Versatility Based on Simplicity
Snowboarding, simply put, is not much more than an edge change. Difficulty arises in trying to balance the movement of the body while moving from edge to edge. Turning a snowboard is easy; it is not so easy to preclude the interference of the body with the turning board. Once a board is set in motion, gravity and the body’s momentum will effect change faster than independent muscle movement in the same direction. To that end, you have learned the basics of turning a snowboard, additional energy should be expended developing the effective use of the edge of the board, and towards moving the body down the hill.
When thinking about your own ability and movement patterns, bear in mind that the less you need to do to make your board turn, the more efficiently you are riding. Ask yourself if your overall movement picture is smooth and pleasing to the eye, with flowing, uninterrupted rhythm from turn to turn; or is the movement jerky and hesitant? If you do not need to wave your hands and arms about from turn to turn, you have likely developed a good sense of internal balance. This will enable you to explore ranges of movement through a series of exercises which will eventually facilitate your riding in a variety of situations / snow conditions.
“You talk the talk, but do you walk the walk?”
—Full Metal Jacket
Why your riding might not be versatile
Are you peeling the potato, or is the potato peeling you? 18
Perhaps the single most pervasive, annoying, and performance hindering habit in snowboarding is the tendency to use pressure control as the major skill in shaping a turn. Riders who exibit this habitual movement either learned to snowboard a long time ago on outdated equipment and never took further lessons, or they never experienced the advantages of using the fall line and gravity to help shape a turn (tail kickers).
Through no real fault of their own, these people (and they are in the majority) have discovered that it is easy to make a heelside turn if most of their weight is placed on the front foot early in the turn. This turning mode is comfortable on the heelside simply because it takes very little time for the board to begin turning, and once the weight is on the front foot, the rear of the board can be ‘kicked’ across the fall line. In short, there is no real need to commit the body or the edge of the board to the new turn.
A problem arises once the rider tries to continue across the fall line. The weight is still on the front foot, which allows the tail to skid more or less out of control, threatening to spin the rider around backwards. To counteract this spin tendency, the rider throws almost all of their weight onto the front foot, which finally grips through sheer grunt and high pressure on a very short section of edge.
Often these people have difficulty initiating turns on the toeside without a large twisting movement of the upper body. At the point where they wish to turn on the toeside edge, their hip is so far up the hill and on the nose of the board, that there is no way to pressure the new turning edge without first rearranging the board under the body. Thus the twist. Also, the board is usually skidding uncontrollably, which makes a smooth and successful edge change difficult. Unfortunately, in order to begin correcting this habit, the rider must throw away the security blanket which lets them turn without commitment, and they must also remove themselves to flatter terrain, where they might spend more time in the fall line.
When a carved turn isn’t such a great thing
Further along the line, when these hip-throwing-tail-kicking riders begin to use the sidecut of the board to make elemental carved turns, there is a visible swinging of the hips towards the tip of the board as the turn reaches its ‘limiting point’ across the fall line. (The limiting point is the point at which the rider’s body position becomes too weak to keep the board on edge, and can no longer maintain the turn) If the rider in question is using a plate binding system, the body position near the end of the heelside turn appears contrived and awkward, with a dramatic bending at the waist, and the appearance that the toeside arm is flapping in the breeze as though it were broken.
As the toeside turn is made, the hip never actually crosses over the board to the inside of the turn; rather, most of the pressure exerted on the toeside edge is generated by the excessive bending at the waist, and the corresponding movement of the shoulders to the inside. (reverse angulation). Generally speaking, people who ride in this manner are limited in their turn shape by the depth of their sidecut. As a result, they will have difficulty controlling themselves on ice and steep terrain.
Learning to ride in hard boots is frightening enough, in that much of your lower body movement is limited. Now imagine that you can no longer start your turns in a manner which seems to work and has provided you with some semblance of confidence. To ensure confidence and to avoid unnecessary ego damage, make absolutely sure that if you set out to revise your movement pattern, choose terrain that you feel infinitely comfortable with.
The most formidable task that you can undertake in altering your mode of riding is to ensure that you maintain a flexed, functional stance19. Your body position should not deviate off of a usably square orientation. Until you becomes familiar with this body position on the board, steep terrain and upper level riding techniques and situations will remain out of reach20.
The easiest way to get a board to turn, mentioned earlier in this manual, is to move from one edge to the other at the opportune moment. For that reason, it would make sense to arrange the body atop the board in such a way that the amount of movement necessary to move body weight from one edge to the other is minimized. Even though we stand somewhat sideways on a snowboard, there is no real reason to assume that the mechanism of turning on one side is any different that the other.
Certainly, we cannot expect that our knees will hinge backwards to attenuate heelside turn edge angle; however, by moving body mass from the inside of one turn to the other at an appropriate speed, with proper body angulation, equal edge angles can be achieved on both the toe and heel sides. (Not necessarily equal to the last degree, but for all intents and purposes, equality exists). Therefore, there is no need for the upper body to be grossly rearranged as the board is moved from one edge to the other. Nonetheless, it is a common sight to see vastly different body positions used for toeside and heelside turns.
Strangely enough, it is possible to carve rudimentary turns in this way, by throwing the upper body all over the place. However, the tracks left behind are a clear indicator of what is going on with the body. Often, the arc of the heelside turn is not as deep as the toeside, and does not carry itself as far across the fall line. Additionally, the heelside turn may not be as crisp due to the fact that the front of the board is overpressured by the swing of the hip, and the tail will have a tendency to wash out. The toeside turn may cut further across the hill, but it may also have a much larger radius of curvature, since the edge angle is somewhat lower. (Shoulder in, hip out = less edge, less stability, more gradual turn). Look at your tracks as a means of diagnosis and further self analysis.
If the body is in the correct position, turns to the toeside and heelside should leave tracks which are almost perfectly symmetrical, regardless of the pitch of the terrain. If they are not, then there is a problem to be addressed with regards to the means of getting the board to turn. (The chef never blames his tools)21.
“Those who hug too much hold nothing for very long.”
— Richard Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier
Whenever you experiment with your riding, isolating the individual movement components which allow you to turn your board, be wary of carrying any one movement to extremes without later tempering that movement. Successful assimilation of movements in any sport involves an exploration of ranges of motion, and then a modification of those discoveries to suite the specific needs of the moment. Snowboarding is composed of constant movements, and no one position will ever suffice at all times. Avoid becoming static by moving constantly, rather than adopting a singular pose which works really well for only one part of the movment flow.
For the instructor
With any group beyond the rudimentary skill level, make sure you know what you collectively wish to accomplish, and focus on that goal.
Make certain your students understand, both physically and intellectually, that which they are striving to accomplish.
Do you understand how, what, and why? Do they? Be infinitely patient, and don’t be afraid to innovate as conditions and skill levels dictate. Experiment with ideas of your own, as well as those which you know to be effective.
(18) Are you… The quote about the potato is attributed to one Scott McPherson. I don’t know if he made it up or overheard it. He used to rail a mean turn on a Burton Blacktop, with what seemed like a 36-inch stance. Not like that means anything…
(19) Flexed, functional… Not!!!
(20) Until… See previous note. Replace this statement with: ‘Until your boot/binding interface has been correctly set up…’
(21) This chef, with greater knowledge and wisdom, frequently blames his inability to ‘properly set up the tools’.