The Ins and Outs of the Death Wobble

The Ins and Outs of the Death Wobble

It may be a dramatic term but if you are a tetherer you’ve probably seen a death wobble. It is problem which afflicts quad skis (a.k.a dual ski with pontoons / fixed outriggers) when traveling straight down the hill on flat terrain. The sequence goes something like this:

  1. The ski starts to lose momentum
  2. The ski tips randomly (to the right in this case) and the right pontoon touches the snow.
  3. This causes a braking on the right side of the rig, and the skis twist 15 degrees off the direction of travel.
  4. But the skier’s momentum is still straight forward, now 15 degrees left of where the skis are pointing, so the rig flops over to the left side
  5. Now the left tide pontoon touches down on the snow
  6. This causes a braking on the left side of the rig and the skis twist to point 15 degrees left of the directing of travel.
  7. Now the ski flops to the right and the whole cycle continues, etc.

In the worst cases, each flop to one side or the other is more violent that the previous one, until the sit ski crashes to one side rolling over the pontoon. Even in the best case it’s an uncomfortable experience for the sit skier and the tetherer.

So how do you get out of a death wobble? Well like many dangerous situations in life the best way out of it is to avoid getting into it in the first place.

Here are some tips on how to avoid getting into a death wobble:

  • Never try to go straight down a hill, always be steering slightly left or slightly right. This is generally good advice on modern parabolic skis anyway.
  • Keep the speed up. The wobble starts with the ski losing balance and dropping to one side. Like a bicycle, sit skis are more stable when they have speed and momentum.
  • Lift the tethers. Usually I tether with my hands around waist height, it’s relaxed and provides good power when needed. But if have to tether straight and slow due to the terrain I shorten the tethers and raise my hands up around face height. If the bucket starts to drop to either side the tether on that side will get stretched, which will give it more tension and hopefully pull the sit ski back up before the pontoon touches.
  • Set the pontoons high off the snow. This allows the ski to dip to one side a bit without touching down on the snow. Personally, I like having the pontoons high anyway, it can make for a jerky ride if your turns are always flipping from one pontoon on the snow to the other. But I think of them like bicycle training wheels, the goal is not to always have 1 on the ground, the goal is to minimize the times they touch down and mostly ride with them both up using balance.

Experienced tethers rarely get into a wobble because they can feel it coming and avoid it subconsciously. But for beginners there are times when terrain and traffic mean that you have to travel straight and slow, so here are some tips on how to get out of a wobble once it has started.

  • Grab the bucket and hold it level, thumb it until you can stop or pick up more speed. This works if you are using short tethers and are close to the ski. If you are 12 ft. back it is very hard to catch up to the bucket without letting tethers loose which could make it worse before you get there.
  • Just stop. If you stop the sit ski will stop and so will the wobble. It’s highly unlikely that the ski will stop in a balanced position, it will stop leaning over on one pontoon or the other. This is certainly not a comfortable stop for your skier, but better than the alternative.
  • Ski off to one side, and pull the ski towards you hard. This will pin the ski to one side and start a turn towards you. This is probably the most smooth and controlled solution, but it is only possible if you have enough space and speed to turn.

This are the techniques I’ve seen. If anyone has any other tips please leave them in the comments, and may your wobbles always be small ones.

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