Spring 2003
breakthroughonskis.com   
skitechnique
The myth
of edging
the secret problem
with steep slopes

  

On steeper terrain, in steep bumps for example, as in the illustration above, a skier will have a high natural edge angle just by standing more or less vertical. Any further edging will cause the skis to "lock" and run away. Instead, we need to release the grip of our edges on the steep slope in order to guide them easily and complete the arc of each turn

 

This winter, as an experiment, I asked a lot of ski students what they thought they needed to do in order to gain more control on steep slopes, really steep slopes, slopes steep enough to scare you a bit. Over half of these skiers said that they thought the trick was better edging, harder edging, more edging... Suspicions confirmed.

I take the opposite view, and I'd even go so far as to say that too much edging, over-edging or excess edge engagement is perhaps the biggest problem skiers face when slopes steepen. Let me explain:

Even without trying to edge one's skis, just standing straight on the side of modestly slanted slope, one has a "natural edge angle." That is to say, your skis are horizontal, and the slope meets them at a certain angle. The steeper the slope, the steeper this angle. In other words, the steeper the slope the more your skis will naturally be edged into it, by the very geometry of the slope itself, not by your own action of edging. As slopes get really steep, you wind up with skis that are biting into the surface of the snow at a remarkably strong angle. (Think of standing on the steep, scraped out side or flank of a big bump, for example.)

Given the high "natural" edge angle that skiers experience on very steep slopes, it turns out that we are always on the brink of having too much edging, If you get a little nervous, and tighten up, stiffen up just a bit (and who hasn't felt themselves tense up a bit on steep slopes?) then that extra tension, that tightness or stiffness, is transmitted right through your legs and feet to your skis and — presto — edge lock! Once the edges of your skis have "caught" on a steep slope, what's next? Acceleration for sure. The ride for life. All too typically for many skiers, nervousness about steep slopes becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. You tense up, the edges over-grip the snow, and suddenly your ski shoots ahead, right our from under you, when you would much rather be slowing down. Most skiers assume that more edging equals slowing down. Wrong. Most of the time, and especially on steep slopes, more edging can only speed you up

   

It may seem strange and counter-intuitive, but the steeper the slope, the more relaxed a skier needs to become. Tension, excess mucular tension, is our biggest problem on the steeps.
photo @ Linde Waidhofer

It's excess edge bite that makes your skis run out from under you on the steeps. And because the natural edge-angle is already so high on a steep slope, we are always just one moment of sudden muscle tension away from disaster. The answer is as obvious as it is hard to realize: relax to release the grip of your skis edges on the snow. And the steeper it gets, the more you have to relax, It seems counter-intuitive, but it's not an option, it's crucial. Yet I know, and you probably do too, that relaxing on a steep slope is easier said than done — so what's the trick? Fortunately, skiers have a special, technical way of relaxing, that doesn't depend on pretending you're not nervous on a double-black-diamond slope, or even banishing the butterflies from your stomach. We call it: sideslipping.

Sideslipping really begins and ends with relaxation, with releasing the muscular tension in your feet, allowing the edge grip of your skis to soften and give, and letting the skis slide and drift. Sideslipping is easy to practice on short steep pitches with no exposure, where you aren't psyched up or psyched out. And next time you find yourself on a scary steep pitch, instead of trying to talk yourself out of being scared, start your run with 15 or twenty feet of diagonal sideslipping, just to get in touch with what it takes to loosen your feet inside your boots, and then make sure you let your skis slip a bit in turn.

What? Sound like heresy? Isn't that just what we modern skiers are trying to avoid, slipping a bit on each turn. Aren't we the pure carving generation? Not entirely. Don't let carving become an ortthodox religion in your ski life.

Instead, just experiment with this idea of "letting go," relaxing your feet, and allowing your skis to slip or brush the snow when you find yourself on a slope that's too steep for comfort. I'm willing to bet it will make all the difference difference.

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 February-March 2003
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