It’s Spring Again, Where’s the Corn?

As I recall my skiing for the season, it hasn’t been all that grand a year. With a warmer air current causing a higher snow level that has persisted through the season, backcountry skiing has alternated between rain crust breaking through to sodden snow and wind chilled ice. Certainly nothing to write home about.

But there have been some bright spots along the way. I’ve had a couple of gorgeous days between 8 and 9000 feet playing on sun drenched slopes. In each month from December through March, there have been at least a couple of fabulous corn days.

For those readers outside California, corn snow under blue skies is one of our best-kept secrets. It’s a great reason to skin up a few thousand vertical feet for the exquisite pleasure of sliding down on a surface that makes the best resort grooming seem lacking.

Corn is as smooth as silk and easy to turn on. Alongside the fabled but all too rare powder days (especially in California with its heavy, wet, new snow: “Sierra cement”), corn ranks as one of our best attributes. And, it’s dependable. Give a snowpack a few strong melts and refreeze cycles and then some good sunshine and you get corn snow. Melt re-freeze cycles typify the California mountains.

A friend took shot some video of my turns above Bee Gulch, mid-March, 2013.

While I’m not particularly embarrassed about my turns in the video, they’re certainly not perfect. At some point, I want to post about the “telemark bob”; that little upper body movement up and across the skis to start the new turn. Hopefully in this video, you’ll see a little of me doing that?

But, to be honest, in this video, I am making a consistent mistake. I wonder if anyone can spot it? Ah, the delights of seeing what I’m actually doing as opposed to what I think I’m doing. Video; ya gotta love it.

I’m not sure how much more California Spring skiing there’s going to be? We have the strangest configuration of snow that I’ve ever seen. The south and westerly facing slopes even up to 10,000 feet are almost completely bare. While, at the same time, it looks like a decent, mid-spring snowpack on the north and easterly facing slopes. For instance, the view from the top of the ridge at Bear Valley has a clear view of Flatiron Peak. It’s black on one side and white on the other right to the very top. Very strange. Finding a way up to the North aspects may be tricky. And, I don’t know that these will last?

I was at Mt. Lassen 2 weekends ago. Below 7500 feet, the snow was so rain-sodden as to bury my inside ski, mid-telemark turn. But, on north aspects higher up, the corn was flawless at Noon. The thought of no late Spring, early Summer skiing adventures is sad. We’ll see.

Oh, and by the way, remember to put down your climbing wires before you try to turn. My first couple of turns after a 2 hour climb were pretty funny. “Why can’t I balance on these skis? What’s wrong with me?”

I hope that where ever you are, Spring skiing is great or Autumn is fast approaching.

cheers,

/brook

Breaking Crust

Last sunday, I used my alpine touring (AT) set up.

I know, I know, “Not Telemarking, Brook?” Though we were on a quest for wind blown powder resting in the leeward trees, I knew that we were going to have to turn on iced sastrugi, refrozen hardpack, and breaking crust. (Notice, I did not write, “breakable”).

I’m confidant that I can parallel a jump turn hard enough into crust to cause a turn to develop. But I’m not confidant on how to smack the crust enough to break it with my  telemark turn. So, for safety’s sake, I elected to lock my heels down. Plus, my backcountry, telemark skis don’t hold an edge nearly as well as my front-side tele’s or my AT rig. The AT rig is, sadly, lighter than their telemark counterparts. I wanted to keep up with my fellow skiers. Lighter is always more energy efficient than heavier, yes?

Hence, my last minute decision to abandon my backcountry rig in favour of the AT gear. I’m thankful that I have choices.

On my second lap into Round Valley, I started to fall every couple of turns. “Am I that tired?” I even hit a tree (though with no consequences. I’m fine – not even a cut or scrape). Still, I soldiered down, laying a few series of linked S’s for my troubles. My friends took off up the hill, having waited for me. I put on my skins and started the climb out.

One of my skis immediately fell off. “OK, I know, I almost never ski this gear. I must have put it on wrong?” I’m not very skilled at getting the dynafit toes to click in.

My skill was not the problem. No matter what I did, try the other boot, manhandle the toe control, whatever, the binding toe was still loose on the boot. No forward, no backward, no up, no down. “Oh, no!”

I ended up boot packing all the way back up, carrying my skis (I wasn’t going to leave them behind!). In some places, waste deep powder. Generally, a 30° slope. That 800 feet was a very long climb, I can tell you.

