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Variable Snow Conditions - What's the trick

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
So its one of those early-no-snow-tried-to-groom-it-didn't-work-out kinda of days. Early November, no snow for days and in the 50's for days with late freeze at night. As you walk to the lift for early morning training you can already see the sugar and know what's coming. On your first warm up run you encounter extreme variable conditions including pine cone sized "Death Cookies" strewn across "ball-bearing" with patches of ice (not Rocky Mountain or Wasatch Ice but that stuff you put in your evening cocktail) and holes filled with all the sugar you put in your morning coffee.

So here's the question.

When warming up on Slalom or GS skies in these conditions and knowing that your course for the day is going to have some of the same attributes, especially HOLES. Sugar Berms and hard chatter below the gates - how do you warm up and what "Strategy" do you take to the course?

I'm looking for "Race coach" advice here for racers who are proficient at carving or pulling an "offensive or defensive P.E.T." on demand. So assume second year J2 skills and higher.

Concepts are weight distribution and bias, fore aft balance point, stance, transitions (thoughts, intention and execution), pressure/load distribution on radius (where, how, when), counter versus square, and so on.

Let's assume skis are properly tuned to get that out of the way right away.

Let's hear it for both Slalom and GS. Thank in advance guys!
post #2 of 16
Wow, this is really something I have never thought about, especially the warming up part. Conditions like that are no fun and definitely not good for getting skis to bend. The only thing I can think of is, when skiing courses in that crap, just suck it up and get out of those turns. Because there isn't much solid to grip, trying to edge accross the fall line is pretty much useless. The conditions could actually be very good for tactical training, i.e. having a goal of getting down the hill as fast as possible, regardless of uglyness.

I really don't know what to say and am pretty interested on what others come up with. I guess just keep in mind that racing is about going fast and not looking pretty. I'm not really sure there's any specific technique that will work. Just give 'er...

(background: CSCF Coach 2 with 3 years experience coaching athletes 11-15, raced ACA until 2003, quit at 18)
post #3 of 16
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by D(C) View Post
Wow, this is really something I have never thought about, especially the warming up part. Conditions like that are no fun and definitely not good for getting skis to bend. The only thing I can think of is, when skiing courses in that crap, just suck it up and get out of those turns. Because there isn't much solid to grip, trying to edge accross the fall line is pretty much useless. The conditions could actually be very good for tactical training, i.e. having a goal of getting down the hill as fast as possible, regardless of uglyness.

I really don't know what to say and am pretty interested on what others come up with. I guess just keep in mind that racing is about going fast and not looking pretty. I'm not really sure there's any specific technique that will work. Just give 'er...

(background: CSCF Coach 2 with 3 years experience coaching athletes 11-15, raced ACA until 2003, quit at 18)
Good start and the most important point from my POV is tactical and strategic. Winning or winning ugly is a good point and I've got to say, nobody has looked tip/top in the last few days but some manage better than others. I have had 3 days in row in these conditions and am putting considerable thought and effort into this as well. I'd like to hear more before I kick in my .02 worth. I know there are quite a few coaches out there just dying to chime in on this. Thanks for your post and insight!!

I can tell you that the racers who have better command of their fore/aft balance point (weight/foot/ski) and can manage to bring more energy to the release do better from what I've been seeing and playing with. Patience when things are not going right paying attention to ultimate line outcome is also apparent.
post #4 of 16
I've encountered such conditions in the past and it is very frustrating: you are just starting again, you might not be accustomed to your new gear, and you still have to ski ugly conditions.

For me, I'd focus on good mechanics that would let me allow to
a) Get as much speed as possible while taking the best line possible in such conditions (wich can be different than the fastest line in usual conditions).
b) Staying focused on the task at hand: skiing fast.

