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Heavy Powder, Flat Light, Narrow slope

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 
Looking for tips on how best to tackle Heavy Powder in flat light on a narrow slope. (Slope not wide enough for large radius turns).

On Sat after a walk across the peaks we (3 snowboarders and I) dropped down into a valley. We were looking forward to fresh powder but things turned out differently. The sun must of got onto it as it was frozen slab at the top and heavy powder further down. We lost a lot of time getting across the top as one of the boarders broke his binding so it was getting late in the day and the light wasn't too good.

Got past the frozen crust by using less edge and weighting the feet more equal, being careful not to break through. Eventually broke through into heavy powder. The slope was steep at the top and fairly wide open with a few trees but as we dropped further down into the valley the snow became heavier, the slope dropped off and became narrow. Low down it wasn't wide enough to do long sweeping turns. It was also difficult to use the terrain as the flat light made it difficult to work out contours. I got down but wasn't very quick and had a couple of funny low speed (ca 0.345627 mph), stuck up a bank couldn't free feet fall over moments. It was if my feet were in cemment or porridge at times. I tried to carve short radius powder turns but was in the back seat as my thighs were burning. I would of normally given it a bit more speed stayed in the fall line trying to blast through/over it but the low visibilty made me much more defensive

Finally the questions .....

What techniques might of worked better? Jump/hop turns? Bellow turns, Stem Christies etc. What about retraction, pole plant, feet position (very close together), edge angle etc. The boarders also had problems but were able to side slip / scarve it in places and so got down faster. Should I of tried to to scarve it?

Opinions & advice welcome.

Thanks
Desperate Brian
post #2 of 20
DB,

The heavier the powder, the faster you need to go and the more equal weighting of the feet you need to have. Shallow turns help you keep your weight equal. But when you're dealing with other complicating factors like flat light and narrow slope, it's real hard to not be defensive. At that point you're just plain screwed.

It helps to practice muck skiing on flatter terrain. I'm talking 18-32" deep mash potatoes that let you ride about about boot deep down until you try a normal turn. Then one foot goes to 6 inches while the other foot goes to 18 inches, you get locked into your turn and come to a screeching halt in about 3 feet. In this kind of snow, you need to find a shallow turn shape that sets your "terminal velocity" so that you are travelling at just the right depth in the snow. Too slow and the snow is to heavy to turn the skis. Too fast and the first speed check turn you make causes weight differential.

If you want to get better skiing in flat light, it helps to develop "terrain feel" in your feet. Find a partner and have them guide you while you ski down an empty slope with your eyes closed. Check how well you can ski a straight line. Check how well you can follow your partners voice. See if you can judge distances down the slope or ski defined turn widths with your eyes closed. Another exercise is bump skiing (with your eyes open). Try to focus on the feel on the bottoms of your feet from front to back. Also focus on the different feels of the different snow textures. Finally, if you have an opportunity to go night skiing, try wearing a dark pair of goggles through the dusk hours before the lights really kick in.
post #3 of 20
Also, I think that "skiing softly" helps in these most difficult conditions. Adjust edge angles gradually. Change direction as progressively as you can, given the width of the trail. Do your best to avoid any rapid movements (including pressure changes, edge angles, and rotary). Ride your skis as though your skiing over egg shells (much as you might ski very icy conditions, but without the edge angles you're likely to generate in those conditions).

I think (the)rusty's idea about "skiing by Braille" (my term for it) and the "eyes closed" drill will help for the flat light, too. It doesn't mean you won't still feel defensive, but it will certainly give you greater confidence.
post #4 of 20
DB - I have some video of you from Austria. Mind if I try and post it? I think it might shed some light on the issue. The conditions you describe sure do sound a lot like what we ski in the woods here at Stowe except we have trees instead of rocks that tell us where to go.
post #5 of 20
Thread Starter 
Thanks for all the responses they certainly give me a few things to play with.

Epic,
Yes please post it, I haven't seen it yet. So how do you deal with the smilar conditions at Stowe?
post #6 of 20
Thread Starter 
Been thinking further on this ......