Once back on the ridge, my party, wonderful (far more AT experienced) folks, played with the binding, knocking out ice, cranking on the toe control until it worked again. Is that normal?

I’m used to tele gear. If your boot goes in or the 3 pins click, you’re good to go, whatever happens. My friend, Robin teased me a few times, “If you’d had skied your tele gear, this wouldn’t have happened.” Yep.

Which brings me to the point. Do you know how to ski the kind of crust that isn’t strong enough to support turning skis, but which isn’t friable, doesn’t break easily, either? If you do, please comment here for our benefit or email me. I don’t know how do make that turn.

If I figure it out, I promise to post a description of whatever seems to work.

cheers

/brook

Better Balance

Better Balance

Since this season started, I’ve been struggling with getting into the “backseat”. That is, as I weight my back ski, I’ve had a tendency to use my upper body to put pressure on the back ski. Essentially, I start to lean back as the turn progresses. Bad.

In the telemark, a good upright upper body position, weight squarely between the feet, really helps. Watch great skiers. While the knees and ankles are working, and while angulated, even deeply angulated, the upper body seems to remain relatively still. In powder, this is particularly helpful.

Readers may remember that during my “lead change revolution” I had some trouble finding that front-to-back, balancing sweet spot? That issue came back with a vengeance at the beginning of the season and has been dogging me ever since.

After much telemark bliss while skiing snow fields last Spring, I’m fairly certain that I once again developed this issue because over the Summer, I’d been trying to get onto the ball of my foot rather than using my toes. Toes are not optimal. More foot, more control. And, control of the back ski is critical.

Two weeks ago, I stumbled upon a cure. Well, “stumbled” isn’t quite the word. “Danced”?

I started remaining a little higher after switching edges after initiating the new turn. Then, at some mysterious point when on the new edges, I’d sink into position. bingo, perfection.

Except, I wasn’t at all sure what I’d actually done?!?

Something having to do with up through edge change, then down to drive the turn through to completion. But what exactly? At the end of the day, I couldn’t say. Uh, oh…

On my next ski days, I had to deconstruct, then reconstruct my new technique so that I can repeat this magic every turn, every day.

What do I think I’m doing? I haven’t yet videoed this, so I could be mistaken. This description is from the inside out.

As described previously, the lead change is delayed until after the new inside ski has been edged. The new lead ski is brought forward and then weighted.

In order to initiate a turn, the body must move downhill. I use my pole plant for this. For telemark turns, I find that a definitive move of the hips downhill makes a better initiation.

In the movement downhill, I also release my edges, and thus, my angulation and knees. It looks like I move up. But that probably isn’t really true. I do come upwards a little bit. Standing is definitely counterproductive as the skis will float downhill gaining speed uncontrollably rather than rolling to the new edge.

As soon as I feel my new edges on the snow, and particularly the new inside edge, I angulate into the new turn. But I wait to go into the lower, telemark position until my new lead foot is moving forward.

As the new lead foot gets close to my comfort stance, I lower into telemark position and begin to ride the carve. And carve this turn will.

When I want a quicker turn, I lower and weight both skis much more quickly. Voilà! Short swing teles.

This slight change seems some sort of magic. I’m not at all sure of the effects on the skis, but it all sure makes beautiful arcs that are efficient and very sweet to ride.

Let me know what you think.

Cheers,

Brook

First Turns: Of Powder and Crust and Corn

First Turns: Of Powder and Crust and Corn

I’ve gotten a few days of skiing since the beginning of November, mostly
kicking and gliding through the woods. But I have had a couple of
telemarking adventures mixed in with my cross-country outings. I did miss
the 1st turns in October; I was out of the country in the Tropics. Darn!

Still, I returned to another storm. On the 2nd Sunday in November, there
was just enough snow near my home at 5,000 feet to climb up the hill a
block from the house. I stopped to admire the post-storm views then slid
back down to the road again. With only 6-10 inches of snow cover, I dodged rocks
and logs. Still, turns are turns – first turns of the season. Yea!

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving I headed out for a dawn patrol
before work. The snow was older by then and had received some rain. How
bad could it be?

dawn patrol

Skinning up at 7:30AM, the crust was slick but seemed firm enough to
support a sliding turn; no worries about getting back down (so I thought
as I climbed). At about 8,000 feet on a shady North Westerly aspect, I stumbled
upon 200 yards of untrammeled powder. Wow! First powder turns of
the season. Woo, hoo. After a couple of rounds up then down, it was
time to head down for work.

