Skiing ice on the cutting edge
The mastery of skiing ice comes from knowledge of tactics, technique, equipment and attitude. Unfortunately, most skiers slam on their edges thinking the sharp edge will slice the firm stuff like a Ginsu knife. The next time the conditions firm up, follow these easy-to-remember tips.
No, it’s not a foreign expression meaning, “No ice, please.” It’s a reminder to keep the shin of your leg in contact with the tongue of the boot in icy conditions. Too much pressure against the tongue locks the ankle and restricts the fine-tuning movements you need on ice. Without enough tongue pressure, the shovel of the ski never engages early enough and too much pressure gets distributed over the tail, resulting in a skid. Shin tongue done correctly is like power steering for you skis. The ski will react quickly and precisely, giving you confidence around those icy turns.
Developing a “go-for-it” mindset while maintaining a soft touch is like trying to squeeze an egg as hard as you can without breaking it. It’s all in the attitude. A classic golf exercise to teach proper club grip is to hold the club as if you have a baby bird in your hands. This firm but supple grip is paramount to developing a good golf swing. This description is also applicable to skiing on ice; try to ski across ice as if you are traveling across a field of eggs. This light but aggressive attitude will set the intensity needed for success while maintaining the finesse needed for making subtle moves on ice. I always think, “Be proactive but light.”
If you want your ski to respond well on ice, put some time into finding its sweet spot. The ski will reward you for it. A ski will reach its full potential only when it’s properly loaded and ready for the release of all the built-up tension. Hurried apprehension and overreaction of what might happen on the firm stuff often elicits a harsh reaction to the ensuing situation, causing the ski to bounce or chatter away.
If the interplay is soft and caressing, however, the natural movements and capabilities of the ski will surface, resulting in a pleasurable experience. With the many advances in ski boots and binding systems, the sweet spot of a ski is much bigger these days. The plates that come with the skis also increase the margin for forgiveness and add to the suspension features of the ski. The new systems and plates maximize the ski’s natural flex pattern, permitting more edge engagement and overall stability. Investing the time to locate the sweet spot will result in even distribution of pressure throughout the length of the ski, giving you what you want most: edges that hold.
Skiing icy conditions on dull edges can be a frustrating experience at best. Traveling 30 mph sideways is not the way to instill confidence in your technique. A properly prepared ski edge will act like a cutting tool instead of a blunt instrument. Do yourself a favor and spend some time learning the art of edge-sharpening or take your skis to a trained ski-tuning professional for a “race-ready tune.” Good technique starts with the proper equipment and good ski preparation. After that, it’s up to the pilot.
Chris Fellows and his wife Jenny are the directors of Truckee’s North American Ski 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 ski@skiNASTC.com or 582-4772.