How this would translate into concrete terms:
a) In terms of lines and tactics. In warm-up, I'd try to play with varius turns radii (note, I'm only talking about GS here) to see what feels comfortable. There's no point in trying your usual stuff when it doesn't work: it that means reducing stance width to facilitate rotary movements at the start of the turn, so be it. Then, when bringing it into the course, I'd try to avoid the trouble spots (holes right at the gate or right below the gate) by taking a rounder line, but lower line (+ time in the fall line, while avoiding some obstacles, but + distance traveled). By rounder, I doesn't mean "across the fall line rounder" but just plain "getting a bit farther away from the gate".

b) Since balancing is hard on this terrain and getting thrown around is a given, I believe that focus on the outside ski and on a solid transition (pole plant and forceful projecting of the CM into the new turn, down unweighting, redirection of the skis if necessary: yes, redirection, as in the old pivot, since cleaner arcs will be difficult to obtain while maintaining good tactics) will allevaite many of the possible mistakes. The last thing I want is to hit a hole backseat or to hit a patch of ice on the inside ski.

You mentionned patience and I think patience is also key to this kind of conditions, on multiple levels:
a) Not beating up yourself for not getting the "right" type of approach. Persisting in trying to find the solution.
b) Patience while in the fall-line. If I might, I would like to reitarate what D(C) said: get out of the turn because arcing ACROSS is useless. But that doesn't mean rushing the entry and second phase of the turn since you want and need to be in balance or even a little bit foward, to compensate for the chatter and variable. It's hard getting cuaght too much in front of your skis in these conditions, while getting caught back or leaning can be disastruous.
c) Wich leads us to patience establishing the weight on the outside ski. You need to be agressive and assertive in suck condition, but forceful and brutal movements will only cause skidding. Let the forces build up, get in the fall line, get out and get on the new edges to avoird locking-in.

So I'd say that someone who has a better command of the weight/foot/ski interface is clearly at an advantage since pure ice cannot be approached the same way death cookies can. But I'd also say that being in the front seat at all times would be my priority: you'll never get the inclination you can on a firm and stable surface, might as well go for
something that might seem a little less "dynamic" (in that you will stay "blocky" and not adventure into extreme edge angles and inclination), but that will facilitate easy recovery.

That's my honest opinion, feel free to tear apart.

(Background: a lot of racing, altough never got all that good. Many years teaching and coaching skiing at different level.)
post #5 of 16
I agree with a lot of what BillyRay has to say.

My take?

1st- Get out of the gates- at least for a few runs. My reasoning?
- The course is not going to get any better. Beating yourself up repeatedly (and risking injury) is not going to make you any faster.
- Gates are not where you learn to deal with conditions. Figure out what works outside the gates, then apply it on the course.

2nd- Dial it back for a couple runs. Make your goal good technique instead of pure speed. Pick a small goal and work towards it. When you feel comfortable with your progress, pick another goal- ramping it up slightly each time.

Being out of your comfort zone can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing- with very bad consequences. When you venture past your boundaries, make sure it's you that made the choice.
post #6 of 16
Thread Starter 
BillyRay, you've nailed almost every point I would have brought up. Great Post. Well this thread will die out quickly - in other words, you pulled "A Rick", what else is there to say

I'll hang out a bit more and see if anybody else has any ideas. The warm up "routine" for these days are critical. BillyRay was all over it. Mike too in as much as you don't want to jump right into the gates. Figure out what works in the free environment and establish your strategy BEFORE you get in the gates. Obviously, especially on race day and this may mean taking a few more warm up runs than usual because what you're about to encounter isn't usual.

And this little nugget is HUGE! Maybe the best key for a successful day.

Quote:
You mentionned patience and I think patience is also key to this kind of conditions, on multiple levels
a) Not beating up yourself for not getting the "right" type of approach. Persisting in trying to find the solution. -BillyRay
Again, all over it here

Quote:
I believe that focus on the outside ski and on a solid transition (pole plant and forceful projecting of the CM into the new turn, down unweighting, redirection of the skis if necessary: yes, redirection, as in the old pivot, since cleaner arcs will be difficult to obtain while maintaining good tactics) will allevaite many of the possible mistakes. The last thing I want is to hit a hole backseat or to hit a patch of ice on the inside ski.
Finding the outside ski is more than crucial. Getting adequate pressure on the outside ski and then bringing in the inside ski more on the second half of "some" turns (if the conditions permit more bias earlier on the inside ski of "if its there", use it) may be a very sound strategy.