That firm crust? Not firm enough! As a turn would develop, one ski would
break through and come to a complete stop. My other ski and body of course kept moving. Sitzmark! I must have fallen at least 6-7 times. Not So Fun. “OK”, I
thought, “back to traipsing through the woods on whatever snow remains”. I admit it publicly, I do not know how to ski breaking crust. (I’ll take suggestions…)

This last Friday I checked the avalanche report for the weekend (“low”). Southerly aspects
receiving mid-day sun were predicted to warm up enough to form corn. Corn?
Early December? Really?

This is California, folks. If there’s snow that gets rained upon (or other slush
forming conditions), followed by a hard refreeze, when that firm crust sits in the
famed California Sun, we get corn snow. So, yeah, the conditions made
perfect, mid-day corn, just like late Spring, only later in the day with no sun cups.

Saturday around 11AM, I went in search of the fabled California corn. I
found 3 glades, one below the other, softening to about 1-2 inches. I had so much
fun that I planned my Sunday around a mid-day return. The
second day, my older lines had softened enough to ignore. (no ruts)

glade 2

Oh, and can I still turn my skis after the Summer break? (telemark turns
being what this blog is supposed to be about)

Well, every turn wasn’t picture perfect, I’ll admit.

I’m working on getting onto the ball of the back foot instead of balancing on the joint
between toes and foot. This shift is causing some front-to-back balance
issues.

Irrespective of how the lead and edge change is accomplished, the upper
body stance must remain balanced between the feet in order to keep weight
on the back foot. Lean forward to create an instant “doggie leg”. If it’s
not one thing it’s another. Once I remembered to angulate rather than lean, my turns became more consistent.

But, hey, a turn is a turn is a turn; it’s still early in the season, right? Last year’s lead change magic is still magic, especially on perfect corn on a blue bird day, 8,000 feet up
in the Central Sierras.

Life is good. Happy telemarks (or whatever your backcountry turn of
choice)

cheers

/brook

endofturn

 

 

 

What To Do During The Long Dry Summer?

What to do during the long, dry Summer?

Well, of course, there are all those wonderful Summer activities. Still, some of us just don’t know when to give up, yes? My last turns were taken June 23 on Hiram Peak. I picked my way down a 20 turn patch, twice, then walked down to catch 10 more on what remained on the steeper bit above Highland Lake. The end.

I’m sure I could have found more snow in California. I could have hiked all the way in to Leavitt Peak or up on Mt. Lassen. In August, I played the 4 & 20 Blackbird Festival in Weed, CA. As I passed Mt. Shasta, the leftover snow was calling, for sure. But I didn’t have skis with me, so, no turns.

Still, my Spring adventures did reward me with more information about the technical changes that I started working through at the Bear Valley Telemark Festival at the end of March. After the perfect corn snow starts to wither under the intensifying sun, sun cups  develop. It can be challenging to ski well developed sun cups.

sun cups

Well developed sun cups

Even if the snow is relatively soft, the skis bounce around on the edges of the cups. If the cups are big enough, my skis have even bounced from cup edge to edge. I have found it especially difficult to get from one turn to the next. My skis will bounce around, getting knocked so that each ski is going in a different direction. And these effects are most especially pronounced between turns, that delicate moment when the skis are light and being rolled from one edge to the next. Those dips in the snow will throw my skis around, willy nilly.

In the past, I’ve passed on skiing well cupped snow (as in the image, above). But not any more! Victory! Success! Free heel fun!

If you’ve been following my telemark turn lead change adventure, you’ll understand that dramatic changes have occurred in my telemark skiing since I started this blog. I’m chronicling my journey, here. Readers get my discoveries once I have come to understand them enough to explain.

I continued exploring my new lead change technique from mid-April through my last turns towards the end of June. I skied every weekend at least one day. During those runs, I ran into Spring snow conditions from frozen solid to mush, smooth to crumbly to (ugh!) well cupped. And here’s what I discovered.

An old trick becomes new again.

In modern skiing on shaped skis, telemark or parallel, all one need do to shift from one turn to the next is to roll the skis onto the new edge. This is ever more efficient than the old days with longer, straighter skis. In those days, it was “down-up-down”, with strong emphasis on the unweighting of the skis. Those straighter puppies would hook if you didn’t move them while they were really light.

