SLICING & DICE ON ICE
by Jon Lamb
(Legendary Killington ski instructor, Jon Lamb is fully certified by P.S.I.A. and currently a member of the P.S.I.A. Development Team for the educational staff. He recently made the Eastern squad and is contender for the National Demonstration Team.)
Initially when instructing people on how to carve on hard snow I begin with an analogy to driving. When driving on snow covered, icy roads it is easy to lose control. There is very little resistance and to regain control we need to pump the brakes. The foot never goes back and forth erratically from brake to gas. You must drive in a consistent, smooth fashion.
The same holds true for skiing. As we ski on hard and icy slopes, we need to pump our turns from side to side. On hard snow there is also very little resistance and in order to gain control, we need to create resistance by pressuring our skies throughout the turn. If we slam it on too hard or try to hold it on too long we wash out and skid, just like in the car. You must keep the pressure on your skies constant throughout the turn in order to keep your speed constant. The driver pumps the brakes to gain control just as the skier pumps the edges from turn to turn. Pumping the brakes is simply a matter of deflecting the momentum from the old turn early into the new turn.
Pressure Skis Early
Assume you are going down a slope with trees along each edge and the Base Lodge at the bottom of the hill. In order to deflect movement toward the tree line, a skier needs to pressure the skis early in the turn. When a skier finishes a turn, the momentum is going toward the woods. As we push to the ball of our feet, we are able to deflect the momentum early in the turn. If the skis are unweighted too long through the start of the turn, the skier does not deflect the momentum until he is opposite the Base Lodge. If you slam on the brakes, the car will slide and skid out of control. As a skier, if you pressure the skies too late and/or too hard, you will skid and lose control.
Years ago skiers we taught skiers to lighten and unweight their skis dramatically as they initiated their turns and then weight their skis excessively as they finished their turns. This caused the skis to skid from turn to turn rather than carve. The design of the skis dictated those motions because they possessed great longitudinal stiffness and camber. Today's skis are designed with greater torsional rigidity and are softer from tip to tail. As a result, the skis can glide flater on the snow giving the skier the ability to pressure the skis early in the turn. Pressuring the skis early and evenly allows the skis to carve predictably. By extending to the balls of our feet, we can extend our mass down the hill and inside the turn.
The Range of Motion
As I move from turn to turn, I have a range of motion that is in balance and effectively uses leverage. The best range for normal skiing is a range from four to seven on a scale of one to ten. One would be bending my boots at the end of my turn. Ten would be as long as my legs could get when starting my next turn. I want to ski four to seven to stay muscularly efficient and skeletally strong. If I break into three, two, or one, I tend to leverage the tip of my ski and my tail will wash out. The exception to this rule is when external forces (as in skiing moguls) are present. I may break into three, two, or one to absorb the external forces. If I go into low numbers on the way down, my muscles will need to help support me. My skeleton is not as long, so it is not as strong. If I go into too high a number on the way up, I have more room for errors and loss of balance. To stay within four to seven, I need to push to the balls of my feet. This allows me to put pressure on my skis early in the turn and drop to the tongues of my boots to moderate pressure throughout the end of the turn. Seven is up to the balls of my feet. Four is just to the tongues of my boots.
It is important to establish rhythm from side to side to maintain control of speed. Every skier has a skill level and within their skill level is a speed zone. When skiers get beyond their speed zone, they skid their turns. Driving your car on an icy road, a driver needs to lower the speed to stay in control. Skiers also need to lower their speed to gain control on icy slopes. Often skiers have a dominant side. If a skier does not spend enough time on their weak side they will gain speed and lose control. There are three exercises that can help a skier to gain rhythm: breathing, concave terrain, and poling tasks. The first exercise is exhaling to finish your first turn and inhaling to initiate the next turn. The second is searching for concave terrain on the mountain. This will promote keeping the eyes forward and the skier looking ahead.
Turns in the Bumps
When skiers start the turn on the way up the ridge of the mogul and finish on the way down the ridge, they gain a feel for constant pressure throughout the turn. When poling, envision two lines on either side of you as references for pole taps in short turns. When skiing longer turns, using one reference line will help to get the eyes ahead and create even spacing from side to side. So as a rule, rather than using abrupt movements to maintain speed control, you should use roundness and rhythm. Ski round turns, ski with ease. Slice and dice, don't make more ice!