The key to skiing these environments effectively, again, has been touched on by BillyRay. One simple concept is you can't slam on the turn, it simply won't have consistent results, regardless of your tune and setup. Quick stable transitions but progressive application of pressure seems to work best. Reducing up weighting helps getting the ski tracking and allows for a greater range of pressuring options while enhancing overall balance and helps prevent the ski from getting deflected in the initiation phase of the turn.

You'd better be able to PIVOT as you just can't expect to arc 'em all in these conditions and feathering your edges is a must. Get in the back set - cya. But you will need to get mid foot and re-center quickly, a lot.

Any more ideas? How about a structured warm routine (2 or 3) runs you'd give to your athlete to prepare him/her or yourself for the tactics, balance range and moves you'll have to make to have the cleanest run possible.

Now I've got to go out and play in it again for a few hours
post #7 of 16
What I would have an athlete do on race day in order to prepare herself/himself:

a) Spend time on the warm-up hill loosening up. Being loose is what this type of conditions are all about and being loose is part technical, part technical: getting in front early, not spending time in the back seat, pivoting if necessary, etc. Basically, see what works, and stick with it in the race. I'd go for a 2-3 runs warm-up (or more if times allows, but it usually doesn't), but at low intensity, having only the last few turns trying things at speed. Why? So you don't get sloppy early: executing a clean "race" carve, on GS skis, at lower speeds in these conditions will ask you to revise your skiing and question it. Once you've nailed it, try it out with the throttle open to see if it holds up. It usually does. If it doesn't, tough luck, try new things again and go even more to the basics (entering the turn on the new outside ski, being correctly stacked, not forcing anything, etc.). As for drills, double pole touches at every single turns with a powerful projection starting at the WAIST and focus on feetwork (fore/aft balance). Try being very in front, a bit less in front, centered and a bit back at different part of the turn. See what carves, see what rides fast.
b) Once in the start hut, focus on the one or two elements that were positive in your skiing. For example, do not thing about the chatter or the holes, but think about skiing around them by having a lower line and not going across them. Do not think about quitting the turn early, but think about having a nice and smooth transition as soon as possible. Putting the brakes in variable conditions will kill your time: some people like to gamble in such condition, trying a straighter line that some might not feel comfortable using in such poor conditions, but I believe that sound racing (trying to go as fast as possible while avoiding hazards and maximizing time in the fall line while keeping a line that will allow for minor errors) is the way to go. This way, you might be slower on the turnier part of a gs, but at least you'll reduce to the absolute minimum the chances of fatal mistakes, wich happens a LOT when going to hard snow, to death cookies, to holes, to fluff, to grippy man-made and back to ice in two gates time.

As for all the praise, I'm blushing, especially since I noticed after reading my post that many of the things I mentionned are also crucial in fair condition racing or in any type of skiing (except maybe for the pivot and line). In other words, for anyone that knows his racing and had to start in the very late bib, what I said is true but almost implicit : you only focus a lot more on it when conditions are very poor.

Being smooth, having a strong transition and skiing in the future are for me (and my pupils) what I most focus on. It's only that variable condition will ask for more patience (since your ski will not edge as easily) and different tactics: the other aspects I've discussed, I'd advocate on "regular" setups as well, but I'd focus a lot more on two footed skiing, carving as soon as possible, etc.

And other considerations that are sometimes forgotten:
a) Look far ahead. You CANNOT ski fast in poor and variable conditions if you don't know what will happen and how to adjust accordingly. Usually, on any run, 10% of things go wrong: you arrive too fast/ too straight/too round at a gate, you get thrown, you're too much on the inside, etc. When conditions change, these small mistakes can become huge and have a lot of consequences on your time.
b) Have googles for flat light if light is flat.

Being compared to Rick is very much an honor, since I'm just a failed ski racer who obsesses on coaching
post #8 of 16
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Being compared to Rick is very much an honor, since I'm just a failed ski racer who obsesses on coaching
HAH! I'm still a failing ski racer that obsesses on coaching Some people NEVER LEARN!