Today, such gymnastics aren’t necessary so long as the snow is relatively consistent or well groomed. If a skier, expecially at speed, reaches down hill to start the turn and let’s his/her body follow, the skis will roll over to a new edge. The trick is to get into the angulated form (the ‘C’) as soon as the skis are on the new edge. Voilà, new turn starts, no big unweight required.

That said, there are conditions that benefit from unweighting and even turning the skis while light. Watch great skiers. The do come up between turns, at least a little bit.

And that’s what I added to defeat those sun cups baking into the California late Spring snow fields: a big unweight. My working theory is that the force of coming back down hard on my edge right at the start of the turn pushes into the snow with enough force such that the cups uneveness doesn’t have a chance to work the skis. And then, since I’m on edge right from the start of the turn (no sliding), I cut right through. It’s a theory. More importantly, it works.

telemark lead change

Sequence demonstrates starting turn with inner ski

  1.  I’m edging strongly to finish my turn. At the same time, I reach downhill with my pole to start the next.
  2. I allow the pole to bring my body up and off my skis while also projecting me a bit downhill towards my next turn. This is something I learned when I was a kid in alpine racing. You pass your pole and that automatically begins to raise the body off the skis.
  3. My skis are flat; I’m already starting to roll into the next turn. Note that my back ski from the last turn is still in back; While my stance has collapsed, I haven’t really begun to change lead skis. And also note how erect I am.
  4. The new turn is begun. You can see that I’ve edged the new inside ski quite a bit. I’m already starting to angulate into the new turn though I haven’t reached the fall line yet (the camera is directly downhill from me). Interestingly, my outside ski, still trailing, is still flat on the snow and going in a different direction. But since I have all my weight focused onto the inner ski, this “mistake” doesn’t actually cause any problems. That inside ski is already turning hard. The outside is just along for the ride at this moment.
  5. Both skis are now on edge and parallel. The outside ski has moved forward just a bit; it’s in motion. My body is angulated into the new turn. And, I’m finally in the fall line.
  6. You can see a plume from the inner ski. But there isn’t one from the outer (now, lead) ski. That’s because that outer ski still doesn’t have a lot of weight on it; it’s just beginning to come into play. Finally, I begin to get the magic of telemark: both skis working for me.
  7. And, I’m just about at the end of the turn. Both skis are turning, both are edged. I’m reaching out to start the next turn.

I’ll note that there’s one huge mistake in this sequence. I’m going to have to break my habit of skiing on my back foot’s toes. “On the ball of the back foot, the ball”. Next year! Watch this space.

Here’s the sequence of turns as I made them:

Lead Change on Sun Cups Turn Sequence

cheers,

/brook

Yikes! Avalanche

Saturday morning, April 21, 2012, I was skiing in Woodchuck Basin.

At about 10:30, I heard a great roar. I looked around and saw that some large snow blocks (“rollers”) had fallen off of the rocks at the top of the ridge. This avalanche was naturally triggered.

I had passed below that spot 15 minutes previous. For safety, I had gone down and considerbly out of the way as I passed that point. The avalanche prediction for the day was “considerable” for steep aspects receiving a lot of sun. Exactly where this snow let go. A picture is here.

Clearly, this a reminder that backcountry skiing has its dangers.

Just above 8,000 feet, there was some decent corn at 10AM. But 400 feet down, it was deep mush.

Thank you to the Sierra Avalanche Center for their daily advisory. Following the advisory probably kept me out of danger. If you ski in the Sierra’s, may I suggest that you donate? I have.

cheers

/brook

More Lead Changes

OK, readers may grow weary of my lead change rants. I apologize before hand.

But let me ask you all this:

If you can ride your edges through a turn, and pressure your back ski, what else is difficult in the turn?

I think that it’s the lead change. And my new lead change continues to amaze. I’m carving very early in the turn, which means skiing more in the fall line. I haven’t yet found a snow condition in which this lead change fails: hard pack to slush.

As I wrote in the last post, I was having trouble with being too far back.

I think that a lead change where one starts the turn on the outside edge of what will be the new back ski (currently as the turn starts, the front ski) probably predisposes to back seat turning.

Why? Because as the turn starts, one is balanced on one ski. The whole turn can be completed  without ever weighting the new front ski. When one moves that lead ski to the  front,  there’s no absolute need to move the weight forward onto both skis. It takes my body awareness and practice to adjust to this.

Here’s what I’ve discovered to smooth the process out.

