Slip Sliding Away

Slip Sliding Away

Last year at the American Winter Sports Clinic I had a class with an unusual student. He rode a monoski without tethers and could turn and stop independently perfectly well on green slopes. But he ran into problems when we moved to a steeper blue slope. With each turn he picked up speed rather than lost it. He could bleed off speed by traversing the whole width of the hill before turning again, but not quite enough. As a result, his progress down the hill looked like demented pendulum, crossing back and forth across the run at every increasing speed until the inevitable bail out.

I think he had previously been taught by the same ski instructors I had. When I learned back in the 1980’s skis were long, and straight. And the guy with the longest skis was clearly the coolest.

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A carved turn with no skid was hard to achieve with those skis, and a result was held up as the pinnacle of good skiing. We were taught that carving = good, skidding = bad.  And that was his problem, every turn was perfectly carved. Which would have been great if he was racing, but gave him no way to control his speed.

So, we did one of the classic intermediate ski lessons, how to deliberately skid, and control it. We did side slipping, falling leaf, flattening the skis to skid while traversing, sitting back mid turn to wash out the rear of the ski etc.

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The conditions weren’t great, I prefer hard and icy for that lesson so that snow buildup under the skis in the slow exercises isn’t an issue, instead it was warm and slushy.  But it worked. You could see a light bulb go on that there is a whole world of possibilities beyond riding the edges. And at the end of the lesson he could control his speed better.

To be fair to my 1980’s instructors they probably didn’t believe that a carved turn shape was the best choice in all circumstances, they just believed that whenever their students skidded it was by error rather than by choice, and they were probably right. But ultimately a carved turn should be just one tool in your toolbox. Good skiing is mastering a variety of turn shapes, and being able to select and apply the right one depending on the terrain.

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