The problem with steeper slopes is all in the mind, many a good skier just freezes when they reach the brow of a ‘steep slope’. This can be seen at the top of every steeper slope in every ski resort, a small crowd gathers as people stop to contemplate near death at the brow of the slope. Then they launch themselves over the edge with such energy that they over turn causing them to spin around and fall flat on their faces before sliding lifelessly down the slope helplessly taking other skiers with them.
The two main problems that face the intermediate ski are, initiating the turn, and too much speed at the end of the turn. We know that control comes from turning, so in order to gain more control we need to turn more. This doesn’t necessarily mean just more tighter turns but curvyer turns. I call these turns the sideways ‘S’ or more commonly known as the pre-turn. Before I talk more about the pre turn I think it’s time to learn a little more about how the ski works in tighter turns. If you look at the specification of a ski it will give you an indication of the turn radius. This is the distance that the ski will take to turn 180 degrees, in a natural arc, usually around 15-20 meters. This means that if you put the ski on its edge, how long does it take to do a turn. Obviously on steep terrain we need to turn tighter then 15-20 meters, so how can this be? The answer is that we turn tighter by weighting the tips or spoon of the ski early, this causes the tips to dig in and grab and shoot around, thus reducing the turn radius. We achieve this tip weighting by reducing the pressure on the tails of our skis for a fraction of a second and thus increasing the pressure on the tips. This can be achieved in two ways, firstly by picking up the inside ski tail a little or by jumping both tails off the ground simultaneously in a more demanding situation. This is very difficult to see whilst following a good skier as for the most part nothing visible happens but the truth is shown by the ski tips skidding round quickly. You actually don’t have to jump your tails off the ground but merely try for this to work. Once we have mastered the slightly tighter turn we are ready for the pre-turn. The pre turn was a huge breakthrough for me so read carefully. If we are having difficulty initiating it is usually because our bodies are leaning towards the slope. This is so common, if we are scared it gives us comfort if we lean into the slope. Unfortunately this is the exact opposite to what we require to start our new turn. Let me explain, we start a turn by applying pressure and edge to our up hill ski, yes up hill. We have finished with the end of our previous turn and in order to initiate the new turn we need to edge what will become our new down hill ski only we haven’t turned yet. So therefore this ski is our uphill ski. This is almost impossible if we lean into the hill as this puts our uphill ski on it’s up hill edge not the inside edge we need for turning. An expert skier will let their body fall down the hill so that their body is perpendicular the hill, this in turn puts the up hill ski on it’s inside edge naturally ,but this takes a lot of nerve and I wouldn’t suggest this yet as there is an easier way, yes, the pre-turn.
The pre turn is quite simply a slight uphill turn before we turn down the hill. If we turn slightly up hill first what happens is our skis move under our body and end up slightly higher than they were. Eureka – we have achieved the same body position as the expert, body lower down the hill than the skis and we will now be naturally edging our up hill ski on it’s inside edge and already turning without even knowing it. Let me explain this in a different way, as we finish our previous turn we hold on to the turn for a little longer so we start to go back up the hill again (just a little) at this point without hesitation we commit to the inside edge of our up hill ski and finish our ‘S’. Just think of a large ‘S’ shape but side ways so you go up again before you go down. That’s it a new easy way to initiate your turns on steeper terrain.
Now how to control the speed at the end of the turn. You might even find that if you get your pre-turn right your speed will be under control as you are turning more and this will naturally slow you down. The reason that most intermediates speed up at the end of the turn is that it is the only time they put their skis on their edges. Picture this an over aggressive start followed by a skidy turn and then clunk the edges byte, but not in the turn. Straight across the slope with no turning – accelerate, accelerate!!
If we need to bleed off a little more speed during the turn we can do it by letting the edges relax in the belly of the turn. This is very effective, what we are doing is having a relaxed start of the turn and then letting our edges skid a little throughout the whole turn. This in turn will slow you down without putting any more energy in to stopping. I call these lazy turns, very smooth and round and you won’t be worn out at the bottom of the slope. This is the time to loose the nice clean carve as you will quite simply gain to much speed, but due to the pre-turn you will still be making nice round ‘S’ turns. Another great bi-product of this method for steep runs is that because you are sliding during the turn (down hill) you will loose twice as much altitude as with your old turn. Picture this if you had perfected the over aggressive start you may even be able to jump you skis totally round 180 degrees, this would mean that you are almost standing in the same place but facing the opposite direction. Maybe in reality a couple of feet lower down the slope, and this would mean a lot of high energy turns to get to the bottom (If you don’t end up sliding all the way down!). With our new way pre-turns followed by a lazy breaking turn you will be smooth relaxed and in control.