midwinter 2006





Skiing with the mountain? or against it?...

Think about skiers you know. Good skiers, better skiers, learning skiers, probably some awkward skiers, skiers who just seem to hang on, and other skiers, of course, those skiers you really admire, skiers who dazzle you when they ski by, who always seem to be floating, flying, as they glide past you, even on the toughest slopes, and who never stop smiling no matter how gnarly the conditions. These last skiers, I know, are a minority. But an important minority. They are good athletes, they must be. But do they know something you don’t? Is there a secret behind their astonishing sense of harmony with the mountain?

I think there is, and maybe I have already let the cat out of the bag when I mentioned their sense of harmony with the mountain. This special breed of skier is usually skiing with the terrain, not against it. But what exactly do I mean by that?

Skiing with the mountain means adapting your movement patterns (maybe we could say, your skiing strategy, to the terrain in front of you. You are on a narrow, steep trail — then tight, linked, short turns, right down the fall line, seem like a natural response. But if you have just skied into a vast open bowl, the natural response is to “open up” your skiing style to match — long, wide, slowly arcing turns that used up lots of space, seem much more in harmony with the terrain.

Mountains, and ski slopes, are not uniform smooth flat inclined planes, but rather a constantly changing texture of bumps and hollows. No I don’t mean moguls. I mean big rolls, and dips, convex and concave areas on the same slope. Skilled skiers can feel the different pressures produced by these rolls and hollows in the soles of their feet. You go over a big hump, a roll in the terrain, and you feel light. Pressure against the bottom of your skis decreases as you pass the crest of such rolls. A natural spot to turn, to turn with no effort at all. Whereas in a hollow part of the slope, pressure increases and your skis would rather track than turn. Sounds a little anthropomorphic doesn’t it. How can one say that skis would rather do this than that? But you know what I mean.

Skiing with the mountain means skiing with the way the slope is changing, and most ski slopes are constantly changing. Transitions from steep to flat and vice versa are an obvious example: You are making short well controlled turns down a steep face but just ahead things flatten out. Why stay locked into that pattern of short turns. Start changing you line before you have to. Loosen up those last few turns on the steep and keep you speed up as you shoot our into the flats....

And maybe that is the heart of it. Don’t ski like a robot, dialing in your turn, radius and speed, and stick with it as the mountain changes, as your run takes you from one slope to the next. One snowy reality to the next. Tennis, like so many other sports, is played on a court. The court doesn’t change. It’s dimensions, its lines, its shape, are always the same. The mountains we love to ski are always different, always changing. And skiing with the mountain, not at cross purposes to it, means that we have to change gears as the mountain changes. Even on a stormy low visibility day the mountain offers clues, shadows to indicate those all important rolls and hollows, gullies, faces, ridgelines, and man made shapes too, of course, those moguls and catwalks created by man and machine.

Look for clues, feel the mountain changing underfoot, and experiment with runs where you make fewer decisions, runs where you let the slope not your ego suggest how you’ll ski it, runs where you really go with the flow.

  midwinter 2006
photos above: the big shapes: ridgelines, cornices, drop-offs, open alpine bowls.
photos © Linde Waidhofer


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