The pole plant to going to take the upper body (and hopefully, the hips?) downhill to smoothly change edges. The skier is now balancing on one ski, which is already turning on its outside edge.

If I quickly move into an angulated position for the new turn, I’m balanced. Now I can slowly or quickly (as desired) bring in the lead ski. Both skis are now turning. And it’s easier to move my body forward to center between skis and weight both of them.

So, here’s the process:

  • The standard move downhill, as in any good modern parallel turn
  • Fluidly and rapidly move to the new angulated position (the “C” position)
  • Balance is stable and prepared.
  • The new lead ski is easily moved forward.

There’s less urge to continue in the back seat because I angulate over the back ski until I have a front ski, and the angulation just continues on to include both skis.

Like magic. I’m having fun.

There’s still snow in California. I had great Spring corn last Saturday. A Spring storm is on its way this week. Maybe powder this weekend?

cheers

/brook

Lead Change Revolution!

The Telemark Festival. Which one? The festival hosted at Bear Valley, put on by Mountain Adventure Seminars.

At the festival it was Friday with the “Pauls”. Maybe I should say “Saint Pauls”? (with all due respect to reverence of canonized Saints). These two amazing skiers and great instructors have revolutionized my lead change.

Yes folks, I survived the dual Paul onslaught; I’m living proof that your muscles can make it through countless one legged ski drills (where’s the ibuprofen?).

Profound, guys. Profound.

I’ve written a lot (too much?) about the telemark lead change. I believe what I’ve written still has a place. What I was doing delivers workable telemark turn initiation; what I’ve written seems fairly easy to understand. I might still turn this way from time to time?

But I’ve become a believer in 6 hours. Wow!

Here’s what I learned at the Telemark Festival 2012  (among so many other things, stay tuned!).

First, remember that the downhill (lead) ski at the end of a turn will be the back ski of the next turn. Also, for a moment consider telemark edges: the lead ski is on its inside edge. The back ski is on its outside edge. One of the more difficult telemark skills is typically learning to deliver sufficient pressure to the back, outside edge ski.

After starting with a monomark (nothing revolutonary about that), continue downhill to change edges, concentrating on the downhill ski as it begins to swing towards the fall line. As soon as possible, the skier edges and then pressures the new inside ski (what had been the downhill ski); the new turn is started on the outside edge of the new inside ski. This ski is going to wind up as the back ski. The new lead ski has not yet been brought into play. The new outside ski is just following along during turn initiation and edge change.

Gently, bring the new lead ski forward while continuing to turn on the inside, back ski. As the lead ski comes forward, begin to pressure it, adding that front ski’s inside edge to the turn. As your telemark stance is approached, pressure can be distributed as appropriate for conditions.

One of the Pauls described this as having the outside ski describe an arc around the inside. Initiate the turn with the inside, back ski. The outside ski moves around the pivot of the inside ski.

Yes, I just did write: “bring your lead ski forward”. I have watched and wondered how truly great tele skiers seem to be doing exactly what I was told NOT TO DO: push the lead ski forward?!?

Paradox?

Not really. There is a major difference here. This is not a lunge then turn. Nor is it a quick shuffle while off edge (diving for the fall line).

Most of us shuffle, perhaps with a little twist across the fall line to get onto the new edge and into the new arc. After starting from a mono-mark, we shuffle and twist, setting our skis onto their new edges. It works.

What I was taught through a full day’s progression of exercises was to roll onto my outside edge at the very beginning of the turn. In my (limited) experience (I’m still very much practicing. I’m no expert), the new back ski is pressured throughout the turn, start-to-finish. One brings the outside (lead) ski into the turn along the way, completing the turn on both skis, as in any telemark. In other words, one is in a controlled turn just at or right after the moment of initiation. I can get onto a turning edge a split second after moving my body downhill in a classic monomark.

One of Paul Parker’s advanced tips from Free Heel Skiing is to “steer with the rear ski.” He describes this as concentrating on the rear ski as the initiator and steering mechanism for a turn. I’ve been trying that with some success. After my lesson, I think that he is actually describing this same thing: starting the turn from the back ski, as I learned last Friday.

Sunday, I was in backcountry powder all day. Did this lead change strategy work effectively? You bet. Saturday afternoon, I grabbed some sun-warmed, off-piste slush. Did the lead change work? Yum! Sweet arcs slashing right through the heavy, deep corn.

