What to do when the off-piste turns from smooth to lumpy?
Lets face it, hacking through chopped up crud is not what we rush out of bed for in the morning.
But ironically the very conditions you’re now probably struggling with may well have been the result of having a fantastic morning tracking out some perfect
powder. Initially, grinding it out in the crud can seem to be an anti climax after the fix of the deep stuff, but stick it out, and if you have the technique to back it up, it can be an unexpected bonus.
In this article we them take a look at what
technique is needed to ski variable conditions, and how to get the best out of them.
Generally anyone who looks on fire in the crud is
going to have a very strong base of skills. These are
simple elements which should be the base of all
great skiing. The following skills should already be in
your kitbag before skiing the crud.
Posture and balance
These are simple key points which anyone can learn. This should be your checklist when you’re warming up:
• Always be balanced over the middle of your feet. This means when you tilt the ski on its edge, you’ll feel pressure through the arch of your foot.
• Get athletic. Flex all of your joints so you’re ready to react if you get thrown out of balance.
• Keep your arms forward and away from your body - this will also help your balance.
Develop accuracy in your steering before hitting tricky snow. Here are a couple of key points:
Make sure you can…
• Steer round arcs while maintaining a constant speed – don’t make sharp handbrake turns!
• You are able to steer by tilting the skis on the edges and allowing the shape to drive you around the turn.
• Steer the skis by rotating them into the new direction at the same time. If you have these in place then it’s really all about adapting them to work in the conditions you’re faced with. Here’s how to mix and match in the crud:
Use it or lose it
This is where it all starts to get fun. Look at the terrain and snow in front of you. And use it! If you see some natural ramps, or even big lumps of snow, aim for them and try to hit them just as you want to start a new turn. At this moment, allow your skis to take off,. Try not to make an active leap - just brace against it and let gravity do its work. If you can get some air, this is the perfect opportunity to cross your body over your skis and get ready to land on the new edge (look at the sequence).
As well as looking good, and feeling great, this airborne manoevre allows you to make that edge change without being battered around by the lumpy conditions. However this doesn’t mean you need to get
airborne for every turn. Pick your spot. If it looks smooth, you’re better off keeping them on the ground and laying out a clean arc. It’s the conditions in front of you that dictate whether you’re going to try to get some air or stay on the ground. Don’t ski down the face like a demented rabbit - it’s not a good look!
Make those turns
If you stay on the edge and ride the shape of the ski it will feel fast, solid and stable. Most strong skiers use this method because it allows them to blast through the chopped up snow while feeling in balance. If you turn the skis and scrape through your chosen path, you’re more likely to get knocked over by the difficult conditions. Control your speed by holding onto the arc until you slow down. If your speed still feels uncomfortably fast, as a last resort you’ll need to twist and scrape the skis. If all’s going well, you should feel you’re making clean, round arcs at a constant speed.
Stay in balance
Your balance is going to get seriously challenged in these types of conditions: you’ll get knocked off
balance on practically every turn. The best way to deal with it is to be free in using your body to allow
the recovery moves it needs to make. Move your arms and body in any way you need to, to stay in the game and make the next turn. A strong skier will always revert to a solid athletic stance when they’re
stable - but they’ll also be completely free in their movements to balance and recover when needed.
It’s something that’s very often overlooked in skiing, but it’s vital for these types of conditions. A solid
pole-plant will make it much easier to move into a new turn, and that added contact with the snow acts
like a fulcrum, helping move everything into a new direction. It really helps in these conditions because
so often the lumpy, chopped up snow can feel very resistant to steering. To combat that, you can use
the airborne edge changes, but as you are in the air it’s essential to have a good pole plant to give you a balance- point with the snow. The pole-plant only works if your timing is right. The moment you release the edges from the old turn - that’s the exact moment when your pole should make contact with the snow.
Probably the biggest block to having a great run in these sorts of conditions is confidence. As soon as
the speed builds up – and it all starts to feel quite intimidating. It’ll feel like tricky snow conditions are
ganging up on you! So initially use small slopes, so you can go for it at full speed and with commitment,
knowing you have a run out at the end to slow you down.
If you’re on a big slope, break it down into
smaller pitches. Try a focused run of four turns, and then stop. It’s only by gradually building up your
emotional threshold for speed and difficulty that you will eventually be able to take charge, and ski
a whole face with confidence. When you are skiing stay focused on balance: defensive thinking leads to
defensive body language.
Having the right skis for the job will also make a huge difference to how easy the whole experience
feels. Ideally you should be on something that’s more than 80mm underfoot. If you can add some nose rocker to the mix, that’ll give you something that has the flotation you need, while being easy to steer too. Anything narrow, stiff and with a powerful construction will feel difficult to handle. Finally, be careful with length: a ski shorter than head height will also feel too ‘nervous’ to use in these conditions.
Courtesy of Ski and Board Magazine www.skiclub.co.uk | Photos by Mark Junak www.snowimages.co.uk