16Thinking about it


Cranial interference

“Overanalysis is the equivalent of murder.”


“…No ma’am, we’re musicians.”

Jake and Elwood Blues       


Don’t think too much The importance of turning off your mind and relaxing.

One of the kids I coach recently asked me why it was he was having so much difficulty with racing consistently, and why his freeriding was plagued with problems.  At first look, it was obvious that he was bending too far forward at the waist, and that his lower body was rather static and unyielding.  His arms were thrust forward rigidly, as though he was holding a piece of cord taught between his hands.  Telling him not to bend at the waist didn’t help, and how could it?  He was used to doing it and therefore felt somewhat comfortable with it, even though it was hindering his development.  The real problem was with his arms.  In trying to hold them quietly, and in a forward position for balance, he was tensing almost every muscle in his upper body.  Not only was he in a bad position, he was cast there in concrete.  He now knew about his arms being in an awkward position, as well as the waist hinging problem.  Still, he was somewhat unable or unwilling to alter his riding style.


Finally, in a fit of frustration, I told him off-handedly that I didn’t care where his arms were, so long as they were loose and could hange freely.  The rest of the turns on that run were quite good, and he felt he had made a definite improvement.

By allowing his arms to hang casually, and not worrying about where they should or should not be, he allowed his upper body to loosen as well, which promoted upper/lower body separation and general fluidity.  This in turn allowed him to turn better on the hard snow and ice, as he was not so tense, and would let the board skip around as it should.


Now think even less

Turning off one’s brain occasionally is a good way to find your position of balance, and to find its limits.  One of the better ways that I have found of doing this is to ride backwards (fakie) on a race board in hard boots.  We spend so much time riding forwards, that we grow to anticipate that which may happen, and automatically move to where we think we need to be, to deal with the new situation.  Our riding will become static and flawed if we always move our body to the same position and assume that it will be correct.  Once we have reversed our direction of travel, it becomes physically difficult to think and then move.  We move so much faster than we can think about moving, that our signals get scrambled and we move in the wrong direction.

In a way, riding backwards is sort of like tracing the outline of a shape while watching your hands and the shape itself in a mirror.  For a while, everything gets screwed up, until you realized that what you think is correct is not.  So, if you can turn off your brain while riding backwards, and instead simply try to locate your position of strongest balance as you move from turn to turn, you will lend just a bit of freshness to your riding, as you may become less dependent on one of your five senses, and begin to develop one or more of the others.



“Actually, Dad, sometimes you have to go really slow in order to go fast.”

–Matt S., at the dinner table.


Somehow, get your grubby little hands on a bicycle wheel, without the rest of the bike.  Hold it by the axle, with one hand on each side of the wheel.  Now, assuming this wheel has not been left out in the rain and can still spin, have one of your two friends give the wheel a good spin.  Hold on tightly, and try to slowly turn the wheel so that your right hand is above, the left hand below, and the wheel is spinning horizontally.  You should notice that there was some effort involved in trying to flip the wheel.  Now try to flip the wheel over quickly so that the position of your hands is reversed.  The harder you try to flip the wheel, the more it resists your attempt to move it.  As the wheel’s rotation gradually slows, continue to flip the wheel from side to side, and try to flip at the same speed each time.  Most likely, as the wheel slows down, it will become progressively easier to flip it over.  This spinning wheel and you have a lot in common; you just don’t know it yet.


Because the wheel has motion, it also has momentum.  This momentum is expressed as a quantity perpendicular to the direction of the spin, with a magnitude related to the speed of the spin and the mass of the wheel.  More simply stated, the momentum of the spinning wheel is in line with the axle you hold in your hands.  This momentum is a stabilizing element, which means that the momentum of the wheel will resist your physical attempt to move the wheel in any direction.  The faster the wheel spins, the greater the momentum in the established direction, and the harder it is to flip-flop the wheel.  And what, pray tell, has this to do with snowboarding?  Funny you should ask.


Not too long ago a friend of mine entered herself into a snowboard super-g race.  A super-g is something of a cross between a downhill and a giant slalom, with speeds approaching the former, and technical demands of the latter.  Her technique at the time was still evolving, and she was using some upper body motion to assist in turning her board.  After her run, when I asked her how everything went, the first thing she said was “I felt like I couldn’t move!”  She doesn’t usually freeride at super-g speeds, and she was not familiar with what happens to the body with rising velocity.


As her speed increased, her momentum increased as well, most of which followed the line of her board’s travel.  Once the board was on edge and turning, everything was fine, as the edge of the board made the turn.  Getting from one turn into the other was difficult, however, as she was used to some degree of skidding, with a physical turning of the upper body, to start the turn.  The problem was that her upper body twist was fighting her forward momentum, which had reached a magnitude greater than her physical strength could overcome.  The harder and quicker she tried to turn her upper body, the more immobile she felt.  Do you see the bicycle wheel yet?


If she had allowed her forward momentum to help pull her body across the board to enter a turn, the turn would have been started not because of something she did, but of something she stopped doing.  In this case, the crossthrough movement would have begun as soon as she let go of her previous turn.  If she let go soon enough, the line of her crossthrough would have been very close in angle to her forward momentum, which would have made the process rather simple and effortless.  The longer you wait, the more the angle opens up, and the less energy you have to work with.  This is all a part of balancing off of your momentum or flow, rather than off some artificially created platform.  If your movements are precise and in the right direction, you will accomplish much by doing very little.