One of the things the boarders were able to do that I wasn't was use the sides of the valley as it narrowed (like a half pipe). I was getting stuck up the side in the wet snow as the turn radius I was able to put in was too wide for the slope. Maybe I should have a go in the half pipe or play around using the sides of a couloir. Any tips for turning in wet snow on the side of couloirs?
post #7 of 20
http://home.mindspring.com/~swass/mo...erousBrian.mov

I remember this as being some pretty gloppy snow. Moreso in the first clip. I'll save any comment for later.
post #8 of 20
Thread Starter 
Thanks Epic,

I remember the first run being gloppy (although not as bad as last Sat) and bringing a few of us down. The second run had the odd rock just under the surface and was a bit chopped up/tracked out. I decided to try some wider radius turns on the second run.

What I see ......

Could be a lot smoother in both runs.
Feet could be closer together.
The pole plants are a bit eractic.
Hands are a bit low especially in the second clip.

Was with a guide for 6 days following that day and he picked up on ...

a) In the backseat not over the sweet spot and not fully committing to the turn.
b) Not driving the kness into the turn.

Anything else?

PS I'm not getting fantastic definition in the clips do I need to upgrade my movie player or something?
post #9 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by DangerousBrian
...and he picked up on ...
a) In the backseat not over the sweet spot and not fully committing to the turn.
b) Not driving the kness into the turn.
Anything else?...
What I see in the video is:

1) Large ammts of unweighting - you are working way too hard.
2) Lots of foot steering being applied when the skis are up near the surface.
3) Too much pressure being applied at the end of each turn.
4) Too much of the time, your skis are at a slight angle to the direction your CM is traveling.


IMHO, your guide was correct in his suggestions. There are many other individual things that you could work on to improve your experience, but I'd go one stage earlier and comment on your intent in skiing snow like this.

If I had to guess, to me, it looks like your intent in the video is to stay in balance in this rough heavy snow, and get each turn completed as quickly as possible. I would suggest that you replace this with a more energy-efficient, refined intent, our good, old, reliable "ski the slow line fast" intent which will accomplish what you want automatically.

Yesterday, I cliniced for much of the afternoon with 3 Level III's at our mountain in 60-65 degree temperatures, with several of the runs on our steepest slope. The warmth had turned the top 6 inches of the snow to extremely heavy, grabby slop. While our conditions yesterday were not exctly like what you encountered in the video, there are lots of similarities in the needed approach and I feel comfortable commenting on your skiing.

If I had to pick out the single most important thing for you to work on, it would be to focus on #4, ie, do whatever it takes to make sure that your skis are always traveling in *EXACTLY* the same direction that your CM is moving, whether it is at the beginning, middle or end of each turn. If you do this, the smoothness that you are seeking will come.

The obvious question is, "How do you do this?"

IMHO, what you do in these conditions is little different from what you do to carve on a groomer, and techniques and suggestions for this have been discussed in hundreds, if not thousands of posts here on Epic. The only difference is that if your skis get going sideways by a few degrees on a groomer, it's no big deal - you'll just skid a bit.

OTOH, in heavy glop, if your skis are drifting sideways by the same number of degrees, the feedback is much more intense and immediate. You'll be working hard to constantly adjust their yaw angle (eg, by bobbing up and down, by supplying lots of rotary input), you'll be fighting to stay in balance as you go over old tracks slightly sideways, etc.

My initial Rx would be:

1) Practice the initiation phase of patience turns (in the same type of snow) from a stop or slow traverse. Use NO up or down unweighting, just the normal amount of flex and extend you would use on a carved groomer turn. Go through the fall line and carve back uphill till you stop. Repeat in each direction a hundred times.

2) Consiously think about and isolate foot twisting movements, and do everything in your power to dial them down to practically zero. (You may initially have to go to a less steep pitch to work on this if you feel you are picking up too much speed because the turns are "too slow".) Let the flex of the skis turn you - - you should not be turning them. The only rotary input you should be supplying is a small functional (rotary) tension between your two legs to keep your skis parallel, not be actively twisting them.

