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Skiing "Bad" Snow

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
Over Thanksgiving I was talking to a friend out in Utah about the difficulties and vagaries of skiing "bad" snow. By using this term I mean frozen crude, frozen sun cups, breakable crusts, etc. While one might want to include frozen hard pack/ice in the milieu I think it is a different beast that requires a different approach.

BTW, this whole topic came up as I described my first day of skiing on my second hip replacement. There wasn't much snow inbounds at Solitude so my son and I took a short back country climb on skins. While we found a few good turns at the top (rather he did - I struggled with the heavy snow, my first run for the year, and a new hip replacement) the rest of the trip down was "bad" snow as I've defined it. The new hip and it being my first day of the year only emphasized to me the difficulties of skiing this snow (not that I find it "easy" even with fully healed hips and lots of runs under my belt for the season).

We both talked about how much we admire Bob Peters' ability to ski in such conditions where he can make some of the most difficulty snow conditions look pretty ordinary. We agreed that he was among the very best at skiing these conditions. We also agreed that following him in such conditions was a lot of fun even though somewhat frustrating.

So, I was thinking. What does it take to handle these conditions like Bob does? How do you effectively handle snow conditions that grab your skis and shove them from one direction to another - often pushing or pulling each ski in a different direction - with no pattern, rhyme or reason. It seems to me that it takes the ability to ski with a considerable amount of tension, much more so than normal, and still be able to produce both normal and exaggerated skiing movements. It also takes the ability to react instantaneously to perturbations and barriers imposed by the frozen crud while maintaining that tension and trying to produce turning movements. While I'm not a musician, it seems almost akin to harmonizing, using a simple melody, to a jazz improvisation being played for the very first time.

I'm interested to hear from those of you who like to ski this stuff what your perceptions are. I'd especially like to hear from Bob who I know skis this stuff so well.
post #2 of 16
leg tension and loose feet.
post #3 of 16
Have you tried reading Weems' book (http://www.edgechange.com/)? I won't try to explain his system, but I know that it works well for me when the going gets tough.

Also, Bob Barnes' "right tip right to go right" mantra has gotten me out of some jams. i.e., nothing goes left in a right turn, and vice versa.

Basically, when I find myself in a jam, I stop thinking about technique and I start thinking about tactics. Bob's offensive turns and Weems' ideas. I forget who said it at Stowe this past weekend, but basically: "Your technique isn't going to improve any on this run, so concentrate on tactics instead".
post #4 of 16
Equal weight on both feet prevents unequal movement of each foot.

Putting your skis on edge and letting them slice through the snow works best...breakable crust the possible exception. Carving technique on non-carving snow is the goal. Breakable crust requires either skiing with enough energy to plow through the crust, or exhausting jump turns every time to get above the crust and around.


Ken
post #5 of 16
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by SoftSnowGuy View Post
Equal weight on both feet prevents unequal movement of each foot.

Putting your skis on edge and letting them slice through the snow works best...breakable crust the possible exception. Carving technique on non-carving snow is the goal. Breakable crust requires either skiing with enough energy to plow through the crust, or exhausting jump turns every time to get above the crust and around.


Ken
Sounds like good advice but I'm talking about "snow" you don't slice through but rather bounce over!
post #6 of 16
Go to the PSIA site (www.psia.org) and find the TPS archives: articles from their magazine. Find "Keeping your cool in crudy conditions" by Max Lundberg. It helped me.
post #7 of 16
There's a vid up in the post your videos forum of some nasty late day skied-up crud at Sunapee last Friday. It was starting to freeze up. It's a little hard to tell from the shaky camera and flat light just how "bad" the conditions were but note the empty chairs and slopes. In that stuff we were following SoftSnowGuy's idea. Your post reminds me of my first time skiing Tuckerman Ravine. I had never skied it and ran into a guy who had and agreed to guide me. Same thing except on a macro scale. As we hiked the headwall the shadow of the lip came across the snow and the telemarkers who had been so glib minutes before started sliding precariously and looked really scared. The Left Gully had been skied up into 3 foot moguls in the sun all day which now were case hardened in the shade. As we looked down the pitch, my "guide's" knees were literally shaking so hard that he had to walk down - no easy task itself in plastic-soled boots. I managed to "ski" it, if you could call it that, by jump turning from the top of one bump to the next like giant stairs, each one exploding under my feet as the crust gave way. Since the valleys were blue ice it seemed like the only reasonably safe thing to do, a better option even then walking down. Falling down it would have been real ugly. I like your jazz improve metaphor - have a bunch of good licks in your repertoire and figure out on the fly which work in what variations for a given set of changes, always ready to shift with the flow... Well tuned edges are a good thing too.
post #8 of 16
It all starts with a centered stance. From there, when you add great balance, you have the widest range of positions where you can still be "in balance". "Functional tension" can help resist the deflecting movements of bad snow, but tension in the lower body is even more effective with added core strength to anchor to. As noted, an edged ski is much more effective at resisting deflection than a flat ski. Combine all these together and you get a confidence that knows that you'll power through the little crap, that the little deflection won't alter your path and that the big deflections will tend to self correct (e.g. getting your skis knocked to the sides will tend to make them want to come back). Yes it's easier said than done, but the good guys make it look so easy because when you have confidence in all these skills, it is less work.
post #9 of 16
When I encounter those frozen conditions, my approach is to try maintaining nearly equal weight on edged skis with the goal of turning enough to keep my pace slow enough to let me stay somewhat relaxed. If I go fast and get tense, the going gets a whole lot worse.
post #10 of 16
Stay ballanced and keep your legs loose because you will be getting a ton of feedback from the snow, at the same time keep enough pressure to keep your edges from loosing hold with the snow. Equipment makes a big difference
post #11 of 16
Hi, Si.

