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EpicSki › Performance Articles › Short Radius Turns By Bob Barnes

Short Radius Turns By Bob Barnes  


I am trying to improve my short radius turns on the steep runs. Its seems when the runs are steep and a bit icey…my turns just become more GS like…

I was thinking perhaps edge set turns or hop turns?

I am not to concerned with carving… I just want some nice short radius turns down the fall line with my speed controlled.

Pivot slips, railroad tracks, hop turns, carved turns, skidded turns, brushed turns, retraction transitions, extension transitions, GS turns, mogul technique... wow--you've had the full spectrum of advice on this one, sk55! Here are a few things to consider:

First, you specified "short radius turns," and some have suggested that longer turns would also work, as long as you're not in a very narrow chute. In theory, I suppose that's true--any turn that you complete far enough around will slow you down, especially if you actually bring it back uphill. But if it is truly "steep" ("steep" is a state of mind and perspectives vary, but when you're up there looking down, your perspective is the only one that matters!), and you make a good long-radius turn, you're going to gain a lot of speed before that turn comes around enough to slow you down. There are only two ways to avoid that speed--make skidded braking turns, or make good, clean shorter-radius turns. Braking (intentional skidding) is a risky proposition in challenging conditions--potentially more dangerous than the speed you're trying to avoid itself, So reliable short-radius turns are critical weapons for your arsenal, if you want to ski steep, challenging terrain.

As they say, "the difference between theory and reality is that, in theory, there is no difference between theory and reality, but in reality, there often is...."

Second, if your turns tend to "just become more GS like" on steep, icy terrain, as you suggest, it is possible that you're trying to apply your good flat-slope carving technique too much for the steeps, and getting locked up on too high an edge angle to allow you to shape your turns as you choose. It doesn't work for several reasons. Most importantly, it is virtually impossible to carve the top half of a turn on very steep terrain, unless you're carrying an enormous amount of speed (the avoidance of which is the point here!). "Carving" involves three things: 1) not pivoting, 2) high edge angle, and 3) sufficient pressure to bend the skis into a "reverse camber" arc. Without huge speed, it's almost impossible to tip your skis to a high carving edge angle--on the downhill edges--at the top of a turn on the steeps.

Even if you could tip them enough, it's also impossible to apply much pressure on your skis at that part of the turn, when gravity is actually pulling you away from them. Flexing (staying "low") through the transition allows you to extend your legs at the top of the turn, but this move provides only a very brief moment of pressure as you push yourself downhill. If you do it too early, you'll literally fall away from your skis a moment later, requiring a quick, harsh pivot to get your skis back underneath you, at best defeating the purpose of trying to "carve" the top part of the turn.

In any case, the idea of a "carved turn" on very steep terrain (at normal speeds) is quite different from carving linked "railroad tracks" on flat terrain. The engagement, pressure, and reverse-camber carving phase must start much later in the turn, when the gravitational and centrifugal forces of the turn combine to pull you "out" of the turn. Resisting these forces provides the pressure you need to bend your skis and carve. You must be much more patient, allowing these forces to develop, to carve on the steeps.

What do you do in the mean time, while you're patiently waiting? You prepare! You focus on releasing the edges to start the turn--not engaging them. You guide your skis down the hill into the turn, rather than expecting them to carve, as you allow gravity to pull you down the hill. You incline your body into the turn--it will feel like falling--which will both tip your skis and move you inside the path of your skis, where you will be in balance later, when your skis engage and carve back beneath you.

I'll try to demonstrate with an animation from the recent Big Sky Epicski Academy (thanks to Skye Nacel and Egan Entertainment Network for the video). This is one of the "Headwaters Chutes" of Moonlight Basin, with a pitch of 45 degrees or so:

Note that these turns are "carved," in the sense that my skis pretty much travel the direction they're pointed, as opposed to being pushed sideways into a skid--even in the upper halves of the turns when they are unweighted. When the edges engage--about at the fall line (when they point straight downhill)--my skis are already tipped to a high angle, and I am inclined well inside their path, so they can carve cleanly through the middle and bottom of the turn. In the top half of the turn, my skis are light on the snow and I'm guiding them actively along their path with my legs. In the bottom half of the turns, it is easy to get enough pressure and edge angle to bend the skis into deep arcs, so they can continue to carve the same tight radius I guided them into in the upper half.

While my skis are very much "unweighted" at the top of the turn, these are hardly "hop turns." Hop turns begin with a quick leg extension from an edge set, momentarily increasing the pressure underfoot as you leap into the air. By contrast, in these turns there is very little "up" motion through the transition, and my legs extend to their longest only as I incline through the top half of the turn. These turns end with an edge release, where my skis have rolled off the high angles of earlier in the turn and let go of the mountain, as my body crosses over and moves down the hill. Instead of the big effort of an extension (hop), these turns begin with relaxation, as I let go of the pressure of the previous turn, allowing my skis to continue to move forward beneath me, as my body continues its existing motion across the skis' path and down the hill.

Here's a closer look at the initiation of one of these turns (frames are 1/6 second apart):

Notice that in the first frame, where the turn has just begun, my legs are quite flexed and my skis are almost flat on the snow. I've largely relaxed and "let go" of the mountain, allowing my skis' momentum to continue across the hill as my body travels down the hill. It may look like I'm leaning back in the first couple frames, but my body is actually moving quickly downhill--"forward" in the direction of the turn. In the third frame, just before I engage my edges (apply pressure to them) I am deeply inclined to the inside of the turn, and my body (center of mass) is actually downhill from my feet. In the fourth frame, the edges engage, and I'm in a balanced position on the "sweet spot" of my skis, where the pressure will cause them to bend tip-to-tail and carve cleanly.

These clips show the importance of patience in the steeps--letting the skis remain light on the snow as you guide them into the turn, not rushing to get them on edge and "carving" too early in the turn. Wait until the forces of the turn help you. That "back seat-looking" moment at the start of the turn is actually critical, to allow our skis to get away from us so that we're balanced inside their path when the pressure phase comes. Our feet always travel faster than our bodies as they take a longer path down the hill, so we must let them "pass" us at the transition, while we take a beeline shortcut to get ahead of them again for the pressure phase.


Anyway, regarding those Pivot Slips.... Contrary to what some may be suggesting above, the point of Pivot Slips is NOT to learn to sideslip down the hill. The point is to learn the edge release I've just described at the initiation of the turn, and the guiding of the legs during the unpressured early part of the turn. Note the similarity of Ric's (VailSnoPro's) stance at the start of this maneuver and mine at the start of my turn (just a split second before the first frame of the animation above):


I'm a tad more flexed, as I've absorbed the forces at the bottom of the turn on this steep terrain, but otherwise there's little significant difference between these two stances. Pivot Slips, in my opinion, define what I call the "neutral" moment in linked turns, when the edge releases and the new turn actually begins. So even these high-edge-angle carved turns with no intentional skidding have very much in common with Pivot Slips. There's no better exercise for developing the skills needed for, and the sensations of, the transition phase of short-radius turns. Do not make the mistake of thinking that Pivot Slips are about skidded turns!


That should be enough to play with for your next ski trip. Too bad this incredible season's end is nearly upon us (most Colorado resorts close today, with still record snow depth and midwinter conditions).

Best regards,
Bob Barnes

EpicSki › Performance Articles › Short Radius Turns By Bob Barnes