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Truth In Ice: Line Change 1

7th in a multi-part series on skiing/snowboarding on hard snow.

The endless, arc-to arc-to-arc razor line is The Goal for many riders. This is all well and good until your sidewalk ends. Could be you misjudged your line. Could be there’s an elk crossing the trail in your intended path.

Whatever the surprise, you need to change course without covering a lot of ground.


The intuitive thing to do is hit the brakes; throwing it sideways with a classic speed check and hoping for the best. There’s usually not much to dig into on really hard snow, so that’s pinning a lot on hope.

The non-intuitive thing to do is to remain ‘throttle on’ and power out of the situation. This requires either an extremely rapid, accurate and compact arc change with minimal grip disruption, or the use of an effective skid variant. The former conserves and channels energy. The latter alters the line of travel and generates enough friction to slow down without impairing handling, or dumping all of the useful energy from the system.

Both of these options avoid the bracing posture of the braking speed check. Braced legs tie the upper body mass to the working edge, which tends to jar loose the edge from the surface. Supple legs, by comparison, allow the edge to track better over ice.

Given their design, boards generally engage the snow better when they are doing more gliding and less skidding. A ski or snowboard skids when movement on the long axis becomes movement on the short axis.

Skid is commonly understood as pivoting a ‘flat’ snowboard or ski at low speed in the novice/intermediate context, often as the steering or braking method of expediency. This maneuver is surface dependent, incorporates several discrete sequential actions, and generates a quantity of rotational inertia which has to be absorbed somehow.

The sequence:

  • Briefly anchor an edge (momentary edge set).
  • Use that anchor as a base from which to swing upper body mass in the direction the platform should point.
  • Release the edge/anchor to rotate the platform. The rotation is driven by upper body momentum translated to the lower extremities.
  • When the platform is pointing in the right direction, resolve to cancel resultant rotational inertia by establishing a secondary anchorage. This can consume significant area, more so at higher speeds on harder surfaces.
  • Alternately, decisively weight the front foot and then kick the rear foot sideways.

>The classic speed check makes use of mass/ momentum as the initial anchorage.

It should be apparent that this kind of skid, while useful, is not particularly effective beyond moderate speed.

Or when the snow is extremely slick.

It may work ok as a one-shot attempt to stop, or dump speed in the fall-line, but not so much if the intent is to ride smoothly away from the scene.

Small wonder then, that ‘skidding’ is considered anathema to good riding.

However, a deft skid under active propulsion is a most useful tool for direction change, regardless of platform. Finding stability in ‘unstable’ situations, being effective with less than ideal footing, is essential to achieving higher performance in many contexts.

One of the easier examples to view and grasp is how cars are piloted on the WRC rally circuit, where the drivers power skid and drift constantly through the corners on dirt, snow, ice, and pavement. That’s a state of normal that would terrify the average commuter.

Given the significant edge angle between the board and the surface during a typical carved turn, the idea of skidding with dexterity might seem unrealistic. However, the mechanics involved in skidding at higher edge angles are significantly different (and less complex) than those used to skid when the board is nearly flat to the snow.

A carved turn requires reasonably consistent platform bend. In other words, for the trailing end of the board to follow the path inscribed by the leading end, the trailing end needs to receive edge and pressure inputs similar to what the leading end receives.

At higher edge angles, different edge angle engagement from tip to tail will usually result in some form of speed wobble, but the tail will still follow the tip.

If the tail end of the board is not seeing enough pressure, if it’s not flexed enough to follow the path established by the leading end of the board, that part of the platform has no choice but to ‘leave the arc’. The back end of the board will then gradually swings off on a tangent, generating friction as the edge moves sideways to the original direction of travel. Meanwhile, the board begins a slow pivot around the locus of grip, as that locus traces a drifted arc across the snow.

Therefore, at higher edge angles, net pressure distribution is the input most likely to affect turn quality. Manipulation of net pressure can ensure that the board maintains grip by moving forward more than it moves sideways.

If a skid at high edge angle can be generated simply by relocating significant bend from the middle of the board to the front, it follows that the disrupted arc can be restored by moving the bend rearward again, so long as there is enough momentum left in the system. Movement from rear foot to front foot, front foot to rear foot is mass moving along the arc, and does not generate rotational inertia. The amount of friction generated can be closely controlled by modulating pressure from foot to foot, and it’s possible to generate that friction without fully dissipating all of the energy stored in the board. Residual energy can then be used in place of muscle to manipulate the platform, to regain the arc through rebound.

Next: Truth In Ice: Line Change 2.

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