It’s been said that the two riskiest days in a human life are the day you are born and the day you die. A tethering run is bit like that, the first few seconds and the last few seconds are the hardest. At the beginning of a run you have to transition from holding the “bucket” to having the sitski at the end of the tethers, with some tension, allowing you to control (or at least influence) the skier. Both those states are stable, but between them is an unstable phase of loose tethers and no control.
So what’s the best way to cross that chasm? When I first learned to tether the plan was to start skiing slowly, then push the sit ski away from you quickly, so that the time on loose tethers was minimized. I call this the “Throw and Catch” technique. The downside is that when the sitski reaches the end of the tethers’ the tethers snap taught and the skier is thrown forward against the straps, which is uncomfortable for them, and can undo a lot of careful fitting and positioning.
The next technique I learned is “The Slow Release”: You start skiing while holding the bucket, then push it away very gently, so that you are both traveling, but the skier slightly faster, after a few seconds the gap widens to the length of the tethers, and the sit ski comes under your control. This is more comfortable for the skier, but if anything goes wrong in those seconds of loose tethers there’s nothing you can do to stop a fall. At Edelweiss our usual run start on a very gentle, smooth, green run, so this technique works well enough. But I saw an experienced tetherer trying this on a blue run, with lumpy snow, and a complex fall line in Colorado and it failed miserably. Five times in a row the skier lost balance and fell before the tethers came tight.
My preferred technique now is to use extra wraps. I wrap the tethers around my hands to that they are only about 3 feet long. When I start the run I can push away gently but the sitski still reaches the end of the tethers immediately. Once we have established balance and momentum I release 1 wrap at a time, often 1 wrap after each turn, until I’ve reached our preferred tethering distance.
At the end of the run you have the same transition to make in reverse. You need to catch up to the bucket and as you catch up the tethers will be loose. I’ve seen much fewer problems with catching the bucket than releasing it, probably because the skier has momentum and as long as they are traveling straight when you go to catch them they are unlikely to suddenly fall.
But some of the same techniques apply. I often pull a little on the tethers, which slows the bucket down, then my speed catches me up to them within a second or so. Shortening the tethers wrap by wrap in preparation for the catch is a technique I use if I was on particularly long tethers, but only a coupe of wraps, not down to the 3 feet I use at the release, that’s just too close for comfort when you already have momentum. Our normal teaching run at Edelweiss ends with a few metres of uphill to reach the lift line, the sit skier hits the uphill first which naturally slows them down and gives the tetherer a chance to catch up, just don’t be going so slow that they stop completely before you catch them :-).