To initiate a patience turn from a stop or slow traverse, you will have to do exactly what your guide suggested, ie, your CM will have to be forward and committed to the next turn or else your tips won't turn down the hill. Try to have your CM in the correct position at the conclusion of your old turn. If your CM is too far back when you want to make your next turn, you will be forced to do a big, energetic forward-and-over movement of your torso at each transition. If you don't do this, then your only remaining option will be to a major unweighting, then a less desirable "twist-then-edge" move.

3) Up your speed in the traverses so that you get a bit of centrifugal force to help you high in each turn and get your legs out from under you. Again, you may have to go to less steep terrain to get the feeling for this. I make the analogy to riding a bike - it's a lot easier to do if you at least are carrying a minimum speed into each turn. I know your initial intent was skiing in a narrow corridor, but I would initially practice where width was not a consideration, then narrow down the corridor as you improve.

4) Link a bunch of the above turns, reduce the duration of the traverse to zero, and enjoy.

Just my $0.02,

Tom / PM
post #10 of 20
Here in the PNW (when we Have Snow) it's usually in the form of heavy wet snow at lower elevations. This kind of snow will easily pack up into a heavy, dripping snowball. When it gets more than 8" deep no manner of twisted turn is easy and any kind of step-out to initiate a turn is a disasterous idea.

What PM describes above is pretty much what we do to ski it well (as opposed to just surviving it). A true Dynamic Parallel turn with carving mechanics does the job.

I'd add this to his ideas if I might; Feet reasonably close together - cuts thru the goop a little better and actually adds to Lateral Stability and balance.

A regular stance causes the sticky snow to build up in front of our boots rather than pass between them creating massive drag. A narrow stance (with a touch of inside-foot lead) delivers a 'slanted' and narrow boot-face that tends to release the snow to the outside.

A wide or regular stance also leaves us vulnerable to the inconsistent compression/packing of wet snow under either foot. If one foot gives way and suddenly sinks while the other stays up our lateral balance gets a jolt with fore/aft balance to suffer right after as the sunk foot is yanked back. If I keep both feet reasonably close together, when one sinks suddenly it only sinks a short way before the other supports me. This is because both feet are skeletally supporting my hips from directly underneath.

Sounds odd, but to clairify this try standing up with both legs straight (or with very slight knee bend). Now without bending your knee (or letting your leg reach forward or back) lift either foot as high as you can straight up directly toward your hip.

For me, it's the waist/tiltin-hips that allows the foot to move in the first place and it only moves up about 1.5" before the hip tilts no further. Translation while skiing: The foot that sinks can only sink 1.5" before the other automatically takes over. If I keep hip/waist tension up a bit, I catch myself sooner.

If my stance gets wider this distance isn't much greater, but lateral balance is affected more since the lost platform-side component is no longer directly under my CM (in relation to both CF & G).

It also helps to avoid flexing our knees too much as a bent knee is not only weaker, it has a whole lot of 'slack thrust(?)' to push that sinking foot a lot deeper. When we fall onto a bent knee we can't help but thrust it down to regain support. If skiing in powder, wet goop or quicksand, it just dives down deeper.

.ma
[edits for form, a 'comma-nectomy' and terms changed for clarity]
post #11 of 20
Thread Starter 
Thanks Physicsman, there must be some Austrian beer or Schnapps I can send you in appreciation.

As I said before the conditions were less than ideal. I don't think there was one of us who didn't get taken out by the glop, a rock, an unforseen drop in the flat light or a frozen track / ice ball under the shallow powder. It was good for seeing flaws in technique though but I don't need to tell you that

In the first run all I wanted to do was get down without hitting something underneath and falling flat on my backside or head. I think this is why I was rushing, skiing it more like a bump run and using a lot of steering/unweighting.
On the way down just before the second clip every roll off seemed to be ridden with rocks and I remember focussing too hard on the search for rocks rather than keeping my skiing smooth. Anyway enough with the excuses.

I've skied 9 powder days since that clip (6 with a guide) and have been working on technique a lot especially on points 1, 3 and 4. Thanks for picking up on the twisting. When you say "your skis are at a slight angle to the direction your CM is traveling" is my body inside / outside or forward / back of the correct line most of the time (or simply all over the place)?

