If you don’t know how to do it, slalom racing can be demoralizing. Abrupt and jerky movements through the course are nerve wracking, tiresome, and often disasterous, not to mention slower than molasses in winter. The difficulty most people experience stems fron an unwillingness or inability to release the edge they are on when they really need to. Sometimes it is a matter of timing, but more often it is a result of poor or make-do technique.
You might think that if you can roll your board from edge to edge quickly that you will do okay in a slalom course. Unfortunately, few slalom courses will match the rhythm that you create when you rock your board from edge to edge. In addition to rhythm changes, slalom courses also force you to increase and decrease your speed. Put these two demands together with a fixed mode of riding, and you will have problems. Generally, riders will begin to fall back on bad habits and movement patterns, attempting to turn the board quicker with twisting movements or abrupt weight shifts from tip to tail.
A board works best when moved forward, and it takes little more than a light touch from edge to edge to initiate a turn. It is not necessary to twist the upper body to effect a turn; in fact twisting the upper body will only tangle up the next turn you try to make. In slalom, whether skiing or snowboarding, your best bet is to keep the upper body exceptionally quiet, and keep it moving forward down the course. Upper/lower body separation is crucial, as you really don’t want the left hand knowing what the right hand is doing.
The widespread use of flex gates in slalom and slalom training allows the racer to take a much more direct line through the course, and also reduces the chance of injury as a result of unintentional impact. The gates are designed to move out of the way once they contact the body, most usually the forearm or knee/ shin. Inexperienced racers sometimes think that they are not running the course correctly unless they make contact with every gate, and so they swing at each one as they pass. This is not necessary, and usually hinders the development of clean, effective technique.
So, we don’t want to be flapping our arms like so many seagulls as we run the course. All well and good until a gate smacks you squarely in the face. What to do then? Develop an effective means of clearing gates without excessive arm movement. I have found that the heelside arm will work well to clear almost anything that gets in your way. The trick here is not to move the entire arm, just move the forearm, from the elbow down. If you clear gates in this manner, the movement of the arm is mostly lateral, and coincides with the direction of edge change from turn to turn. If you have a slalom helmet and chest protection, you may want to try leaving the heelside arm away from the body on the toeside turn, swinging the forearm in to clear as you move onto the heel edge.
If you block a lot with the toeside arm, you eventually begin to twist the shoulders, and then the hips, and then everything gets screwed up. In order to block with the toeside arm, the arm must move forward and backward relative to the length of the board, as well as side to side. It is easy to see how all this movement can become disruptive, especially when you try to coordinate the movement of one arm with the other, and then with the movement of the board underfoot.
Let there be light!
Once you have effectively quieted the upper body through correct gate clearing, the next important thing to do is maintain a light touch between the board and the snow. Move the board from edge to edge pressuring from front to back as smoothly and with as much finesse as is possible. Once you get rolling, you will be surprised at how little input it takes from you to make a clean turn. Just make sure that you don’t try to keep the turn going forever. Once the nose of the board has swung across the fall line, it is more that early enough to get off the old edge and begin moving to the new one. Hanging on too long results in edgelock and bailing out of the course, while a light touch and accurate timing will allow for a quick turn that does not slow you down much.
The rhythm method
When you train slalom, take a day and work on your rhythm from turn to turn. Be aware of how much time you spend on each edge. If you are spending more time on one edge than the other, try to even out the time difference. Most racers spend more time on their heelside edge than on the toeside. If this is the case in your own riding, try to reverse the time emphasis. If you hang onto one turn longer than the other, you are wasting time in the course. If you can successfully even out the cadence, you will probably be faster and better balanced.