14Pressure Control


Pressure Control Movements

Less work and more play makes Jack a good rider and less of a dull boy.*

One of the most entrancing aspects of any sliding sport, be it alpine or norpine skiing, snowboarding, or simply sledding, is that the most enjoyable moments are those wherein you allow gravity to create your motion for you.  Why then, should we expend unnecessary energy of our own to make our chosen implement turn, when we can harness the vast ‘power’ of kinematics**?


The greatest obstacle towards accomplishing this goal is a movement away from the concept of an instantaneous turn happening right now, at this point in space, involving sideways or vertical motion.  If we can begin to think of all movements as taking place along the long axis of the snowboard, and begin to orient our tactics towards this concept, then turning will become easier, faster, and more energy efficient.  If you use less energy, you can ride longer, which means more fun for you.


A.  Pressure Creating Movement

No doubt we have all seen skiers snapping off the tails of their skis, sometimes lifting vertically off the snow as they are catapulted into their next turn by the sudden application of pressure and release of energy.  Generally speaking, this looks fun, if not stylish.  Rarely, however, is every turn of this type begun and completed smoothly.  Believe it or not, the sudden upward movement is a squandering of energy, energy which could be put to better use in beginning the following turn smoothly.  Worse yet is the fact that the origin of the wasted energy is an abrupt pressuring movement on the part of the skier.  In this case, the energy output of the skier does not equal a productive output by the ski.  In other words, the skier is wasting energy by springing off of his skis at the completion of each turn.


B.  Movement Creating Pressure

Contrast the previous example with that of a skier using current giant slalom racing technique, maintaining ski/snow contact as much as possible.  To begin a turn, the racer tips the chosen ski on edge, gradually increasing edge angle as the turn reaches its apex.  To effectively edge the ski, and to ensure that the body will be in a position strong enough to withstand rising turning forces, the skier slowly moves to the inside of the turn.


Once at the apex of the turn, the skier begins to roll off the turning ski, gradually channeling energy into the following turn.  As the turning ski is flattened, its elastic properties send stored energy forward along its length, guided by the grip of the edge on the snow.  Anticipating the new turn, the skier has begun to move the body towards the inside of the next turn, crossing over the skis and moving to the inside edge of the new turning ski.  (In an attempt to keep this relatively simple, discussions of crossunder and through will be omitted).


Since the ski is always moving forward, any movement onto edge will begin to bend the ski, initiating a turn.  The more consistent the ski/snow contact, the more turning energy is conserved.  The mechanism of turning in this case is a ‘simple’ movement from one edge to the other, using the forward motion of the ski and skier to bend the ski.  I say ‘simple’, because the theory is far easier to comprehend than the actual physical implementation is to perform.


Generally speaking, the majority of skiers and snowboarders have too many bad habits which inhibit the assimilation of new movement patterns, even if they involve less work.   (edge=bend/turn=stored energy)


The most difficult aspects of using movements to create pressures are the timing of those movements, and the movment of the body into strong positions from turn to turn to accomodate the forces that result from bending a board.  If you wait until the board is in the fall line before you begin to roll up onto edge, the chances are pretty good that too much pressure will build too fast, and the board will chatter, or, if the snow is extremely hard or soft, slide or bounce out from under the rider.  Too much too fast results in disappointment.  If, however, the edge change takes place earlier, and the edge angle is brought up gradually, the resulting turning pressures will be easier to handle, and it will also be easier to keep the body in a stable position.


On steep groomed terrain, the turn begins when the board is actually moving across the fall line, with maximum edge angle occurring somewhere near or in the fall line.  Bear in mind that you need to get the board out from under the body in order to create enough edge angle to turn.  This means that you spend very little time actually standing ‘on top’ of the board.  The steeper the terrain, the earlier you need to move inside to stabilize your position and create enough edge angle to bring the board around.


C.  On pressure control

As one skiing coach (Ward) pointed out to me, it is rather easy to generate pressure in a ski or snowboard, while it is far more difficult to release that pressure accurately and effectively.  To that end, it could be said that we spend much more time trying to control pressure rather than generating it.


If all snow surfaces were perfectly smooth and flat, then there would be little challenge to carving a perfect turn time after time.  However, conditions are rarely perfect, and when they are, they are not perfect for long.  Usually, snow and slope conditions degrade with skier traffic to the point where piles of snow and moguls take shape, and areas with marginal snow cover become slick and icy.  Race courses inevitably become chopped and rutted with use.  Edge contact is vital to maintaining turn shape and speed/directional control, so we must somehow accomodate the varying snow conditions.  It is a simple fact of life that no matter how hard you try, you will never win if you try to fight with bumpy snow conditions and the chatter which threatens to vibrate you to death.


Rather than waste valuable energy fighting that which you can not conquer, negotiate with the snow using your board as the main bargaining chip.  You will get bounced around, but as long as you can keep your edge on the snow, and maintain your edge angle and balance, your turn will be mostly unaffected.  Imagine if you will that you are making long GS type turns on fairly easy terrain, but near the middle to end of the day when the snow has been bludgeoned by hordes of day skiers.  Obviously, smooth riding here will be more of a challenge than the first run morning corduroy.  Oh, and you will be running through patches of sunlight and shade, and the snow will change from being hard to soft, so don’t just assume you can knife your way through it.


