Increasing ski performance in heavy snow |

Increasing ski performance in heavy snow

Cathy Howard/Provided to the SunNASTC's Jenny Fellows stays in the fall line for big turns at Sugar Bowl.

Every run has its own challenges, and unless you have a tactic that can gobble vertical and maintain rhythm, a long pitch of heavy powder can be an energy sucker.

Many European resorts have 7,000-plus feet of vertical where conditions can vary from light, dry powder to wet glop and everything in between. It takes two things to ski a run like this with style: a little bit of rhythm and patience during the shaping stage of the turn.

– Objective: Longer-more open turns on big vertical slopes.

– Tactic: Lengthening turn shape and duration to conserve energy.

– One of my favorite techniques for attaining the proper rhythm for bigger turns is to add patience as the key to changing turn shape for efficiency on runs with big vertical. The “box turn drill” is excellent for teaching efficiency and patience because it draws out the shaping phase of the turn.

Start by skiing in a traverse across the hill. Then turn sharply into the fall line so you’re facing straight downhill during a count to four while staying in the fall line for four ski lengths. Finally, turn the skis quickly across the fall line again to a traverse in the opposite direction. This drill will result in a box-shaped turn.

Now ski the same line and smooth out your entry into and out of the fall line, rounding out the corners. This should make the whole turn rounder and more fluid. Keeping your skis in the fall line while negotiating any steep pitch does take commitment, but it’s a key part of achieving economy of motion.

– The practice: After a traverse, guide the skis into the fall line and patiently allow three to four ski lengths of distance to pass before guiding them back across the hill again. Refine and round out the shape as you progress. Focus on getting your feet, knees and hips aligned at the start of your turn, which will make it easier to adjust the shaping phase of the turn.

– The application: Guiding the skis in the fall line conserves energy during long powder runs.

– Diagnosis and performance cues: Skiing longer runs in heavy snow conditions requires a more open turn shape. If you find that you make turns that last fewer than two seconds, then you may need to adjust your turn type.

– Technical considerations: Pressure should be equally distributed over both skis; aim for a balanced stance; practice active steering into and out of the turn.

– Patience turn: Stay in the fall line as long as possible before turning out and then into the next fall line.

– Hangers: Initiate on the inside ski and draw out the shaping phase of the turn.

– White pass turn: Invented by the Mahre brothers in White Pass, Wash., this turn is like a hanger but more dynamic and edge-pressure oriented. Start on the downhill leg, and once your feet pass the fall line, finish the turn on both feet.

– Shuffle your feet through the turn: This self-diagnostic drill will let you know if you’re centered throughout the turn. If you feel stuck and unable to shuffle at any point in the turn, this may indicate a problem with your positioning.

Chris and his wife Jenny are the directors of Truckee’s North American Training Center (NASTC), and Chris is a member of the PSIA National Demonstration Team. Chris will be writing a weekly column all winter. He can be reached at or 582-4772.

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