Quote:
a powerful projection starting at the WAIST and focus on feetwork (fore/aft balance).
NI-ICE
post #9 of 16
Thread Starter 
So that's it? No more takers on my question? C'mon guys, I mean up here there are 100 plus posts on how to make wedge turns or how wide the stance should be and I can't get you coaches to chip in your wisdom on this topic? Anyone? AlaskaMike, Bolter, Bob Harwood?

Notice I'm not pestering Rick here The last thing I want is this thread to get "Ricked" as in, what else is there to say. And maybe BillyRay has already done that Its a challenge, c'mon guys :
post #10 of 16

Crank your bindings into the firewall...

...back off a turn...and then go take up bowling. Just kidding! You've got some great, great advice from Billy Ray and Alaska Mike...very sound thinking. I'd only add a couple of conceptual things:

- Ski racing is about winning regardless of the conditions, so it is good to train in these conditions, because I guarantee you'll have to race in them at some point. Is it fun? Not hardly, but you kind of have to find a way to make it so. My background, before Masters racing, was PSIA L3, 6 years of teaching, and before that, being the best all-mountain, all-conditions skier I could be when I was ski bumming in Stowe (2 winters) and Summit County (4 winters before I started teaching skiing).

If you want to talk about ugly, try the Front Four on Mt. Mansfield after April Showers (which always happens in February...) followed by -10 temperatures. We were young and stupid, so of course we went out and skied it anyway, and figured out not just how to make it happen but how to make it fun. It was just kind of a cool challenge to figure out how to make good things happen in wretched conditions, and when we struggled though it and came out the other side in one piece, we had the confidence that we could ski anything, any time, anywhere. That confidence helped me immensely when I skied some gnarly stuff I'd never seen before in Zermatt and Verbier, and it helped me immensely the first time I ever ran a downhill.

So try to make it fun, and that means not making the whole experience a death march. As Warren Witherell noted, sometimes you can't buy a turn, and the best thing is to get off the hill, do some dryland, work on your skis, whatever...and then come back physically and mentally refreshed and ready to hammer. We don't get that kind of stuff in the Rockies, but when we get super hard ice (which does happen, and goes on for weeks sometimes...), sometimes it's good to train hard one day, take a day off to pump some iron or do whatever, come back and free ski, get back in the gates the next day, and so forth.

- I think the other thing that helps is to shift your focus from being a better racer...or even a better skier...to being a better athlete. People fall into this trap of thinking that skiing is a game onto itself that doesn't follow the laws of physics or the reality of human anatomy and capabilities. Not true. What do you need to be great at my favorite event in track and field, the javelin? Answer: Strength, quickness, explosiveness, flexibility, agility, and above all, balance. What do you need to be a great tennis player? Answer: See above. What do you need to be a great skier/ski racer? Answer: You already know the answer.

My coach and teammates are telling me that I'm skiing two levels better than I did last year...what's the secret, Richard? Answer: I'm a better athlete. I played two to three hours of hard 5.0 level tennis a day all summer, and when I wasn't doing that, I was road biking, mountain biking, swimming, lifting weights, or working the 7 acre ranch where I live. Result: When something bad happens in a course, it's an automatic reaction for me to do whatever it takes to fix that little problem and continue on down the hill with elan and verve.

I was watching the Women's SL from Aspen the other night, and I kept thinking two things: (1) Those women are incredible athletes! They're putting themselves in harm's way on every turn by pushing the line to the max, and when it goes over the edge, they have the strength and quickness to pull it back inside the red line. (2) I bet the Williams sisters (probably the best athletes in women's tennis) could be doing that with about a month's worth of ski-specific training...
post #11 of 16
Thread Starter 
Thanks for your response SR55 (btw do you know my buddy Kevin Ward?).

I'm with you on the better athlete deal. Been racing as a fat guy for 3 years (to be fair, broke my neck in 2004 and that set me back just a bit) but this season coming in 30 lbs less (same as you, 2000 plus miles on the road bike, swimming, blah, blah). I'm skiing another level. It will be interesting to see what happens in the course this year, can't wait. Unfortunately I'm not making my early RMM run this year (last year at GS's at Loveland), was really looking forward to the Copper Slaloms. Oh well. 2 Slaloms coming up at Snow Basin right here quick. Again, can't wait, and that alone is a whole different attitude than I last year.

