Chapter 6 – Snow
Most ski teachers never really talk about snow. The white stuff that is infinitely variable and the vehicle that we ride on. What about snow? Recognising different types of Snow is the key to becoming an advanced skier. Our snow boarder friends have a big advantage here, a snow board floats much easier on the snow where as a skier will sink more into it. This means that as skiers we need to be able to react much quicker to the different snow as it will have more effect on us. For now we will look at four main types of snow: Ice, groomed, crud, and powder. Once we have learned the slight modifications in body position and technique for the different snow types we can have fun in all different conditions.
Most intermediates hate ice. This is because as usual when the going gets tough out comes the old snow plough again. As we already know the snow plough is a weak technique, and is useless on ice. Ice can be easy to ski on as it is very predictable (smooth and slippery) we just need to learn how. A good example of something that works on ice, is an ice skate. You couldn’t say that an ice skater has no control on ice. So how can it work for them? The key is simple, the ice skate travels in the same direction as the movement, and we can do the same with the ski. Before we go into detail on how to really ski ice let me give you and alternative. Linked stopping, our first very technique learned. Linked stopping works very well on ice if the slope is a bit steep for you and you can’t use the proper ice skating method. Because we are now balanced over our skis we can slide all day during our stop and never fall over we can even be quite relaxed and just let em’ slide as we know that we can stop at any time by digging in our edges. Another myth is that we need razor sharp edges to ski on ice, this is in fact the opposite. If our edges are too sharp when we slide they tend to catch and make it difficult to control. It is only racers that need razor sharp edges as they can ski without skidding, they are heading straight down the hill (90mph? not yet anyway!).
So back to our ice skate method. The harder the snow pack the more the ski should travel in the same direction as the motion i.e. no slipping in the turn. Take a ski off and slide it on the ice on its edge, it’s amazing just how much grip there is. You still can’t turn as tightly as normal and therefore your speed will increase. The good thing is that because the ice is very predictable, so we can go faster without fear of being caught out( i.e. no bumps). If you don’t like the sound of this then stick to linked stopping but if not try this on a nice clear blue or green run. Long radius carving turns are the key, as our balance is in the centre the ski shouldn’t skid out at the tips or tails. Try to ski mainly on one ski (outside ski), more so than normal make a conscious effort. This is because if you have most of your weight on one ski it will have more force on it and grip better. On ice the skier has a huge advantage over the snowboarder and that is that we can really commit to our edge. This is because if we overdo it and the ski skids out we have a back up ski ready and waiting to save us (the uphill ski). Ice is the snowboarders worst nightmare but for us it can be fun. Skiing on ice it is vital that we stay centred over the ski, during the turn there is a tendency to move back a little so to combat this make sure that you are low and wide. But remember how to get low by bending the ankles and edging the skis.
The secret to really holding an edge on ice is in a very subtle sliding to the outside ski forward about 2cm during the turn. This is equivalent to trying to cut a tomato with a blunt knife, if you slide the knife forwards it cuts much better. This feeling is amazing, you wouldn’t believe that such a small movement makes so much difference. This is a slow progressive slide throughout the whole turn and also works well on the groomed during long carved turns. The reason this works so well is because during the turn our outside ski travels further than our inside ski (the outside of a circle is longer than the inside) and therefore we need to catch up with our outside ski. When we try to slide out ski forwards the ski doesn’t actually slide at all what happens is that our body moves forwards. Try this at home, in your bare feet try to slide one foot forwards but without sliding it, what happens is that you body moves forwards. That’s it we have caught up with our ski and our weight remains central to the ski. If we didn’t do this subtle action we would know be on the backs of our skis and skidding out.
Make sure that you practice on a gentle slope where you would be comfortable skiing straight down otherwise you risk too much speed.
This is the unnaturally flat snow that we see each morning after the grooming machines have worked all night. Great fun for first tracks, use this clean snow as a guide to how well you are skiing. Ski four or five turns and then stop, look back up at your tracks. If you have been carving nice round turns you should see two nice clean lines (rails), if you have been washing out your turns by skidding a little you will have left two wide tracks. If so try again and perhaps try a little foot sliding the hold your edge. It’s a good idea if you have a quite first run in the morning to let it rip a little faster, the snow is smooth and it’s safer as there are less people. It’s good to be comfortable with a little extra speed because every now and then you might find yourself going too fast and it’s much better if you have experienced this first in controlled conditions.
