we can take care of before the fall line, the less pressure we have to deal with after the fall line. We want to minimize pressure as much as possible after the fall line because that is where the pressure is the greatest.
Excessive pressure after the fall line is one of the major reasons turns break down and flow from turn to turn is disrupted. By “turns breaking down” I mean skidding, losing the downhill edge, bracing against the outside ski, holding onto the turn too long for speed control, traversing, ski chatter, etc. – the list goes on. In effect, excessive pressure after the fall line hinders the ability to flow smoothly into the next turn.
To establish early pressure, we first need to be “thinking” early pressure as we are exiting the turn. (Fig. 2: Slalom (SL), frame 5 and Fig. 3: Giant Slalom (GS), frame 11). With the knees and ankles flexed, feel for the uphill edge of the new turning ski and begin to transfer weight to it (Fig. 2: SL, frame 6 and Fig. 3: GS, frame 12). Continue pressuring the new uphill edge as the center of mass moves forward along the path of the ski.
Time out! It’s already too hot in Kate’s kitchen. I can feel the resistance and panic from some of you already regarding the term “balanced athletic position.” Let me get this out of the way so you all can read freely. Yes, of course we want to be balanced and athletic through the entire turn, and no, this is not suggesting any sort of static skiing. This balanced athletic position is a “checkpoint” in the transition to look for in other’s skiing and strive for in our own. OK, now you may continue reading about a balanced athletic position as it relates to turn transition.
As our skis flatten out and we change edges, we must be able to move through a balanced athletic position (Fig.2: SL, frame 1 and between frames 6 & 7 and Fig.3: GS, frame 6 and between Frames 13 & 14). How we change edges is for another time but we should all agree to some degree that the knees and ankles are rolled and the center of mass moves forward along the path of the skis crossing over in the direction of the new turn.
This balanced athletic position has the center of mass over the feet with the ankles flexed. The angle of the spine matches the shin angles as we strive to keep the hands out front helping to maintain balance. It is only from this balanced athletic position that we can react well to the next turn. I can carve, steer, pivot, whatever. A balanced athletic stance is best seen in Fig.2: SL, frame 1 and in Fig. 3, GS, frame 6.
This is another critical ingredient and you need to pay close attention. Maintain cuff pressure on both cuffs while changing edges and extending into the new turn (Fig.2: SL frame 7 and Fig.3: GS, frame 14). As we change edges, having both cuffs pressured does not mean that the feet are weighted equally. With our center of mass continuing forward along the length of the ski, the new turning ski (uphill ski) becomes weighted and cuff pressure to that ski is due to that weight transfer. Cuff pressure to the new inside foot is created mostly by actively flexing the ankle and resisting early ski lead (Fig.2: SL, frame 7).
If you stand on one foot, bend the ankle of the lifted foot and pull it back an inch or so you’re in the ball park of getting the feeling. This is very important because if we transfer weight to the new turning ski and relax our inside ankle without bending it and keeping it back, the inside foot moves forward causing the inside half of our body to slide forward much too early in the turn. When the inside half of the body moves forward too early, the result is skiing in the back seat and being too far inside. Back and inside is a difficult position to recover from and keeps us from being able to move smoothly into the next transition.
Said another way, when we cross over our feet we must actively bend our new inside ankle. To accomplish this, it helps to actively pull back the inside foot and lift the inside hip thus helping to maintain proper alignment and a strong inside half (Fig.2: SL, frames 7 & 8 and Fig.3: GS, frames 14 & 15).
Those are the only ingredients you get today but there are more I am excited to share later. What I’ve done here is give some tips that will aid in a strong transition and with the photo montages we have some checkpoints to look for when clinicing, teaching, watching video, etc. This all happens incredibly fast in real time and these checkpoint body positions should not hinder fluid movements in our skiing. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t want you skiing across the hill frozen on your uphill edge waiting to turn or frozen in the athletic position in the transition. I do want you to start familiarizing yourselves with these concepts and to start incorporating them into your own skiing, clinic, and lesson scenarios.
