Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Don't be a Selfish Downhiller

On free-heel skis, the downhills are as much of a challenge as the uphills. The skinnier the ski, the dicier descending will feel, unless you have a lifetime of skiing behind you. Some people just look like they were born on skis. It usually turns out they were.

For the rest of us, getting down safely is our first priority. Getting down stylishly is nice, but comes later.

Later is now. Style isn't just to impress onlookers. It's part of sharing the trail with other skiers.

One element of style is turning. You turn your skis to avoid other skiers as well as trees and other uncomfortable solid objects. But you also turn your skis to check your speed more efficiently than in a sustained snowplow position.

Sure, the snowplow will get you and only you safely to the bottom of a hill. But in the process you may take all the loose snow with you, leaving those who come after you to deal with the bobsled run as best they can. Is that nice? How would you feel if you came upon the chute of glistening ice instead of the freshly-combed granules of groomed delight? Cut the next guy a break.

I certainly can't shoot the drops in a fluid string of closed-stance parallel turns, soI don't expect anyone else to achieve that level as a matter of routine. But you and I can at least narrow the wedge of the snowplow a little, and weight alternate skis to turn back and forth. With all your weight on one ski at a time, you can actually lift the unweighted ski off the snow slightly. That way it scrapes nothing away. We can even practice bringing it parallel to the weighted ski momentarily before stepping (stemming) into the next turn.

Start your turn sequence before you jet up to frightening speeds. That way you will stay in control and not have to jam on the brakes in a panic stop. Panic snowplow stops don't really work all that well. The force on the ski edges tends to straighten the skis out, leaving you hanging between equally-weighted skis, bombing out of control down that hill you didn't like the looks of in the first place.

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