Thank you for the nice compliment. Also, since I know who the friend is, that's one of the nicest things anybody's ever said about my skiing.

I guess my own philosophy for skiing *really* junky snow is quite a bit different from some of what's been offered.

First off, when the snow gets really bad, I don't even *think* about trying to carve turns. Big angles and locked edges are, in my opinion, a great way to kill yourself. When you're skipping off the tops of frozen ruts, an edge that's heavily engaged just invites your skis to be thrown in directions that are way different from the path your center of mass is taking.

I often do feathered turns with quick - skidding - edge sets to help control my speed and change direction. I look well down the hill for short spaces where a direction change ("turn" to some people) can be made with less effort than the rest of the snowpack. I'll look for piles that will give me a little launch that can release the edges and redirect the skis in the air rather than on the snow. I'll sometimes find that big GS turns will help me maintain stability. In bad breakable crust, I find that very exlposive jump turns are often the only way to eliminate the crust - you just crush it rather than trying to tiptoe around on eggshells.

I try to keep my center of gravity much lower than "normal", with lots and lots of flex available in my knees to help absorb irregular terrain. I also try to stay exactly in the middle of the ski because the snow variations can throw you forward or back all the time and a centered position gives you more range to stay with the skis. I ski a slightly angulated ski that can be flattened or more heavily edged depending on the feedback I'm getting from the snow.

It's absolutely critical to be able to absord those snow variations. Sometimes that means totally abandoning a turn right after you start it. That may mean up-unweighting, down-unweighting, or just raising the skis off the snow and *hoping* that the next place they come down will be better than what you just left.

I don't worry so much about percentages of weight on both skis. I worry more about being able to instantly *dis*engage one or both edges if I feel them start to hang up. Moderate weight on both skis is a great starting point, but really bad crud demands a willingness to throw any or all preconceived technique ideas out the window at any given instant. I will unequivocally say that the worse the snow, the more important an up-move becomes. And as far as that's concerned, I could care less what modern ski instruction says about up-moves.:

To be fair, I didn't easily come by whatever crud-skiing ability I have. It came from years and years of intentionally seeking out bad snow at a mountain where bad snow is often a trademark. There's absolutely no substitute for miles. I've done so many falls in bad snow it makes me hurt just to think about it.

Look for junky snow next to good snow. Wander out into the junk and come back into the good stuff when the going gets too rough. Make it a game. My guide friends and I used to place bets on who could find the "worst" snow on our mountain. Start looking at bad snow as the Holy Grail.

The cool thing about improving your crud-skiing ability is that it makes good snow that much more enjoyable (and easier).

Thanks again.
post #12 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kneale Brownson View Post
When I encounter those frozen conditions, my approach is to try maintaining nearly equal weight on edged skis with the goal of turning enough to keep my pace slow enough to let me stay somewhat relaxed. If I go fast and get tense, the going gets a whole lot worse.
Nice advice. This is my impression also . Using a lower leg dominant technique works fine on a hard surface but will dig trenches in the crust over soft and you will have no control.Staying equal with pressure evenly distributed will keep you afloat. Use gentle turning movements with flexion then extension to get the edges engaged in a less dynamic method.
You don't need fat skis if you can do it this way but the fatties sure make this less complicated
post #13 of 16
Thread Starter 
Thanks Bob,

I think that's a great explanation. I especially like your description of the need for "feathered" turns. Most of what has been posted here seems to be good advice for crud and cut up snow that is less than frozen. The harder the snow gets the more important I think your advice becomes. Perhaps I wasn't graphic enough in describing the type of "snow" that I was referring to. I was quite confidant you would have no trouble with underestimation of the "badness" of snow I was trying to describe. As you like to say: "Let's check over the next ridge, I don't think it will be any good but you never know."
post #14 of 16
i love the expression "there's good snow and snow that is good for you".

i have a couple new pairs of skis that i had not mounted. i was waiting for better coverage. we got that this week, however, i have not yet mounted the skis.

i have been skiing on a older short slalom ski with a skinny waist. today i did a "powder lesson" on the skis. the snow i found above tree line was two days old, busted up, fairly firm, etc.

i think we have all become too reliant on wide skis in lousy conditions. personally i'm going to spend much more time in crud and powder on short skinny boards. i'm convinced it will improve my skiing.

combine snow that is "good for you" with a ski that is "good for you" and i think you'll find a functional stance and learn to turn em.
post #15 of 16
My technique depends on the skis. With my SGs, which are quite massive with lots of metal, I just blast through it. They cut through frozen crud like a Greyhound bus. I keep the edges very sharp. With the SCs, I still carve, but I'm a little more picky about where I turn and a little more careful about absorbing terrain features. Breakable crust is the only condition that gives me a problem; it can be somewhat hard on the shins. I guess I agree with Bob's technique here, no matter the ski. For Piles of wet slush with dispersed puddles of water, I tend to move back a little so that when I hit the super-super glue I don't go over the tips. Skiing at a good clip in that stuff is hard on my quads.
post #16 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ghost View Post
...Breakable crust is the only condition that gives me a problem...
Breakable crust is most challenging. Many times the only way to ski that kind of snow is to do jump turns or airoplane turns as they are allso called.
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