One more thing and then we can chill. As I mentioned, the transition happens incredibly fast and you will not always be able to identify these key components even in the best skiers so don’t get overly critical if you don’t see it happening in every turn in your skiing or the groups you are working with. Pressuring the uphill edge before the skis flatten will not always happen. Especially in slalom and giant slalom. Things are happening too fast and there isn’t always time.
Benjamin Raich of Austria (photo montage skier) has Olympic gold medals in the giant slalom and slalom, has won 35 World Cup races and has been on the podium 85 times. He is truly one of the best and he is able to demonstrate these transitions nicely for us in GS and slalom. He is truly the man.
The point is that having the ability to focus on these ingredients in longer, slower turns gives us an awareness of what is ideally happening between turns and position checkpoints to look for and move through in our own skiing.
I look forward to cooking this up on the hill with you and adding more ingredients in the future. I encourage you to shoot me an email for further discussion or questions this might raise. Thanks for your time in reading this. I hope you liked it![connections_list id=13 template_name=”div_staff_bio”]
Editor’s Note: Special thanks goes to Ron LeMaster for use of the photo montages. Ron has spent more than 30 years as a ski instructor and race coach. He is a technical advisor to the US Ski Team and the Vail Ski School and has contributed to PSIA educational materials. His latest book Ultimate Skiing is a “must have” for your skiing library. See more montage images at www.ronlemaster.com.
To purchase a copy of Ultimate Skiing contact the PSIA-NW office. For this and additional titles just call the office or log onto the website and download a Bookstore Order form and fax it in. Your PSIA-NW bookstore purchase directly supports your Northwest Division.
by Sean Bold
Don’t hold onto the past, but instead look into the future. Gil Haines, an old ski buddy of mine, is very hard to keep up with in steep terrain. His secret, I have discovered, is that he never holds onto his turn too long, but instead releases the skis shortly after crossing the fall line, keeping him out of trouble. Now, this technique in steep terrain takes some guts, but once you figure out the timing of when to release, it will make your skiing more balanced, smooth, efficient, and faster in all types of terrain!
Gil lacks one of the common ineffective tactics I see with skiers today. Many skiers hold onto their turn too long before starting the next one. This often causes their balance to shift back and inside the turn. Pressure on the ski increases throughout the turn and is most predominant after the fall line. By prolonging the turn completion and staying in the zone of higher pressure, the skier runs the risk of letting these forces press them into the back seat. When their Center of Mass (the most central point of a person’s weight, in relation to the rest of their body) moves behind the Point of Contact (middle of the foot and ski), the skier increases their chance of getting bucked further out of balance by the ensuing terrain challenges and variations.
Imagine how much easier it would be if the skier released their turn just after the fall line. By releasing the turn earlier, the skier continues to flow down the hill into the next turn. This new tactic sets the skier up for success by allowing them to stay in balance while they move more down the hill and out of harm’s way.
Here is a great tip that you can use to accomplish this goal. Swing your pole linearly down the hill in the direction of travel with a shorter pole cast. You will be able finish your turn earlier because your body will travel in the direction of the new turn. Your pole swing is very much a directional movement. When you swing your pole in a rounded arc with a longer pole cast, your movement is directed more across the fall line. Another by-product of a long pole cast is that you will have to ski all the way around the tip of the pole causing you to prolong the end of the turn. I am no longer a big pole caster and it has helped my skiing immensely. So keep the pole cast short and you won’t have to travel as far to start your new turn.
Ok, so that’s what to do, now here’s how to do it. Grip your pole a little tighter with your hand and don’t let your bottom two or three fingers open up as you swing. This should help shorten the cast of the pole. Be sure not to turn your arm and hand toward the center line of your body while swinging the pole (like closing a door). Instead, just swing the pole from the wrist linearly in the direction of travel, leaving the arm and hand more open to the fall line. Try to target the pole touch about 12-16 inches in front of the toe piece of your binding and about 12-16 inches down the hill from that point. The distance you swing the pole towards your tip and down the hill will vary due to skier height, length of pole, terrain, turn shape, and the speed you are travelling.
Let go of the past and move into the future! By releasing your skis earlier into the new turn, you will maintain better balance and ski faster and more efficiently. You may also be able to keep up with the likes of Gil Haines.[connections_list id=22 template_name=”div_staff”]