My lines were a lot smoother last Sat morning, so much so that it was difficult to tell which track belonged to the snowboarders and which track was mine.

michaelA - thanks, will try the feet a bit closer together in the glop.
post #12 of 20
DB, you are quite welcome.

WRT hazards that lurk beneath the surface when skiing, IMHO, some of the most important benefits of "skiing the slow line fast" (and doing so smoothly, with minimal unweighting) occur in crud, and are:

1) Your skis are much less likely to catch on a sub-surface hazard if they are pointed in the exactly same direction that they are moving (ie, no sideslipping whatsoever). There are two reasons for this. The first is simply that you are sweeping out much less of the mountain when the yaw angle =0, and, secondly, if you do run into something, at zero yaw angle, your skis are more likely to slide over the obstruction rather than it catching one of your edges and throwing you over the handlebars;

2) When one does go over a submerged obstacle, I'd much rather have the long shallow grooves down the length of a ski that you get when you go over rocks without sideslipping, as compared to the deep, short sideways gashes and ripped out edges that you get when sideslipping; and,

3) You simply can't encounter hazards 6 inches below the surface if you stop intentionally porpoising, and keep your depth constant at about 5 inches (for example). You CAN run into those hazards if you porpoise on each turn and your depth is constantly changing between two and 8 inches (but the average still = 5").
--------------

"...When you say "your skis are at a slight angle to the direction your CM is traveling" is my body inside / outside or forward / back of the correct line most of the time (or simply all over the place ..."

I'm not talking about an error pertaining to front/back or inside/outside. I'm talking about an angular error, ie, the angle that the skis are making with respect to the path you leave in the snow.
--------------

MichaelA, good comments and explanation about stance width.

I'm not so sure about the bent knee, slack-thrust issue, tho. I understand what you are saying about the strong tendency of people to extend and push down from a bent knee position, but I think that this is something that you can quite easily train out of yourself (ie, pretend each one is a small drop off).

Personally, I'd much rather have my knees bent than not, as bent knees can participate more strongly in edging moves, whereas straighter legs encourage minimal angulation, and are more conducive to banked turns. These are OK in consistent deep powder, but when I'm going back and forth between pockets of deep soft snow, and wind-scoured patches, I'd rather be up on a bit of edge angle rather than riding the flater ski of a more erect posture.

Just my $0.02,

Tom / PM
post #13 of 20
Thread Starter 
Thanks Physicsman, I see what you are saying. In deeper powder (especially heavy powder) I do go for a much smoother line and the tracks I leave behind are getting better and better. Although my aim is smooth lines I do like to play about with trying to side slip a little in powder sometimes as I recognize this as a skill too. Last Sat I was trying to be as smooth as possible but ended up doing very large turns and as the terrain narrowed I just couldn't get enough space to turn until I came to a stop at the side. I realize that trying to ski like I did in the first clip would of had me straight on my head last Sat.

Was going to try and smooth out my short radius turns and play in the bumps this weekend but unfortunately it dumped 50cm+ of fresh last night so I'm going to have to ski the powder at the weekend instead. Will try some of the tips mentioned in this thread though, thanks again to all.
post #14 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by DangerousBrian
Was going to try and smooth out my short radius turns and play in the bumps this weekend but unfortunately it dumped 50cm+ of fresh last night so I'm going to have to ski the powder at the weekend instead. Will try some of the tips mentioned in this thread though, thanks again to all.
That's a shame DB. We've got some ice here that you could come practice on if you want to cross the ocean. Actually, yesterday was some pretty tough snow. New snow with 100 MPH winds the night before. Winds so strong they actually blew away ice (I think it must have been scoured away by snow particles, it was down to the dirt and rock). Anyway, the slabbiest windpack ever and me in my new Nordica Dobermans... As you said in your initial post, you have to be in balance and be gentle.

