I know that it’s been almost 2 years since I posted. Actually, the one post I did try to write in the Fall of 2013 seems so out of date now, that I’ll have to reconsider how to get you the movies that Melissa, Jorge, and I made. But I digress…
At the Freeheel Festival at Bear Valley in March of 2014, instructor Ted (I don’t have his last name, sadly) had us concentrate on initiating each turn by consciously moving the front leg into the outside front of that boot. It’s a little hard to explain in words. Please bear with me, as this single exercise leads to a whole new universe in skiing smoothness.
Let me back up a little. As I’ve posted before, one way to get skis to move from old edge to new edge is to unweight the skis. While they are light, it’s easy to move both skis into a new turn. This is fundamental, old-style, parallel skiing.
Except, in most snows, especially groomed runs, you don’t really have to unweight modern skis! (I knew this when I wrote those pages. But it’s hard for most skiers to trust gravity sufficiently. A little upwards motion makes initiating a turn easier). All one has to do is to move ones center of gravity across the skis into the new turn and presto, chango, your skis will roll into the next turn.
Next time your on a chairlift, watch people change edges. Some of the truly great skiers will seem to float from turn to turn with very little upper body movement, in what appears to be an extremely efficient dance down the hill – even pretty steep slopes. At least some of them are rolling their skis into each new turn.
Every one else will be moving their body upwards, or swinging their hips in a jerk, or, as many advancing intermediates do, swiveling their skis into the next turn with their feet. The swivel is especially prevalent amongst skiers who are “in the back seat”, that is, whose center of gravity is too far back – they aren’t centered on their skis enough to get the skis to roll into the next turn.
OK, are you with me, so far? I said I’d explain the cat prowl, and I will. I promise.
If you didn’t know before, you now know that you can roll your skis into each turn simply by moving your center of gravity across the skis into the next turn. This is an advancing form of anticipation.
Ted had us start our ski roll by moving not only across the skis (which is usually somewhat down hill), but also, a little forward, too.
For instance, when turning to the right and you want to go left, the exercise had us move our downhill leg both outwards and forwards. Imagine that motion to be towards about 10:30 on a clock face (assume that 12 is straight forward, 6, straight back, 3 directly to the inside, and 9, directly across the ski to the outside, at right angles to the direction the ski is going). To make this work, your other leg has to follow along, in parallel. Otherwise the skis will go in 2 separate directions.
Since I’ve started initiating my turns by skiing on what will be the new inside ski (which becomes the back ski, right?), I’ve had the nastiest problem. When the turn starts, my foot is flat on the ski. Good! Except, that foot has to wind up pressing with the ball of the foot. There’s this horrible moment when I can no longer have weight on it, to get from flat foot pressing on the ski, to ball of foot pressing on the ski. Ugh! This has been very disconcerting for me.
I thought, in my inexperience, that this is just something with which every telemark skier must cope. But it is NOT! Yippee.
The beauty of moving a little forward as well as across the skis in order to start a turn, is that I get onto the front of my foot at the very beginning of the turn. I can weight that inner ski from the very first moment of the turn right on through to the end without any hiccups. Do you see the power of moving just a little bit forward?
As I played with this addition to my turn initiation, I discovered that I can essentially “prowl” down a slope (even a fairly steep slope!) very efficiently, getting onto that new inner ski right away and continuing right through the turn to the end.
The sooner that ones skis are turning, the more control one has. One of the markers of great ski control is what is described as, “getting an early edge”. In telemark, this is achieved by using the new inner ski by itself while the new front ski is being moved forward so that it can be weighted and added to the turn.
To help visualize what’s going on, last May (2014), I stuck my phone in the snow with the video recording running. Then I hiked back up and cat prowled down to the phone.
Image #1 shows me planting my pole for my new turn. I’m at the end of a right turn (as described, above). My pole plant guides my body towards that 10:30 spot on my downhill boot. #2 to shows me starting to move across my skis and a little bit forward. By #3, I think you can not only see that I’ve rolled my skis into the new turn, but it’s fairly obvious that I’m already on the front portion of my foot on the inside ski. My body comes across the skis and forward.
When I do this move, I actually concentrate on feeling for my new forefoot on the new inside ski. I don’t worry about clock positions, or anything complex like that. I’ve probably already drilled moving across the skis enough that I don’t really think about it. My other thigh follows the lead of the initiating one, as my legs work together. Again, I don’t think about this because it’s natural to me.
I move across and forward to reach for my new, inside forefoot. Image #4 I think clearly shows that I’m now skiing on the inside ski, using the front portion of my foot. You can probably see that the boot is canted a little bit upwards because I’m on my forefoot? I’m not really thinking much about the other ski at this point. Once I feel my inside ski edge, then I bring my other ski (the front ski) into play by moving it forward and then putting weight on it. In #4, my left leg is still a little behind my right. I don’t have any weight on it yet.
By #5, I’m skiing on both skis, well into my turn. I added #6 because you can see me reaching for the next pole plant. Except, I didn’t make another turn. I stopped because I was right in front of my phone. I didn’t want to leave it there in Woodchuck Basin.
The entire sequence of turns can be seen here:
Cats prowl by moving their body forwards, shoulders hunched. I hope that my shoulders aren’t really hunched? But still, there’s a prowly quality that some observers have noticed in this style of skiing. There’s very little up and down motion. Instead, I propel my body downhill into each new turn. It’s very efficient.
Happy January. There’s not much snow left below 8,000 feet in my slice of the Sierra Nevada. I hope that it starts snowing again, soon.