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Skiing backwards - how to?

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
A couple of weeks ago I was night skiing at good old WA-WA. I was cruising along at a pretty good clip on the right side of the upper Conifer trail, when I thought I heard someone call me from the side of the trail as I went by. Thinking I might have passed my friends at a stopping point, I went to stop, hard. Too hard. I over-rotated, and though I scrubbed off most of my speed, I ended up facing uphill but still sliding downhill - and into the woods. I tried spreading my tips in a reversed wedge, but it didn't do much good, and I couldn't get myself turned back around or steer, so I was really starting to panic when I went off the lip of trail. One of my skis released, but I kept sliding until I gently fetched up next to one of the snowgun feed pipes. I tapped it with a pole; it went, "clink." It could have been a "CLAAAANG!" if I'd been a little less lucky, and gone into the woods with more speed. I don't think I've ever been in a situation so terrifying on skis as being backwards and out of control.

The immediate result of this event was that I bought a helmet. However, I would also like to learn how to prevent this from happening. If I could have turned forwards again, or steered myself to the left (my right) away from the woods, I wouldn't have had to worry. Aside from that, learning how to ski backwards would be a cool addition to my bag o' tricks . So how do I ski "switch"? Start with the basics, please; I know how to form a wedge when moving backwards, but that's about it. Can anyone give me any advice?
post #2 of 8
Hi Grolby, I ski switch for fun and when I am teaching kids so I can watch them when they are coming down and to catch them if their skis run away with them, and it isn't THAT hard to learn but the biggest obstacle is the fear of moving backwards fast. This IS a legitimate fear that you shouldn't so much try and overcome by pushing it into the back of your mind, disregarding your safety, but simply by becoming good at skiing switch. First off, any ski will ride switch well on a corduroy run but if the going gets choppy you will want at least a semi twin tip. Most skis have at least a little of this going on. If the back comes up off the snow at least a LITTLE bit then you're good. Now I taught myself skiing switch, so some of my advice may not be the most helpful, but at the least I hope my own insights are usefulas a model for your own intuitive learning process. I'll break it up into three sections, the transition to switch, skiing switch, and then the transition from switch to regular. Throughout I am making the assumption you are AT LEAST a strong intermediate who is comfortable skiing parallel turns and can balance on their skis when the going gets a little rough. No offense intended if you can rip black damonds liek Glen Plake

Learning the transition into switch is a lot like a hockey stop carried all the way around with very little edging. You want as little edge as possible without a flat ski on the snow. A flat ski would obviously rotate the best but then you run the risk of catching that downhill edge like a beginning snowboarder when you are transitioning from front to back and falling over it onto your side, so a LITTLE edge is good. At the beginning, when you transition into switch you will want to be in a switch-wedge as you come out of the transition, but this isn't that inportant, just let it happen if it does, if it doesnt happen during the transition don't make it because you will try and get rid of it later anways.

While riding backwards switch it is tempting to make little snowplow turns to slow us down, but you have to remember when you were learning what a terrible job a wedge down the fall line of even a green run does to stop you so use your wedge to make turns. A lot of good skiers skiing switch try to make a lot of fast turns starting out like they are used to using (in the form of short swings or wedeln) while skiing frontwards but that is difficult to do even frontwards in a wedge so you will have to revert back to making wide turns across the hill. These are easy to do early on even in a wedge and the same principle will be applied when you learn to carve backwards so it's good practice. To be honest you can learn eventually to throw fast turns backwards but it looks ridiculous in my opinion and you have to be really good at switch to do it. Carving is something that will be an intuitive thing you'll naturally begin to do on your own if you carve turns frontwards, but I do have one word of advice. Leg positioning while carving turns switch is a bit counter-intuitive. When skiing forwards, you lead with your inside/uphill leg forward of the pressured downhill/outside ski because putting it forward flexes your knee and unweights it. Since you are skiing backwards, you will do the same thing except backwards when carving switch. In this case the downhill/outside pressured ski will be leading, because as you bend your knee to unweight the inside/uphill ski, it will move in front of you which is UP the hill now, instead of down the hill in the leading position when you are facing forwards. It might help to stand up from your copmputer and try it as you read it if visualization of this concept is difficult. I say it is counter-intuiitive because it ALMOST feels wrong but it works.

