By Mike Holden
Where have all the Expert Skiers Gone
If you have ventured out West for Spring skiing during recent years you have surely noticed a significant trend by ski areas to leave large parts of the mountain un-groomed. This trend in part stems from requests from local skiers who were bored with skiing on groomed snow where merely standing against the modern shaped/rockered ski produced almost automatic arc turns with little skill or effort. So, if you’ve been surprised at the lack of good skiers when you were skiing well-groomed snow, it’s probably because they have trekked to ski off-piste slopes to seek more challenging and satisfying terrain. In fact, it has been these same advances in ski design which makes it possible to ski so easily on groomed trails that also allow skiing steep, deep, dense and icy crud with far greater ease.
Two Footed Carving
The major skill that must be mastered to ski effectively and efficiently in heavily tracked up snow is two-footed carving. Here, both skis slice through the snow together following curved footprints defined by the deflected shape of the edged and loaded skis. The turning forces are shared between the skis, which can be actively steered by the legs with pressure on the cuffs of each boot. We define a carved turn as one where the skis follow closely a path set by the footprint of edged and loaded skis in the snow. With a carved turn, both direction and speed can be controlled with edge angle, fore/aft pressure distribution and finally leg steering. Leg steering produces rotational slippage about the center of the ski to provide incremental direction and speed control. An “arc turn” is defined as a turn where the skis trace single lines in the snow. The path of an arc turn is controlled solely by edge angle and pressure distribution on the skis, with speed control being accomplished principally by the extent to which the skier changes direction. For most of us, skiing steep terrain mandates the use of carved turns; and it is here where the new wider skis with their sophisticated blending of geometric and structural characteristics come into their own. With the new skis, two footed carved turns can be employed to control direction and speed on steep un-groomed terrain with a technique very similar to that employed on smooth piste. Using a technique based on the application of strong rotary heel thrust at the end of each turn can prove disastrous in deep heavy wet snow. Likewise, employing linked arc turns by stepping from edge to edge in steep off-piste terrain is best left to world cup downhillers.
Controlling Both Skis With two-footed carving, the expert skier seeks to keep both skis simultaneously slicing through the snow by smoothly controlling the edge angles and pressure to each ski, with subtle steering to add incremental direction and speed control. Here, the skier employs independent leg action to maintain continuous snow contact as each ski encounters different disturbances from uneven snow conditions. Unlike skiing on packed surfaces where most of the pressure is initially directed to the outside ski, in the two footed carved turn pressure is shared between the skis to keep both skis actively carving throughout the turn. A new turn is generally started by forward pressure on both skis to set them carving simultaneously; in some cases, the new inside ski can start to carve an instant before the outside ski becomes loaded. It is very important when skiing crud that the lower legs are in constant positive contact with the cuffs of the boots, and both legs are slightly more flexed at the knees and ankles to achieve a stance to more effectively manage both the impulsive horizontal and vertical loads generated by the snow and the skier.
Expert skiers lead the skis downhill with the upper body continuously moving toward the center of the new turn to transition smoothly from one turn to the next. At turn initiation, to achieve an “early edge” and carving, the skier orientates his upper body toward the center of the new turn on a path which crosses the skis, so that the extension of the legs, and the momentum from the previous turn, can be used to apply force to the skis. Projecting the body across the skis (“crossover“) or allowing the legs to swing under the hips (“cross under”) both can be used to establish the skis carving well before the fall line. A turn completed with a bracing edge set/hockey stop will make it almost impossible to achieve smooth turn transition, continuous carving and speed control early in the new turn. Although young athletic skiers may choose to ski crud by leaping in the air from one carved turn to another, the more sophisticated skier will maintain continuous snow contact with the minimum skier induced disturbances to enabling the skis to smoothly slice through the snow. While both legs are flexing and extending to manage the surface irregularities, they should be closely aligned with the upper body to most effectively handle the dynamic loads. To manage the fore/aft disturbances resulting from hitting clumps of snow there should be a firm but compliant connection between the legs and upper body; which can be achieved by slightly tensing the muscles in the back rather than those in the stomach.
Don’t Hurt the Snow
Skiing with a simultaneous two footed carving can be employed successfully under all skiing conditions and will go a long way to following the advice on John Claude Killy, “Don’t Hurt the Snow”. While a sequential movement from ski to ski may be suitable in skiing on smooth firm terrain, and for GS type turns, for shorter radius turns skiing with the skis parallel using simultaneous steering can be more effective in restrictive terrain, such as trees and moguls. In fact, under very icy conditions, it may be more prudent to employ two-footed carving, with the body balanced between the two skis, to shape the turns, rather than struggle to get the outside ski to hold firmly. Slicing through the snow rather than bracing against it will certainly make it more fun to ski when the snow turns to “mash potatoes” on a warm spring day. Mastering the skill to ski with both skis carving simultaneously with the legs controlled independently will definitely allow you to ski all terrain and conditions with greater effectiveness and efficiency and will move you firmly into the expert skier category.