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Advanced Skier Tip - Controlling Speed on Steep Terrain

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Man snow skiing
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When advancing skiers take on Black Diamond terrain they should have a strong knowledge of how to keep their speed under control as the terrain gets steeper. There is hardly anything more scary, or more dangerous, than being out of control and then having to make desperate skidding attempts to stop.

Martin Heckelman, in The New Guide to Skiing (p. 58 – 60), recognizes this problem for advancing skiers and addresses it with a set of exercises involving medium radius and short radius turns with sequential photos (photos 47A-D, 48A-D, and 50A-D) of himself skiing through the exercises.

In essence, Heckelman’s exercise relies on foot pressure applied to the downhill ski in varying degrees to use the time the ski is set into reverse camber to determine the distance between turns. The time and attitude in crossing the fall line will vary and control speed.

Martin's directions for applying and releasing foot pressure to control speed include:

  • Thinking of having two sponge balls underfoot and pretending to alternately compress and release the balls.
  • Compressing and releasing the sponge balls with a purposeful rhythm, left, right, left, right, etc.
  • Singing a rhythmic ditty such as “Tea for Two” to help make the ski compressions and releases an ingrained fluid technique.

Testers’ Execution and Evaluation

On the snow for these exercises were myself, Tom, and Katie. All advanced skiers, Tom and I average about 25 years of skiing experience, while Katie is a teenager with four years of youthful experience. We each, individually and apart, read and studied the exercises and photos directly from The New Guide to Skiing.

Practicing Radius Turns

We practiced the medium and short radius turns together on some Blue trails of varying width and steepness without discussing what we read. We then moved on to a Single Black trail that offered just the steepness and varying width we needed see what we each got out of the exercises. We would ski it through then return to the top and discuss what we thought, after which we would ski the same trail again, stopping at obvious terrain changes and talk out how we felt applying Heckelman’s technique at each point.

Focusing on the Narrows

As it turned out Tom was very comfortable with establishing the rhythm especially on the wider terrain. He had no problem with the steepness. He did have to really concentrate to keep it going in the narrows, as did I. We discussed making more commitment into the narrows and increasing pressure on odd or every other short turn. This saved energy and still gave us control and confidence.

Katie, who started skiing on shaped skis, had no problems with short turns at all. She kept good rhythm and pop in the narrows. She did find the medium length turns a bit hard on the legs as she had to hold her edge hard on the steep. Tom and I, being stronger, had no problem in the longer turns and everyone stayed with the "beat" and rolled over the knees through the turns.

Varying Turns While Keeping a Beat

Overall, Marty Heckelman does an excellent job creating this exercise to build a rhythmic approach to black terrain, teaching the skier to vary turns to terrain while keeping a beat. In the after-test critique the only complaint from Katie – she wanted to ski to her Ipod music and not "Tea for Two." Hey, if it works for her, or for you, I’m sure Marty Heckelman won’t mind this variation.

This exercise goes in the skier toolbox for future practice in different snow conditions.

For details on this exercise, as well as much more advice and tips for skiers, Marty Heckelman's The New Guide to Skiing (Buy Direct) is an excellent resource.

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