Importance and application.
In following the basic tenets of the PSIA skills concept in teaching/learning/coaching, we should address this somewhat misunderstood skill involving the rotation of the body and or its parts.
While some instructional sources go so far as to include a twisting of the head and the neck as beneficial rotary movements, I would prefer to spend time dealing with those less obvious movements which play a much more important role in turning or controlling the turning characteristics of a snowboard.
One difficulty in analyzing rotary movements, or, for that matter, pressuring, balancing, and edging movements, is that when used effectively, they do not stand alone. Rather, they exist as a blend. This is to say that an edging movement is often comprised of a rotary movement of a joint in the body, combined with an application of pressure, and a compensating movement to maintain balance once the movement has been made. So, once again, it is easy to dismiss rotary movements as a skill, simply because they are hard to see when executed effectively.
Something else to consider is the point at which the twisting forces within the body overlap. This is to say, that if we are looking at a separation of upper and lower body, where is the separation taking place. Are the hips included in the lower body or the upper?
There is also the concept of positive and negative work. If a torquing movement is taking place, is it active or reactive; does the movement exist to begin something, or to control something?
If we wish to twist one part of the body relative to another, we have two options. Rotation is either anchor driven, or inertia driven. (Juris Vagners, title?) The former requires that we have a stable foundation on which to stand, while the latter requires that we are in motion. Assuming that we are snowboarding on snow, and that snow is slippery, the benefit of rotating off of an anchor is doubtful. When you consider that our balance is confined to a singular platform on a slippery surface, the effectiveness of this movement becomes even more specious. With both feet attached to the same sliding surface, we cannot affect the shape of the turn as we might on skis, using independent foot steering. This can only be done if each foot can be anchored individually, or if the emphasis of balance can be blended from foot to foot.
However, rotating off of an anchor is a movement that most of us have grown up with, through a variety of popular recreational sports. As such, we are intuitively comfortable moving in this manner, even though it might not be the best way to go about accomplishing the task at hand. Think about the posture assumed during a game of tennis, soccer, football, or basketball. How is it that a batter stands over the plate as he prepares to swat a baseball over the backfield fence?
Each of these sports involves a flexed “athletic” stance, with the feet apart from each other, with our body weight centered over our feet. There is an assumption here, that this stance lends stability to our upper body movements, as we can move from one base of support to the other as needed. This is an accurate assumption, given the fact that the ‘playing field’ is usually made of a consistent surface (parquet flooring, clay, turf, packed dirt).
Conventional sports involve specialized footwear to ensure that there is an anchor to move off of. Baseball games and tennis matches are called off when it rains. Football and soccer take on a much different nature when the turf gets soaked. Imagine playing basketball on ice. Trying to rotate off of an anchor in snowboarding is a lot like trying to play each of these games in adverse conditions. And yet we persist in trying to snowboard as though we had a foot to stand on.
Rotation/ counterrotation can be used to initiate a turn, but they should not be considered a long-duration turning force. Rotation and counterrotation are only effective as a short-lived means to influence the beginning or end of a turn; once the turn has been initiated, the emphasis of generating a turn should move towards stronger and sustainable means. In other words, let the board turn for you. Work with edge angle and pressure application, and balance out the results. If you try to turn relying entirely on rotation and counterrotation, you may as well try to pull off some fancy basketball footwork on ice.
More important and less understood is the ability to utilize the torquing of the body to control a turn. The internal twisting of the torso relative to the legs is the result of effective upper/lower body separation. Upper/lower body separation is a partial result of twisting against our inertia.
Once we have begun to move down the hill, our motion has endowed our body with inertia, which is simply a resistence to a change in direction. The edge of our snowboard allows us to change our direction of travel. Selective muscle control allows us to turn our whole body in the direction that the snowboard turns, or to allow only part of our body to turn that way.
If we allow the lower part of our body to turn with our snowboard, and the upper body remains pointed in it’s original direction, we have developed internal torque. We can take advantage of this internal energy when we finish our old turn and begin our new turn.
Think of this internal torque principal as being similar to the function of an automatic door closing device. This device, which involves a hydraulic damper and a return spring, serves two purposes; it limits the extent to which the door can swing, and it controls the rate at which it swings open and closed. Our upper body position and inertia provides a solid mounting position for the door closing device. The muscles of the torso establish the point at which the door is fully open, providing the power and control to shut it once it has reached the open position.
Upper/lower body separation, and the physical attributes which go along with it, provide us with yet another way to control the turning of both our snowboard and our body. Additionally, we can develop and utilize the stability which results from working with and not against naturally occurring forces.
A. Goin’ Waterskiing
Acquainting oneself with turning forces, internal torque, and strong body positioning.
In order to move yourself from a bad position to a functional one, it is often necessary to momentarily fool yourself into doing something which you might otherwise refuse to do. In other words, you can try to keep your upper body square to the front of the board until the cows come home with no discernable effect; or, you can give send your mind in one direction while effecting the desired change with the body.
Pretend that you are waterskiing, with the rope from the ski boat pulling you through the arc of every turn. The one stipulation is that the toeside arm, the one being ‘pulled’ upon, must remain forcibly straight, and parallel to the toeside edge of the board. If this relationship is maintained, the turn entry will occur because of crossover, rather than from some bizarre body posturing.
If you imagine that you are working against the pull of an invisible rope, you will tend to drop your hips back towards the tail of the board, which will more effectively weight the rear foot and stabilize the turn (assuming the board is on edge). Notice that if the toeside arm is not pushed out straight, it is still possible to rotate the hip and shoulder off square into a weaker position once the turn has begun. For that reason, make sure that your arm has been pushed out to its maximum length.
This exercise looks a lot like the Prussian Norm, with one important difference. We can begin to experiment with the cumulative effect of allowing one part of the body to twist against the other. As the toeside turn begins to move across the fall line, allow the toeside arm to remain in the fall line, so that the upper body develops some degree of torsional energy relative to the lower body through counterrotation. As the turn begins to loop back up the hill, continue to fight the tendency to be pulled out of the turn by sinking the hips further to the inside of the turn, and countering as much as is physically possible. With a little practice, it is possible to wind the turn to a stop, with the toeside hip or knee brushing the snow most of the way around the arc of the turn.
This is pretty much a dead-end exercise at first, as you wind up lying on the snow at the end of the turn. However, as your balance and body position improves, it is possible to rise back out of the turn, and begin a heelside turn.
This ‘windup’ exercise is not applicable to a turn on the heelside edge, as countering will accomplish nothing other than a sideways stance. If you can link turns in the waterski mode, with a straight toeside arm, you have probably fooled yourself into a more effective body position/turn entry. If you were able to experience a sensation of internal twisting through this exercise, you have discovered an important aspect of rotary movements, which you can employ in the following exercise.
B. Fall line wheelies
Sit back on the tail of the board, flip flop from one edge to the other without letting the nose of the board touch the snow. If you direct your upper body down the fall line, and maintain this alignment as you flip flop from edge to edge, you are using internal torque to stabilize yourself as the board changes direction underneath you. Make an effort not to gyrate with your arms. Be careful not to tip over backwards, as the extreme loading of the tail of the board may cause it to snap out from underneath you, especially if you are not moving cleanly from edge to edge. This works best on relatively flat terrain with soft snow.