As you begin to move faster and faster on your snowboard, it is increasingly important that you learn how to work with your momentum rather than fight it.  Once you learn how to harness your momentum, your riding will be smoother and require less effort, regardless of the terrain or your speed.


Perceptual velocity. Your head and feet take separate paths on the way to the same destination.

On steep terrain, the less inside a turn we move, the faster we appear to move downhill.  Part of the reason for this is the fact that, because we are in a weak body position, our edge angle is lower, and the turn has a larger radius, which equates to greater speed.  If we move further inside the turn, not only can we shorten the turn radius to avoid excess speed, we can also alter our perception of our current speed.


If we stand relatively upright throughout a medium to long radius turn, our head and thus our perceptual nerve center moves at the speed of the board.  This similarity in speed is the result of both the head and the board following the same path through the course of the turn.  As we begin to move further inside of the turn, becoming both angulated and inclined to balance against the rising forces of the turn, our head begins to follow a shorter path than the board.  The further inside we move, out of necessity, the slower our perception of our speed, simply because the board, and our lower body, in following a longer path, must move at a greater speed than our head, and vice-versa.

Think of what happens when you swing a baseball bat. The speed of our hands, and the swing, is magnified by the length of the bat. The angular velocity of the end of the bat is far greater than the angular velocity of the hands (or the shoulders).  The object the furthest out along the circumference of the circle moves the fastest.  Who would have suspected that baseball and snowboarding share common principles?


Try this-(assuming groomed surface)– What you are trying to accomplish is familiarity with your head to the inside and your feet to the outside.

1.  Palm slide j-turns (doubles or singles)==maximum inside movement and edge angle also shortest force rise time. 

2.  Chop off bottom of j-turn, looking ahead into next turn.(done in couplets) Allow the body to move downhill over the board {use lowered stance, as long as good body position is not compromised}

Sliding hands should be used as an indicator of inclination, not as physical support.     If your riding is fundamentally flawed, you will have difficulty with these tasks. If that is the case, find flatter terrain and review basic body alignment.



Steep and nasty. Mom, I’m scared.

Riding on steep groomed terrain differs from flat terrain mostly in that you must be more assertive in your movements.  There is a much shorter rise time before turning forces build to unmanageable magnitudes.  Riding steep terrain takes not only confidence in your ability, but confidence in your equipment.  If you are not familiar with the sidecut of your board, and the amount of time and edge angle needed to bring a turn around, you will be hesitant to let the board move out from under your body before entering the fall line.  If your bindings are loose, poorly set up, or fragile, you will enter each turn with doubt, which translates into delayed re/action time.


Perhaps the most beneficial tactic for steep terrain is the concept of early turn entry; the sooner, the better.  Edge angle must rise and fall progressively in order to create a smooth, manageable turn.  Forces/momentum on steep terrain increases much faster than on the flats, so it would make sense to begin channeling and dissipating these forces as early as possible.  To that end, you might think of beginning one turn three-quarters of the way through the previous turn.


An easy way to begin turning earlier is to look ahead of where you are, towards or into your new turn.  All too often I find myself looking near the tip of my board, looking out for unseen obstacles and irregularities in the snow.  Of course, at this point, it is too late to effectively change the line of travel, so the effort is wasted and time seems short as a result.  If you can shift your line of sight further ahead of where you are, you will be visually anticipating your next turn.  As a side benefit, your balance will probably improve, and it might seem as though you have all the time in the world to finish one turn and start the other.  With the illusion of time on your side, you will be less tense as a result of being less hurried, and your movements from one turn to the other will be smoother.


As you improve your ability to anticipate your next turn through line of sight, begin to roll the board onto edge earlier and earlier.  Imagine that there is an observer uphill from you.  As you begin each turn, try to have the board up on edge enough so that the observer can clearly read the lettering on your base.  Obviously, if you wait until the board is in the fall line to begin a turn, the observer will have nothing to read, as the base of the board, when visible, will be pointing off the side of the trail, somewhere near perpendicular to the fall line.


This type of maneuver involves the aforementioned trust in self and equipment.  One does not just throw their body down the hill over their board without considering the possibility of slamming onto their face.  However, if you are using good riding technique, this is one of the easiest means of turning on steep terrain.  Even though the board is out and away from the body for most of the turn, at the turn connection the board will have moved back under the body, effectively standing the rider up for a brief moment.


By aggressively moving your body downhill, you are moving yourself to the inside of the new turn early enough so that you will be in a strong position throughout the turn.  Something to consider though, is the speed at which you move inside, and the extent of that movement.   Unless you are riding on perfectly consistent snow, on a slope which follows the fall line exactly, in absolutely ideal conditions, no two consecutive turns will be exactly the same.  For that reason, it is important not to move from the inside of one turn to the inside of the other in a preset manner. Don’t assume that you will move to the same inside point on each turn.  Move inside slowly enough so that your position always balances the building forces, without going too far and losing the ability to remain ‘upright’.  As mentioned before, everything happens faster on steep terrain, which means that any positioning mistake you make will be more noticeable, and will have a more dramatic effect on your balance and stability.  If you move statically from one inside point to another, sooner or later conditions will find you sliding on your face.