I know that I have a lot to learn. I’m getting thrown into the “back seat” occaissionally. Another teacher noted that I’m not consistently in the fall line and am no longer angulating consistently. Yep, this change has messed everything up. Learning! Two steps forward, one step back.

I’ll have to groove this until I no longer need think about it. Can you say, “exercises on the beginner slope”?

What remaining place does “Taming The Wild Lead Change” have? I’m currently considering some of the reasons that this early inside ski edge and pressure is not taught to beginners. Perhaps it is not taught because a skier is ready if she/he is:

  • fairly competent at making a monomark
  • capable of skiing on one ski
  • capable of pressuring the inside ski consistently and strongly
  • comfortable with turning on the outside edge alone
  • very comfortable starting turns with a downhill shift of weight

These tend to be advancing skills. Hence, typical lessons don’t include much about this lead change strategy (that I’ve heard?).

Plus, since so very many skiers are still attempting telemarks with an old-fashioned move, “push the new front ski forward, then turn on the front ski”, much current teaching language and practice is focused on discouraging the lunge into “position” before initiating a turn. Any lead change strategy that begins with a monomark is likely to be more stable and dynamic than the old way. Learning to change edges by leaning downhill moves most skiers towards a better turn. That’s not bad.

Given the limits of what a person can learn easily, perhaps most of us mere mortals have to wait until we can thrash our way down the steeps before we can elegantly glide, as Paul Peterson does?

When asked by Paul Petersen, “What do you want from today?” I answered, “to get on my edge early in my turn.” Mission accomplished! Thank you, “Saints” Paul I & II.

Thank you for riding along with my telemark journey. I’ll post tidbits as I learn them.

cheers

/brook

Is It Really Equipment?

About a month ago, I spent the morning struggling to deliver any power to my turns and to find my balance. My thighs were aching. My internal dialog was unprintable!

  • “What is wrong with me? I can’t keep contact with the front of my boot”
  • “Reach for a pinch; more angulation”
  • “Press that back ski; steer it”
  • “Get on edge earlier”
  • “Slow your lead change”

Sound familiar? How, how I can yell at myself (quieting my internal dialog is an entirely different story – probably Too Much Information?)

I quit for lunch, reached down to put my boots in “walk” mode. Guess what? Already there! I had skied the entire morning with no help from my boot shells.

No wonder I couldn’t find the front of my boots. No wonder I couldn’t maintain balance. No wonder my muscles hurt. I’d been compensating for hours.

“Follow me”, “Don’t suck”, “Put your boots in ski mode

Um, sometimes it really might be your equipment?

Let’s face it, higher boots in heavier bindings drive skis more easily. Big, fat skis smash through mank.

Versus high boots and heavier bindings on fat skis, some of us (me!) telemark partly because the equipment is lighter, much easier on the body for a full day of dancing with gravity.

I’ve chosen equipment that’s on the light side for the kind of skiing that I like (steeper, deep) because I don’t want to be exhausted by the effort. It’s a trade-off that we each have to make (unless you can afford multiples of everything and don’t mind hauling all that around so that you can choose the right gear for any particular set of circumstances? I have too many skis and boots as it is!)

I use a medium boot (3 buckle) that’s extremely comfortable for both kicking and gliding (climbing) in the backcountry and will allow me to have fun coming down. (you can see which one in some of the photos here. No product endorsements)

But sometimes one little adjustment can make a profound difference. I put a booster strap on when skiing in-bounds. It’s almost like a fourth buckle. Plus, my boots tend to “open up” when I’m skiing down for hours when I won’t be changing from climb to ski every little while (which is what happens in the backcountry, yes?) Using an extra power strap eliminates the “opening up” problem at my shin, allowing me to forget about boots and concentrate on skiing. (This idea came from infamous Paul, the now defunct Berkeley Marmot Mountain Works master boot fitter, by the way. Thanks, Paul!)

I was skiing with some folks using lighter 2 buckle boots. Great equipment for climbing and then taking a few modest descents. But I’m wondering if some if the difficulties  with steeper, hardpacked terrain might have been due to those low, softer boots? When I put on lighter equipment, It’s a lot more work. Gravity will have its way. (I occaisionally go out for a spin in the woods on my old, Snowfield leather boots. I can make them turn. It’s not necessarily pretty)

Telemark equipment has been changing dramatically. Mostly, I believe these changes make it all easier. There does seem the possibility of making a reasonable compromise?