I guess I have an advatage with the video since it is full size for me. I'll say that I was really impressed by your skiing. You were a lot better than I thought you'd be. I thought one of your strengths was your ability to stay in balance, I think you were the only person that didn't fall in the first couple of runs in the glop and flat light. Balance must be a huge thing in boxing, where do you stay balanced when you are boxing, I'd quess it's not on your heels. Maybe you should try and work on the fore-aft component of your stance. The thing that stood out the most to me though (and I viewed the second clip before the first) is that you keep your hips squared to your skis. Maybe a boxing thing too. I find that for me in that nasty snow that we are talking about it helps a lot to have a strong counter. The key is that you ski into the position rather than making your skis steer into it. I find that creating that tension in the muscles of my legs and keeping the hips going down the hill allows the skis to unwind when I want the new turn and I can make the turn happen more smoothly. I think the best way to practice this is by starting with pivot slips and then moving on ot small radius turns that feel like the pivot slips. But as for this weekend, go git some!
post #15 of 20
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by epic
I guess I have an advatage with the video since it is full size for me. I'll say that I was really impressed by your skiing. You were a lot better than I thought you'd be.
Wow thanks where do I send the cheque? You put in some very good lines too (as did the others) and saved us from quite a few rocks by going first most of the time.

Quote:
Originally Posted by epic
I thought one of your strengths was your ability to stay in balance, I think you were the only person that didn't fall in the first couple of runs in the glop and flat light. Balance must be a huge thing in boxing, where do you stay balanced when you are boxing, I'd quess it's not on your heels. Maybe you should try and work on the fore-aft component of your stance. The thing that stood out the most to me though (and I viewed the second clip before the first) is that you keep your hips squared to your skis. Maybe a boxing thing too. I find that for me in that nasty snow that we are talking about it helps a lot to have a strong counter. The key is that you ski into the position rather than making your skis steer into it. I find that creating that tension in the muscles of my legs and keeping the hips going down the hill allows the skis to unwind when I want the new turn and I can make the turn happen more smoothly. I think the best way to practice this is by starting with pivot slips and then moving on ot small radius turns that feel like the pivot slips. But as for this weekend, go git some!
To be honest I think there's very little that carries over from boxing to skiing, maybe a little fitness and balance. To throw a punch one plants the feet (on a flat platform) and twists the body in a sort of chain reaction from the feet right up through the legs, lower back, shoulder and arms. Compare that with skiing where one should have a quite upper body and all the work is done down below on changing terrain. I probably gained more from mountain biking for skiing. But in boxing like skiing you go down and learn to get back up again

Just five years ago skiing was a mystery, I was turning with my upper body first. My Austrian friends were in tears (of laughter) watching my 'technique' as I came down the easiest of blue runs with more effort and skidding than you would normally put into a steep bump run. I have only skied powder in the last 3 years.

Instead of skiing pisted runs I will often find bad conditions offpiste (crud, mashed potatoes, bumped up off piste etc) and also use a balance board at home. I suspect this is what improved my balance for skiing. A lot of tips from people here have also helped (too many names to mention).

I think I'm still trying to start too much from my feet and should flow more through the turns with the whole body. Thanks for the tips and video. St Anton was fun, we must put in a few more powder turns together some day.
post #16 of 20
Hi DB,

have not read all the posts but to comment on your video, I think you skied that pretty well! No glaring bad moves just refinement needed and maybe some different tactics.

I have spent the better part of my skiing career here in the Sierras and as anyone who lives in the West knows, We get our fair share of heavy, dense, snow. the kind of snow you had in your video, crud, has always been one of my favorite conditions to ski. I think because many people have difficulty with it but once you find the secret to skiing it, these conditions become very fun.

Let me give you my holistic tactical view...