Crud is the description of heavy wet lumpy snow. Crud can sometimes disguise itself as powder so watch out you could be fooled. A good way to tell is to make a snowball, if it makes a snowball then it’s crud, if it breaks up then it’s powder. Crud snow is great for a snowboarder, the large surface area of a board and the smooth long turns make it some of the best snow second only to powder. There is no reason why we can’t copy the boarder and head for the crud, the other great thing is that our intermediate friends can’t ski in this heavy snow so the slopes are quite. Also this is real knee brace stuff, if you are in a snowplough position and you fall your skis wont move and you can easy twist a knee. But for us we can do it the safe way, the snow boarders way. Crud for the skier requires a small adjustment in height and a more two-ski platform. Firstly due to the inconsistent nature of the snow it creates a varying resistance on the ski. This in turn slows the ski down and if we were in our neutral position this rapid deceleration cases your head to jerk forward or at worst a face plant. So we need to lower our hip height to about fifty-percent, make this your ‘crud neutral position’ and never go above fifty percent in height. This lower centre of gravity allows your shins to adsorb the force of the variable snow. As we edge both skis your height naturally lowers some more during the turn. Also we need to start from a two-ski platform, this is required to eliminate ski deflection during the weak part of the turn. Imagine hitting a large lump of crud with your skis, if you only had weight on one ski like in the ice, your weak uphill ski would be knocked off line and spin you round. With the weight on two skis at the beginning of the turn this is eliminated. Don’t try to turn too much in this heavy snow let the skis do their stuff, speed is also a key to long radius crud turns. If you are going to slow your legs wont react like shock absorbers, you need to be relaxed and low and just let the snow buffet your lower legs while you enjoy the ride. Stopping can be hard in crud, as you can’t use your normal hockey stop because you can’t slide in this lumpy stuff. To stop just keep turning up the hill, this always works!
If it’s to steep for long radius turns you will need to use a jump turn but more on these expert foot thrusting turns later.
If the snow won’t make a snowball then it’s powder. The stuff of dreams, or nightmares, real powder is very easy to ski in but still alludes most intermediates. The reason is simple, balance. Because most intermediates are not in balance i.e. poles pointing behind, hips sliding side ways during the turn, and shoulder throwing, powder becomes almost impossible. In powder you are floating in the snow instead of skiing on a hard surface covered with snow. As you are floating any discrepancies in balance are magnified and you’ve guessed it, face plant! We can learn most from the snow boarders the masters of powder. A snow board floats so much better than skis in powder although new school skis are much wider now. Also unlike on the piste where we edge to turn, we can’t in powder, as there is nothing to edge on. Later on we will cover advanced powder skiing but for now we will just get you going. Powder skiing requires that we turn our skis into a snow board i.e. ski as if we only had one large ski. The first this we need to learn is how to bounce a little. As soon as you enter a powder field just keep going straight and push both of your skis down into the snow keeping perfectly balanced and low a little like the crud position. This pushing down into the snow compresses the snow a little and in turn pushes you back up again. This drill really helps you find your balance in the powder. Once you have mastered bobbing along try the same thing but with a little angle to your landing. This will turn you very slightly, then try alternating the direction of your push, arms out wide, low body position. The key to really enjoying powder is a little extra speed, this is because like a water skier you won’t float unless you are going fast enough. Fortunately due to the extra drag of the powder you can ski down steeper runs and still not gain any more speed. If you do fall (and you will) and loose a ski use the other ski or pole and drag it sideways through the snow working you way back up the hill to where you fell.
5) How to find the good snow:
Knowing where the good snow is at different times of the day can make the difference between a good day and a bad one. Before you set out in the morning take time to think about the snow. If it has been one of those bitterly cold nights then the snow on the piste will be like rock hard boiler plate in the morning. So you need to head for the slopes that get the first sun, after about an hour the snow will start to get to soft so it’s time to move on. I basically follow the sun around the whole resort. Equally at the end of the day when the snow is getting heavy, hunt out any slopes that have been in the shade all day and you could find some perfect snow. Also think about the other skiers, if you have just had a perfect run back to the resort first lift, don’t be tempted to do it again as the crowds will catch you up. Instead move on away from the resort and that way you are always one step ahead of a lift queue (Lift Line). This is even more important on a powder day, keep moving away from the main resort and you can bag fresh tracks all day. Some times I even forgo a good power run to stay that one step ahead, Ski the easily accessible runs first as they will get tracked out first, then move on the more exposed or inaccessible runs later.
Skiing when the fog, mist, or cloud has come down can be very intimidating. Flat light as it is known is where the eye can’t make out any bumps or troughs. The secret is to head for the trees, not nesacerely in the trees but tree lined runs. The trees at the side of the piste will give some definition the run and make it a lot easier to ski.
If there are no tree lined runs, then ski right at the edge of the piste where the route markers are. These can supply just enough definition to have a good run. If it is really bad then ski in a long radius crud position. That way you are in your strongest position low and wide (and relaxed) you can’t see what’s coming, but from this position you can adsorb the bumps and extend into the troughs. Try it, it really works!