March 26, 2014
Steep Technique: Uphill Ski Strategy I
I continue to focus on management of the uphill ski as the key to unlocking the secrets of steep skiing technique. Those of you who follow my site know this has become something of an odyssey for me, starting with my initial belief that steep turns should be initiated from a weighted uphill ski, which led to basically two long years of frustration.
After continued pondering and much trial and error, I had a breakthrough in my kitchen last season, which led to a radical paradigm change—initiate from a weighted downhill ski!—and the wholesale revision and codification of my principles of steep skiing. There is a lot more to the game than just the uphill ski, true, but if the uphill ski isn't clearing, neither will anything else.
This past weekend at Mammoth was really the first time I've spent any time skiing significant pitches this year. Happily, conditions were perfect for testing steep skiing technique: firm, grabby snow that instantly exposed any weaknesses. Along for the ride was my brother, seen here skiing Mammoth's Wipeout Chutes, off Chair 23.
If fate had turned just slightly differently, my brother would probably have gone on to race at the highest level. As-is, watching him ski gates remains to this day a humbling experience, especially for a prideful ex-racer like myself. But watch his technique here on a solid (and exposed) 45° pitch. You don't expect to see a racer ski the steeps this well.
Conditions were grabby, as I say, which meant that uphill ski had to come completely off the snow. Notice how efficient my brother's technique is: he's floating that uphill ski just above the snow while simultaneously rotating it and keeping it continuously tangent to the slope. It's gorgeous work. Notice also how much he projects his upper body forward into space.
Here are my own notes after spending three days on the mountain's double-blacks:
Weight on the downhill ski to start the turn—yes. The harder and grabbier the snow, the more this matters. When things get soft, the uphill ski is far less likely to catch. Downhill leg extended (almost) fully—yes. The downhill leg seems to act like an outrigger in this position, allowing you to better position your body over the skis, out into (very scary) space.
A deep bend of the uphill leg just before initiation—yes. Stand up right now and lift your right knee as high as you can. You should be in the Crane position from the Karate Kid, but with your right knee more bent. Now pretend you've got to pee, really bad. Do that twisting/tucking gotta-hold-it motion with your right leg. That's the static start position for a steep turn.
If you think of the (lengthwise) midpoint of your uphill ski as a sort of mental hump or speed bump, you've got to get your center of mass over/in front of the hump so that you can slide down it and complete the turn. Use forward projection of the upper body plus the i-need-to-pee knee bend/tuck and that will get you there.
If you try to initiate or otherwise get stuck on the wrong side of the hump, the turn will fail, or at least be a whole heck of a lot uglier than what my brother is doing. That's it for now. I'll keep working at it...