Again, appreciate your post and another view on the subject. It all add up

BTW, the tennis racquet (my Wilson ProStaff NCode 90) was hung up when the neck snapped. Played 4.5 to 5.0 tourneys for YEARS in So. Cal before moving to Park City. Can still swing the TaylorMade, however

You think Federer could pick up skiing? Nah
post #12 of 16

Yes, I know Kevin Ward...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary Dranow View Post
Thanks for your response SR55 (btw do you know my buddy Kevin Ward?).

I'm with you on the better athlete deal. Been racing as a fat guy for 3 years (to be fair, broke my neck in 2004 and that set me back just a bit) but this season coming in 30 lbs less (same as you, 2000 plus miles on the road bike, swimming, blah, blah). I'm skiing another level. It will be interesting to see what happens in the course this year, can't wait. Unfortunately I'm not making my early RMM run this year (last year at GS's at Loveland), was really looking forward to the Copper Slaloms. Oh well. 2 Slaloms coming up at Snow Basin right here quick. Again, can't wait, and that alone is a whole different attitude than I last year.

Again, appreciate your post and another view on the subject. It all add up

BTW, the tennis racquet (my Wilson ProStaff NCode 90) was hung up when the neck snapped. Played 4.5 to 5.0 tourneys for YEARS in So. Cal before moving to Park City. Can still swing the TaylorMade, however

You think Federer could pick up skiing? Nah
...he and I wound up with the same handle on different forums through the miracle of parallel universes. I'd say you're loaded for bear and ready to go. There's plenty more RMM races coming up, so don't even worry about the December races. We've all skied a lot, but no gates, so I'm not even considering Copper. Federer on skis...you might be right, but he is Swiss, after all...maybe that doesn't mean anything these days, huh?
post #13 of 16
Interesting. My experience with cross-training athletes are that the ones that come from sports with a lot of dynamic movment at speed are the ones that do best. BMX, motocross, hockey... those types of activities seem to breed the right mentaility for racing success. Tennis? I guess it worked for Bode.
post #14 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Alaska Mike View Post
Interesting. My experience with cross-training athletes are that the ones that come from sports with a lot of dynamic movment at speed are the ones that do best. BMX, motocross, hockey... those types of activities seem to breed the right mentaility for racing success. Tennis? I guess it worked for Bode.
Yep, anybody who is comfortable on a motocross bike is probably going to do okay as a ski racer (e. g., Daron Rahlves). Tennis doesn't have the movement at speed thing going on, but it has a couple of other crossover attributes. First of all, if you're playing tournament tennis (not hit and giggle tennis), you have to be a serious athlete, and that stuff all transfers to skiing.

Second, tennis is not a team sport...or at least it isn't when you're on the court. It's not even you against the environment, as it is in ski racing. It's you against another person...who wants to win as much or more than you do. I've been fortunate enough to have the Head and Assistant Men's Tennis Coaches at CU Boulder as my coach as well...that is, until CU canned Men's Tennis this year. They coached me as they did their players, which is that hitting the ball well isn't enough. You also have to be a physical specimen, and, most important, you have to compete well to win in what is essentially a gladatorial sport without the bloodshed. Two guys go in, one guy comes out. It's definitely going to help me be a winning ski racer, I'm convinced...
post #15 of 16
Thread Starter 
Speaking of Cross Over sports -

These work




post #16 of 16
And Rahlves won the world championships as a jet ski racer.

Sports that include line choice and inclination, balancing against forces
seem to have a strong correlation to skiing performance.

But then anything involving athletic position, balance, rapid change of direction agressiveness and path choice (in tennis, you have to choose
where to go and where to go next) seems to work well.

My 13 year old son is something of a natural for ski racing.
And on his junior high school flag football team he was the star defensive
player, because he was the one kid who could move to where he needed
to be to grab the flag (not to where the ball carrier is now.) Coincidence?
Probably not.
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