And, to the point, all the great equipment in the world won’t make up for not using it properly.  Apparently, I need to pay a little closer attention before leaping into my day?

cheers

/brook

Back Seat Pressure

“Sit on the back ski”.

Have you been told this or read it somewhere?

In my experience, this is good advice; yes that’s how it works. But, it’s a gross over-simplification.

To pressure the back ski correctly requires a few other things to be in place. And, to do this in isolation of other factors takes the skier out of the dynamic process that takes advantage of the physics of the turning ski.

The best description of the telemark turn process that I’ve heard so far is in Unparalleled Productions’ telemark instruction video, “Free Time”. Additionally, for those with a more analytical bent, some scientifc analysis has been done on the pressuring techniques of Telemark Demo Team skier, Jimmy Ludlow.

In “Free Time”, pressure is described as moving from front ski to back. It is a “smooth” process, not a sudden jerk, or slam. The timing of the process is dependent upon the type of turn that is intended: quick “check” turns, vs. short-radius, fall-line turns, vs. long radius carvers. Each of these has a different pressure rhythm and gradient to it.

The “Free Time” skiers describe the process as “moving pressure from front ski to back ski”. In fact, one of the points made in the video is that over pressuring the back ski, especially very early in the turn, will result in a side-slip instead of a carve. “Carve” here meaning a controlled arc. This is in line with the following statement:

“Generally, it is desirable to start the pure carving action early in the turn. This will be possible only when the skier can establish “early pressure” with the dominant ski(s)….The skilled skier will do this while maintaining sufficient ankle bend to provide enough tip pressure so as to lead the carving ski(s) into the turn.
~Adapted from the U.S. National Ski Team’s Technical Statement

I was riding a lift at Mount Rose on a cold, overcast, blustery, hard packed day. I chanced to sit next to a professional telemark racer who was also free skiing the mountain. We got to talking and he said something like, “you definitely have to drive with the front foot in this snow.”

Still, even in light of all this sage wisdom, I actually don’t think of the process as starting on my front ski.

I don’t know. Maybe that’s what’s scientifically happening? I don’t have the equipment that was put into Jimmy Ludow’s boots to allow me to analyze my precise patterns. Instead, I have to rely on my senses, on my somatic experience. And my senses don’t scream “front ski” at the start of my turn. I’m feeling for both skis, and specifically, “feeling for edges”.

What I experience is that both skis begin turning in response to the return of my weight after I’ved changed edges and lead ski (up shuffle).

In fact, I used to start my turn entirely with the front ski. The back ski is flopped down behind the front ski after the turn is well along. This manouveur does accomplish a quick change of direction. But I experience turning on the front ski as instability. When I observe other skiers using this technique, I see them slide with the skis across the fall line, an uncontrolled slide. Not at all what I want in my skiing.

So when should one apply pressure to that back ski?

One solution is the “peanut butter spread”. It can be very useful to begin to pressure both skis as they are moving away from each other; timing the pressuring to just after the feet have passed during the lead ski change. This is described in Allen & Mikes Really Cool Telemark Tips book as “spread peanut butter”. This isn’t carving. In fact, it’s a controlled slide that rapidly creates a direction change because the slide is happening to both skis at once. Though each ski is sliding in a different direction (one forward, one backwards), still, both skis are edged together, so they both turn in the same direction. The skis have to be on the “new” edge; that is, the new turn has already started before one can perform a “spread” garland like this.

In soft snow, as in skiing in powder, I find that this a great technique for getting the turn started. Performing a spread may even be sufficient when powder is deep or turn radius is short.

Useful as it may be, the “spread” is not a required part of the turn. It’s a handy technique to apply. I think spreading makes a strong turn beginning, adding an extra oomph to get the skis into the new direction. But it’s not the whole turn. I want to carve. And, I don’t use a spreading garland at all for my big radius, long carved turns.

Even more to the point, I have found using only a spreading motion is entirely insufficient on steeper slopes. There’s just too much sliding for me. I’m not strong enough to absorb that much gravity comfortably (though I’ve seen plenty of stronger skiers who can). I need a more controlled turn. This is even more critical for me when I’m in the trees, where any amount of uncontrolled slide might smack me into something I want to ski around. But then, I’m a very careful tree skier.

The control I seek can be gained through a process of putting more pressure on the back ski as the turn progresses. Let me explain what works for me.

There are two basic forms of the pressure gradient: quick, for short radius turns, and steady for long carvers.