-Forget your edges and realize you should be skiing the berm created by bending your skis into an arc not riding on your edges.
-Forget pivoting your skis, unless you are skiing a steep chute or narrow passage where hop turns are inevitable, but aim to keep everything moving the same general direction as your skis are pointed, ie: a more coordinated stance using a medium to long radius turn.
-turn up the volume! carry some speed
-take a soft focus, don't worry about every little bump in the road but allow your body to carry a functional tension in the middle of your suspension travel and ride the berm.
-absorb the end of the turn like a bump and move across your skis slightly before you extend so as to bend the skis at the top of the turn.
-take me skiing

Keep up the good turns, you have a solid stance and base to work from!
post #17 of 20
PhysicsMan, What you specified above in points #1 & #2 ... that's ExAcTlY how we've been dealing with all the Rocks we've had showing around here in our clipped season. Regrettably, I must not have been on the ball as some of my base wounds were a bit angled to the edge. That metal edge... wow ...just like a roadside barricade rail - captures that encroaching mass and guides it right alooooooong the rail...

On the bent-knee thing, I'd not intended an image of standing artificially erect and straight-legged while skiing. I too keep my knees somewhat bent but in a minor way. Outside knee not much at all and inside knee barely more than that, just enough to accomodate ...tilt to the hill, however it's derived.

I'd also clarify snow quality. The word Powder implies snow that can & will cascade off a shovel leaving a peaked heap behind - like a pyramid. The snow I'm referring to not only doesn't cascade off when you lift the shovel but leaves you with an upside down pyramid on the shovel.

Anyway, if you or anyone else is inclined to experiment (as I do every chance I get) it's worth the five minute effort. If for no other reason than to eliminate the possibility of value somewhere therein.

Hey, Bud_H - you're in the zone that gets this kind of eliminator-snow. Do you experience the sudden foot/ski sink thing I'm trying to describe? Kinda like when hiking on spring snow where a foot suddenly sinks four inches and you can't help but to fall onto it? And to keep from tipping over you instinctively extend that leg down more, accidentally punching it all the way thru so you're stuck there up to your inseam? Maybe it's just a west coast thing.

.ma
post #18 of 20
Yup on #1 ... yup on #2 ...

#3 - I'm totally in agreement with you on using the term powder correctly, but I must confess that I occasionally get lax and just use the term for any form of new snow, so, if I did that, my apologies. BTW, I love your shovel-based "powder-ometer".

One final question: when you said, "if someone is inclined to experiment, it's worth the 5 min question", I must be dense, but what experiment were you referring to?

Tom / PM
post #19 of 20
MichaelA,

can't say as I have very often but it sounds like the tactic to combat that situation would be like playing that game where you stand arm lengths apart from your opponent and touch palm to palm and try to push each other off balance. If your opponent's hand suddenly pulls away you quickly relax that arm so as not to get sucked in. I don't recall our snow getting quite as gloppy as you describe...thank god!
post #20 of 20
PhysicsMan, I was referring to testing the concept of using 'pelvic tilt' as mechanism to manage/avoid Sudden Sinking Ski Syndrom, a woeful malady in heavy wet snow conditions. It can be tried in regular spring snow (when said snow has no underlying 'firm' layer to rely on for recovery).

To deploy it, forgo any 'Knee Angulation' and rely on Hip/Waist Angulation almost entirely. Heavy wet snow seems pretty hazardous to rotated knees anyway. Either ski can get stuck in it at any moment as the snow compacts ahead of, and around the boot. I make no claims to orthodoxy here.

BudH, Oh well, others from around there have told me of similar conditions. Is Sierra-Cement the fresh-mixed kind or the hardend stuff? I've never figured that out for Cascade-Concrete either.

New wet snow to a depth of 16" does wonders for ones rotational leg strength. One can ski a very steep run with no concern at all for speed control. Even straight down the hill.

The hazard is in turning when the outside ski sinks suddenly down and away from me. Without that turning support, my CM continues on a tangent while my weight falls onto my still-turning inside ski (which goes deep into a firm-walled channel). If that outside leg can get far enough away from me the firmly packed and heavy (meaning massive) snow tries to twist that inside leg off. Yes, my binding can release but sometimes its actually the boot/leg that are firmly embedded as well.

One noteworthy bailout has been to do just that - bail. When those hidden Marmots reach up to grab my ski and hold on, I dive up and out from the turn. In such snow conditions one doesn't slide down the hill at all, they just go -Spluck!- into a big ole body divot - hopefully close to those now-missing skis. Hey, it's a fun place around here when we have such snow.

.ma
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