Third in a multi-part series on skiing/snowboarding on hard snow.
In 1959, Volkswagen introduced what might be the most famous ad campaign of all time.
They promoted the Beetle with the tagline : Think Small.
They emphasized the scale and contrast of the agile VW, and questioned the assumptions of the market, where the majority of manufacturers were turning out massive hulks of steel and glass.
The pursuit of enhanced athletic performance often takes the highway toward strength and power, driving headlong past the oases of finesse and touch. As with the Beetle, taking a different path can pay off.
Small movements of small body parts can facilitate accuracy, but those movements may not be strong. Large movements of larger body parts may be strong, but tend to be less accurate. Strength can soften mistakes. Accuracy reduces their prevalence.
In Truth in Ice: Edge Rise/Fall , I mentioned a ‘letting go’ of one turn by creating a disruption between the platform and snow. When the arc of the turn is ‘destabilized’ in a productive, controlled manner, the athlete can readily ‘fall’ out of one turn right into the next.
When I ride (and ski), I’m usually countersteering from edge to edge. Altering edge angle/arc radius in this manner releases the lean angle to one side and creates lean angle to the other without adverse impact on grip or glide.
Countersteering differs from other modes of turn release/engagement in that the means of edge tilt is not influenced by degree of knee flexion. A mobile ankle joint can articulate largely independent of the rest of the leg, whereas medial/lateral knee action is tied to the ankle, the hip joint, and degree of knee flexion. Rocking the board from edge to edge with the knees, for instance, compromises the use of the legs as an active suspension system. Countersteering does not.
I can countersteer my platform because the ankle joint structure moves remarkably like the steering axis on a motorcycle, and my boot/binding interface has been highly tuned to benefit from this similarity.
Invariably, many alpine athletes have impaired joint articulation at the foot/ankle. Blocked ankle mobility precludes countersteer, so it’s common to see larger body segments moving at, and for turn initiation.
Examples: Rolling the knees into the turn, dropping a hip, ‘pinching a pencil’, reaching for a boot cuff, etc. All of these can work to tilt the board. All are work-arounds.
This doesn’t mean edging sensations from those examples won’t register at the foot level, just that the tilt of the platform is driven by movements of larger body parts. This may not present a tangible problem until conditions get marginal and/or trails become narrower/steeper.
Heelside turns are a good example of large body movements. This is usually due to a misunderstanding of the ‘angulation’ concept, the aforementioned compromised mobility in the lower extremities, or compensation for drastically mis-mounted bindings.
A typical heelside combines bending at the waist with a subsequent sitting shift of body mass toward the heelside turn. The rider may feel like the turn has been initiated, when in fact the platform is merely idling at the curb, flat as a flounder, waiting, waiting…
In other words, lots of joint articulation, very little platform tilt.
To demonstrate the mechanics, sit on the floor, torso upright with your legs out straight in front of you. Notice the angle between the soles of your boots and the floor. Probably close to 90 degrees. Scootch your rear end toward your heels. As your knees bend, and your backside gets closer to your heels, the angle between your boot soles and floor has decreased.
This represents an obvious delay to the start of each heelside turn, and introduces complications for the toeside turn as well.
When a rider initiates and maintains the heelside turn with ‘sit’, odds are good the toeside turn will begin with the head and shoulders coming in first. ‘Diving in’, so to speak, as the rider topples to toeside, heelside posture mostly intact.
As with the heelside, upper body displacement will be leading edge tilt. Significant momentum is gathered in the ‘wrong’ direction, and the board gains mechanical advantage over the rider. The mechanical bias makes it very difficult for the rider to tilt the board to an effective working angle, one that will bring the board around properly. The usual coping mechanism is to lean into it and hope for the best.
At the very least, riding from the top down produces an arc that begins late and too close to the fall line. This leads to excess speed, rushed movements, lack of accuracy, sudden loss of grip, etc.
So tune your interface to restore ankle mobility, and aim to ‘find’ each new edge with your feet as early as possible. These foci can reduce and eventually replace much of the postural contortion that delays effective edge engagement and arc timing. When the edge rolls in to each turn by way of smaller movements, the gain in accuracy will improve grip and provide more time and area in which to channel/dissipate the extra momentum we see on ice.