First let me define “Thumbing”. Thumbing is controlling a sit ski by standing behind it and holding on to the back of the seat (also known as the “Bucket”). It’s called Thumbing because a common grip is to place the hands palm forward, with the fingers outside the bucket and the thumbs inside. These days a growing number of sit skis have a handle attached, so the natural grip is more like pushing a shopping trolley, but I still call it thumbing.
Nobody objects to thumbing to push the sit ski across flat ground, such as from the chalet to the chair lift. It becomes more controversial when you mean Thumbing a sit ski to control it while descending hill. In my home program it’s frowned on, A sit skier who is being thumbed isn’t controlling, or even contributing to, their direction or balance. So they aren’t learning anything, they should be on tethers instead.
So is there any time when thumbing during a downhill run is necessary, or justified?
To be honest, at our hill we have a flat & narrow section halfway down our main run, and we usually have to catch up with the sit ski and thumb them for 50 yards, because they have lost their momentum and would fall to one side or the other if we didn’t.
I’ve heard that some programs around Toronto routinely thumb their skiers down the whole hill. That does seem problematic to me. Maybe their hill is very crowded and it’s considered safer than tethering. A sit ski plus tetherer combo does come the hill somewhat like an 18 wheeler on the highway: we’re long, we can’t stop or turn quickly and if we hit you we have a lot of momentum.
I’ve also seen it done (and done it myself) due to weather on a bigger hill. At Edelweiss the vertical drop is a few hundred feet, and the run takes about 3 minutes. The weather at the bottom is the same as the weather at the top. That’s not always true at Snowmass. On a sunny afternoon in early April the snow conditions may be fine for teaching higher up the mountain. But to get back to the chairlift you have to come done to the village level, and the snow there can be a mess of piled up mash potato. For a beginner sit skier there’s really no opportunity to learn in that snow, it’s just about survival. In addition, the runs are all converging and there are many skiers being forced onto the same run. Sometimes catching up with the ski and thumbing down the last few hundred yards feels like the safe thing to do, teaching can resume when we get back to the top of the chairlift.
What do you think? Do you thumb? When is it justified? And when should it be avoided?