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Truth in Ice: Skiing/Snowboarding on Hard Snow

Last updated on January 10, 2021

The introduction to a multi-part series on how to ride better on firm snow.

The well-groomed surface makes liars of us all.

Inevitable ice reveals our folly. Nobody likes being called a liar, but with incomplete information, the stories we tell ourselves will likely be false.

Many of us have learned to ski and snowboard based on body positions, rather than the underlying concepts that lead to those positions. Most anything will ‘work’ when the snow is compliant, and then we come unglued when the snow gets hard.

Body positions tend to work for only one slice of time, while concepts are timeless.

The requirements to hold a turn are the same on any snow type. If we understand how the platform works, we’re in a position to make it work on all surfaces, not just those groomed to perfection.

To hold a turn, you need to establish an appropriate lean angle. The platform has to tilt relative to the working surface, and bend into a suitable arc. The rider needs to move from the inside of one turn to the inside of the next to balance the forces at work.

You have two primary inputs to employ toward this end.

The first is tilt. What is the angle of your platform relative to the snow, and how does that angle change? This will determine the extent to which the platform will bend, given it’s flex and rate of glide. How and when that tilt rises and falls will play a part in how well the platform engages and disengages the surface.

The second is pressure: how much pressure you apply to the platform, and where along it’s length that pressure is concentrated.

The net pressure applied will determine when the turn arc starts, where the turn arc ends, and the duration of the turn. The concentration of that pressure will determine where and how much the platform bends. The location of the bend affects four characteristics: platform response, arc radius, arc duration, and how well the working edge engages the surface.

Signal error is magnified on hard snow. How precisely a rider tunes these two inputs will determine the quality of a series of turns on that surface.

In the early phases of rider development, it’s easy to spend too much time working on idealized postures, drills, and exercise lines intended to help, but that often don’t in broader application. These postures can be overly complicated. The more you have to do in order to get the board to ‘work’, the harder it is to accomplish that task when time is short, momentum large, and the surface hard.

If you want to succeed on marginal snow, pay close attention to the relationship between yourself and the working edge(s) of your platform. The platform can’t ‘see’ what you look like. It can only ‘see’ the effects of postural change on tilt and pressure. Ice is a wonderful, if demanding, mirror of those effects.

Next: The working edge. Understanding how tilt affects your turns.

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