The transition from switch feels trickier while being executed than the transition TO switch but is not technically more difficult, you just have to pay attention to what the inside ski is doing. In the switch-to-frontwards transition, you will basically lean back a bit to load up the tail, (for the same purpose as when you bend your knees to pressure the tips of your skis) and you're going to turn to one side, (you will intuitively turn to one side, like when you run at anm iced sidewalk to slide on it, you naturally put one foot forward always, in that same way you will have a good side you will want to turn to, likely but not always the shoulder you will look over) and pivot over it as if you are making a turn. However, since you are leaning back keeping pressure on the tail you are going to just pivot right around on it. The first 45 degrees of this transition can be scary but once you are at least facing across the hill then you will finish it off intuitively the same way you would when you are standing across the hill with freinds and you let yourself slide down into the fall line to begining a run. The same rule applies here as with the swith transition in reagards to edging, you want to use as little edge pressure as possible to make the transition smooth, while still using a little bit of edge to keep that downhill edge from biting in and flipping you over skis. Also, another issue is generally not a problem on the switch transition because you may naturaly as a part of good technique keep your weight on the downhill/outside ski, but when transitioning TO frontwards, the inside ski/uphill ski may want to get in the way so you may have to apply connsciouss thought to keep pressure off it, or at least using less pressure but edging it the same way as the downhill/outside ski.

A few last tips, never look up the hill when skiing switch. ever. When landing switch it is acceptable for an instant to orient one's self before landing, but when skiing switch, never. you want to pick a shoulder (again, you will have a shoulder you naturally want to look over) and this acceptable to use as long as you can turn your head around enough to see where you are turning to in the opposite direction (if that is confusing visualization I mean if you can turn your head enough to the right to see wher eyou are goin when your making a turn switch to the left). If your range of neck motion will not allow this then as you excute a left hand turn, look over your left shoulder and as you are about to turn to the right, turn your head to look over your right shoulder and begin your right turn. This is not preferable because when skiing down a long green run switch for practice, this can be a LOT of head turning. [img]smile.gif[/img] Practice on a green run first (obviously). Get comfortable going fast switch in a wedge before trying to make parallel carves because just like skiing frontwards, a ski carves better switch if you have a bit of speed to use to load up the ski. Don't worry about skiing parallel switch right away or even after a few weeks, people won't think less of you for stemming whilst skiing backwards. Don't be overly ambitious and try adn bust out some switch skiing in the middle of a blue or a black run to impress your buds if you are still not comfortable on a green run. Definatly DO have a blast learning something new that will add a bit more style to your bag of tricks.

I hope this helps, I apologize for the length but I have a proclivity for writing long posts when I write at all. Keep in mind I am not an instructor at skiing switch, these tips are my own experiences. Skiing backwards is something that you have to work out yourself and I explained what worked for me. Use it as a rough outline, but if you find something that works which disagrees with what I wrote, pick it apart and take what works and use it, don't abandon it because it disagrees with what I wrote. When skiing switch a lot of the components of good frontwards skiing are directly applicable, some are not. Find the ones that are and use them.

[ February 02, 2004, 08:17 AM: Message edited by: Karsten Hain ]
post #3 of 8

The problem you experienced was probably related to the pitch you were on. It does not take much pitch to require an extremely wide wedge (either forward or reverse) and high edge angles to come to a stop.

The basics for backward skiing start with getting comfortable going backwards and switching from backwards to forwards. Do the following exercises on easy pitches and work your way up to steeper pitches.