First, I find that I cannot easily pressure my back ski unless my posture is quite erect. Posture is my key for my ability to deliver power to my back ski1.

Try standing in a telemark position off-snow. Experiement with where your hips are, front to back until you feel that your weight is evenly distributed between your legs. Move your hips forward and back to feel the weight shift, then come to center.

Now, let your back roll into a little bit of a forward curve, like a very mild slouch. Let your shoulders drop and roll forward a little. The small of your back will be more or less straight, even slightly rolled forward. Let your hips crack so that your chest is a little forward, perhaps above your forward knee. This is actually a fairly typical parallel skiing stance, “soft shoulder,  athletic stance” as I’ve heard it described. Doing this, I feel no dramatic shift in my weight distribution, if my hips are centered between my feet. My weight seems to be evenly distributed. I used to telemark like this, and it worked fine, except it was hard to get caving weight on my back ski when gravity forces were stronger.

Now, straighten your spine and shoulders into a very upright posture, as though standing to attention. Don’t change your legs. Do you feel it? Immediately, I can feel extra weight on my back foot. It’s like magic. The upright posture easily allows me to put extra pressure on the rear foot. From this position, I find it trivial and efficient to vary the amount of pressure on my rear foot from “light” to bearing down. I can make this variance without changing the relationship of my hips to my legs. I imagine that this is what “sit on the back foot” means.

Let me explain how I put my posture and weighting to use on skis.

After I’ve changed lead skis, I will start to feel my weight return to both skis. The skis will start to turn. I should have already started to angulate (making the ‘C’ with your body). I shift my attention to my back ski. At all times, I try to keep my posture more erect than I typically might when parallel skiing.

After I’ve shuffled to change lead skis, which involves having the skis light and unweighted, my weight comes back down onto the skis. I concentrate on being centered, front to back. As I feel the skis bite in and start to turn, as they begin to react to the pressure of my weight, I begin to gradually apply more weight to the back ski.

How much weight on the back ski and how quickly?

I believe that each movement on skis should always be a process. Understanding this takes somatic awareness. I’m not saying that it can’t be fast. The pressure can be applied quickly, just not all at once. I ease into it. I first practiced this slowly until I got the feel. Then I could speed it up for faster, fall-line turns.

If I’m going to carve a long turn, I keep the pressure steady at the carving arc that I want to follow until I’m ready to finish the turn. If it’s a short swing, then the back leg weighting gradually increases until the skis bite.

As I experience it, skis don’t bite from pressure alone. At the end of my turn, I’m also steering a tighter turn with my feet. I feel the pressure to the inside of the turn with my feet and ankles. And, of course, I’m edging more through increasing angulation. These 3 activities are happening at the same time, in concert with each other:

  1. back leg pressure
  2. tighter steering
  3. increased edging

The combination of these 3 processes together causes the skis to turn more extremely, which causes a noticiable bite, grip, a slow down of the skis. This bite is the end of the turn, or more precisely, the finish of the turn. This is the “check” that slows my speed and gives me control, even on the steepest slope.

If I want a very fast check turn, then I perform this pressured, steered edge as soon as I feel my new edges in the snow 2. Again, I try not to slam my skis. I let the ski check itself in response to steered, edged pressure.

When I feel the skis bite into the snow, that’s the end of the turn. The skis seem to grip the snow as though of their own volition. It’s a function I believe of effective edging, pressuring, and steering, as I’ve tried to explain, above. Control does not result from slamming down onto the ski. That causes a slide, not the tight finish for which I’m looking. And, of course, the finishing “check” is the beginning of the next turn, as I reach out and down to plant my pole. Which naturally and organically causes me to release my edges in preparation for the next turn.

cheers

/brook

Footnotes

  1. I discovered this posture trick quite accidentally after taking a parallel powder lesson (free heel, but parallel turns) with Kami at Mountain Adventure Seminars (MAS). Kami stressed maintaining an upright posture in the powder. She called it, “engaging the small of your back”. 2 months later, I was in some very dense Spring powder in Colorado. Having some trouble, I remembered the upright stance. Suddenly I was able to power through not only the untracked powder, but through the mashed potatoes left behind by the other skiers. I had a serious “aha!” moment where the relationship between posture and my back ski clicked.
  2. I probably won’t hit the check as hard as I might at the end of a fast, long radius turn, or as I might in a series of fall-line, short radius turns on a steep pitch.