Using the long turn shape will allow you more time to become aware of what you are doing, as well as provide space for experimentation.  Try to read the snow with your feet as though you are reading Braille with your fingers.  Try to feel every bump and ripple in the surface of the snow as you pass.  This means the hills and the valleys, which means you have to have very loose knees to allow your legs to flex and extend vertically, and to adjust edge angle while doing so.  Hopefully, you will be able to maintain a consistent edge angle regardless of the texture of the snow surface.  Practice this sensory riding mode extensively, both to develop foot sensitivity, and to build a basis for more involved flexion and extension of the legs as a means of controlling the pressure which develops and is dissipated throughout the turn.


aAirborne transitions

fore/aft pressuring during a turn- relatively flat terrain

If you are familiar with the effects of pressuring both the tip and tail of the board, and can carve a turn, you should be able to manipulate these variables to the extent that the turn connection may take place in the air.  This is a matter of timing, and accurate application and release of stored energy.  The rebound and resulting air time should be the result not so much of your stomping the tail of the board, but the premature release of energy built within the turn.  If done correctly, the motion and turn connection will feel smooth and light.  If the tail of the board is stomped, the edge will likely break free and no air will be had.  As a cautionary note, if snap is built up and released too quickly, you may well be flipped over backwards, as the board shoots out from under their body.  This can be rather painful, and should be avoided.  By the same token, if the snow is soft, and the tip is overpressured/overedged, it is possible to flip over frontwards.


bDetermine Arc cosine “AT”

If you can smoothly accomplish airborne turn connections, then you have developed enough ability in pressure control to do the opposite.  Instead of increasing pressure at the finish of the turn and launching, try to decrease pressure at the finish of the turn, and increase pressure at the beginning of the next turn.  Once again, the end result is a board that remains on the snow with rock solid edge contact and grip.

D.  Reality bites ice

It is to your advantage to maintain ‘full’ edge contact throughout the turn, and especially at the turn connection.  One really good reason to do so is that if you maintain contact, you can begin to apply pressure to the tip of the board earlier, thus initiating your turn earlier as well.  The advantages here are manifold.  First, if you initiate your turn earlier with regard to the fall line, you will be utilizing the energy stored in your board from the previous turn.  If the board has broken contact with the snow, then you have squandered the stored energy and used it to pop the board off the snow rather than use it to move forward.


Secondly, if you begin your turn earlier, you avoid a rapid buildup of pressure between board and snow at the bottom of the turn, when your momentum and the force due to gravity align.  If the turn is begun earlier, it will effectively end earlier, which means you can worry about more important things other than whether or not your board will chatter out at the bottom of the turn.


Additionally, if the turn is begun earlier, using stored energy, the turn entry will be much smoother, which, once again, will enable the board to grip much better on hard snow, and reduce fatigue in the rider.  The rider can relax if secure in the knowledge that the turn will happen and the board will stick, rather than remain tense wondering if the edge will hold.  Any muscle exertion not spent providing input to the board is wasted energy.  Nervous behavior squanders a lot of energy.




E. Combining pressure control and edge contact

Riding with Kevin M on Friday, and he encourages me to try something he picked up from an Apocalypse magazine add29.  It made a lot of sense within the context of alpine racing, and it goes something like this:  As you near the completion of the turn, suck your knees up towards your chest, and, as you do so, let your upper body move across the board, thus changing edges smoothly and quickly.  The upper body should remain at a constant distance from the snow, which is to say, it should not appear that the rider’s head is bobbing up and down excessively.  This can be difficult to do, if your sense of timing is off, and/or you extend out of the compression position too fast.  (Thus bending the board more than intended and drastically shortening the turn).  However, the obvious advantage, besides the quickness of the move, is that, once again, the edge of the board maintains contact with the snow.  This sequence of movements shall be taken advantage of in the following chapter, blended with a few other movements to smooth out the turn.  as mentioned in the previous section, detailing force buildup and pressuring earlier in the turn, this absorption maneuver will prevent a ‘stall’ at the bottom of the turn, and the resulting pop off the snow, or worse, the deformation of the snow and loss of forward momentum.  It is not so important that the movement be smooth or polished, is enough at this moment to experiment with a more agressive flexion and extension of the legs thoughout a turn.



Mid turn garlands (easier than mid-term thesis, but just as crucial)

On relatively flat terrain, throw a short turn across the fall line into the spot where the edge-flat-edge transition would normally be between two medium to large radius turns.  Do you have the ability/balance, to halt in mid turn connection, or can you only move from inside of one turn to the inside of another.  How are you initiating your turns?  Are you still gyrating your way into a turn with unnecessary body posturing, or are you using gravity and the design of the board to their best advantage.


3/23/2012 *I have fond memories of visiting the Timberline Lodge at Mount Hood, Oregon, in 1986.

**I think the more appropriate term is ‘classical mechanics’.

(29) Nothing to see here, folks.   Just a typo.