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Where Are All the Expert Skiers?

By Mike Holden

If you have ventured out west for spring skiing during recent years, you have surely noticed a significant trend by ski areas to leave large parts of the mountain un-groomed. This trend in part stems from requests from local skiers who were bored with skiing on groomed snow where merely standing against the modern shaped/rockered ski produced almost automatic arc turns with little skill or effort.

So, if you’ve been surprised at the lack of good skiers when you were skiing well-groomed snow, it’s probably because they have trekked to ski off-piste slopes to seek more challenging and satisfying terrain.  In fact, it has been the same advances in ski design that makes it possible to ski so easily on groomed trails that also allows skiing steep, deep, dense and icy crud with far greater ease.

Two-Footed Carving

The major skill that must be mastered to ski effectively and efficiently in heavily tracked up snow is two-footed carving.  Here, both skis slice through the snow together, following curved footprints defined by the deflected shape of the edged and loaded skis. The turning forces are shared between the skis, which can be actively steered by the legs with pressure on the cuffs of each boot.

We define a carved turn as one where the skis closely follow a path set by the footprint of edged and loaded skis in the snow.  With a carved turn, both direction and speed can be controlled with edge angle, fore/aft pressure distribution and leg steering. Leg steering produces rotational slippage about the center of the ski to provide incremental direction and speed control.

For most of us, skiing steep terrain mandates the use of carved turns, and it is here where the new wider skis with their sophisticated blending of geometric and structural characteristics come into their own. With the new skis, two footed carved turns can be employed to control direction and speed on steep un-groomed terrain with a technique very similar to that employed on smooth piste.

Unlike skiing on packed surfaces where most of the pressure is initially directed to the outside ski, in the two footed carved turn, pressure is shared between the skis to keep both skis actively carving throughout the turn. A new turn is generally started by forward pressure on both skis to set them carving simultaneously; in some cases, the new inside ski can start to carve an instant before the outside ski becomes loaded.

It is very important when skiing crud that the lower legs are in constant positive contact with the cuffs of the boots and both legs are slightly more flexed at the knees and ankles to achieve a stance to more effectively manage both the impulsive horizontal and vertical loads generated by the snow and the skier.

Don’t Hurt the Snow 

Skiing with a simultaneous two footed carving can be employed successfully under all skiing conditions and will go a long way to following the advice of John Claude Killy, who said: “Don’t Hurt the Snow.”

While a sequential movement from ski to ski may be suitable in skiing on smooth, firm terrain and for GS type turns, for shorter radius turns, skiing with the skis parallel using simultaneous steering can be more effective in restrictive terrain, such as trees and moguls. In fact, under icy conditions, it may be more prudent to employ two-footed carving with the body balanced between the two skis to shape the turns, rather than struggle to get the outside ski to hold firmly. Slicing through the snow rather than bracing against it will certainly make it more fun to ski when the snow turns to “mashed potatoes” on a warm spring day.

Mastering the skill to ski with both skis carving simultaneously with the legs controlled independently will definitely allow you to ski all terrain and conditions with greater effectiveness and efficiency and will move you firmly into the expert skier category.

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