Start by walking up hill herringbone style, then stop. Flatten the skis out and slide backwards a little then stop. You can look over your shoulder to see where you are going, or not (presuming no one has walked up behind you). Once you get comfortable sliding backwards, pick up the backward speed just a little and vary the direction from straight down by weighting one foot more than the other. This may be a little awkward because the turns work backwards. Vary the direction changes from little waggles until you can swing sideways and stop perpindicular to the fall line with your skis parallel. The next step is to not stop as your skis get perpindicular, but to do a weight shift from one ski to the other so that you continue "spinning" until your skis are in the fall line and you are skiing forward (i.e. you can do a 180).

Next you work on the other half of the 180 (i.e. from forward to backward). Start skiing forward downhill and do a gentle hockey stop. Then from the hockey stop, continue the rotation until you are facing herringbone uphill and stop. If you have trouble doing that, do a turn and continue turning uphill until you are going straight uphill. When you start sliding backwards, open into a reverse wedge to stop.

When you hook up the two 180s together, you can do a 360. At first, the 180 may not be smooth. That's ok. You can smooth it out by making the rotational speed faster and developing "the feel" for the timing of the foot to foot weight transfer and the edge changes that you need to do.

Once you get comfortable doing 360's, you should have the confidence to deal with the kind of situation that you ran into. From there you can start working on backwards skiing for extended periods. But that is more than the basics.
post #4 of 8
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the reminder PM, Karsten!

Thanks for the tips, too. It looks like a good place to start. I think that I'll try practicing some of this stuff next time I'm on the mountain. Clearly, I already have the 180 into switch pretty much down , but the going the other way is still a problem.

And yes, Karsten, I'm about an advanced intermediate... probably approximately a 7 on the PSIA scale, so I'm cool with parallel turns, pole plants, cross-under, the works. When I get turned around, though, things get tricky, you know?

Thanks you two! If I have any questions about this after trying it out, I'll let you know.

post #5 of 8
Don't expect a pearl of wisdom out of this reply, there isn't one. :

As I learned from a nine or maybe ten year old on Sunday, the key to skiing backwards is to put your skis on backward. Or, so I thought, for about a nano-second.

I walk out from the restaurant at the top of the mountain as this kid steps into his skis backwards. I ask him if he can ski switch. He looks at me like I've just said the dumbest thing he's ever heard and skates off. Tails first. Parents laughing at their goof-ball son.

Go figure. :

Glad you didn't hurt yourself.

post #6 of 8
A tip for turning around back to forward...begin to turn your upper body to face downhill and reach your downhill arm out and around more, which will begin to bring your body around forward (think about how ice skaters use their arms to lead their bodies) Hope that helps!
post #7 of 8
Interesting you bring this up. This season I played around with making arc to arc carved turns while skiing backwards. If you guys haven't tried this give it a go. Not really a skill you need to call on very often, more just a circus trick, but fun and brings some challenge back to these skis that make carving almost to easy.
post #8 of 8
Wow! Lots of words on this topic. [img]graemlins/evilgrin.gif[/img]

First of all - take charge! Find a flat piece of snow. Learn to pop straight up on your skis (hint: it's all in the lower body - ankles, knees, and hips. NO arms.) If you can jump 6" off the ground (tips and tails coming off at the same time) you're set. Pop up and spin 180 degrees (it's a timing trick). Try to generate the twist with the hips, not the shoulders. You'll know why in a minute.

When you're comfortable, try the same exercises while moving slowly down the hill.

Congrats! You are now able to pop to switch skiing when YOU want to AND avoid any chance of nastiness with snowsnakes during the transition. Popping back to regular is practically (and practice of) the same.

About the head and shoulders: your core should be twisted 90 degrees and the head a further 90 so you can clearly see where you're going, comfortably. Theoretically, your head never changes position during the pop transition which helps keep you balanced.

Everybody else has spoken at great length about the skiing. All I'll say is that the mechanics of edge change and carving are pretty much the same. If you have skis with turned up tails, you can balance right over the middle of the boot without fear of digging in.

Lastly, look over the shoulder that's to the inside (uphill) of your turn. It lets you see who's bombing down the hill beside you and avoids a classic bowling ball incident. You switch shoulders when you switch edges.

C'est tout!
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