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Slalom ski kickback

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 
In a recent gear buying thread, there was some discussion of the dangers of slalom skis suddenly grabbing and resulting in injury.  I've (fortunately, knock on wood) never had the pleasure of that experience and hope to keep it that way.  So it seemed like it might be worthwhile to start a thread on this subject and explore the causes of this situation and more importantly, how you avoid getting in the situation in the first place.  I would think we have enough members who love slalom skis to make this discussion very worthwhile.

Stealing from Bob Barnes to kick the thread off:

"And he is correct that narrow, high-performance skis with very deep sidecut can kick back like a chain saw, wrecking havoc to knees and more, especially in some conditions, if not skied with "respect." It is especially true of stiffer and shorter skis--modern race slalom skis in particular--and especially in soft and/or inconsistent snow conditions. I know of at least four good friends, top-notch, world class skiers all, who have had their legs shattered by such skis. I've come close enough to a similar catastrophe myself.

The problem is that these deep-sidecut skis are so reactive, and so sensitive to changes of pressure and edge angle, that they can snap back at you in an almost explosive, cascading chain reaction when things go even just a little wrong. The common scenario is to have them tipped up at a high angle, carving a great turn, and then to either get just a bit too far forward on them, or to have them sink into the snow, hit a patch of "slower" snow, or otherwise slow down a little--which throws your weight forward on them. Then that big tip hooks up aggressively, causing the turn radius to tighten dramatically, throwing you even more forward, and so on. At best, a spectacular "high-side" crash ensues. At worst, your leg breaks right at the boot top--which, again, I've seen too many times.

The irony is that these accidents only happen to very skilled skiers capable of creating high edge angles and high-G carved turns. And they tend to happen on easy runs. They are unlikely to happen to skiers who twist and skid, and keep their skis at low angles. The worst case I've witnessed was on a green run with perfect conditions--freshly groomed packed powder from a blizzard the day before, under a bluebird sky. Slalom race skis are made for ice. In the packed-but-soft conditions here, the ski suddenly broke through and sank deeper into the corduroy, slowing down and bending deeper, setting off the chain reaction I've described. Result: compound spiral boot-top tib-fib fracture. 

Again, this is a syndrome that is not, unfortunately, uncommon. Contributing factors include short, high-performance modern slalom skis, and variable or unpredictable conditions. Imperfect technique makes it worse--especially the tendency to lever forward against the boot tongues, combined with upper body rotation into the turn (a very common error)."

Also stealing from Ghost:

"If you get carving skis and use them properly to carve SL turns at SL speeds you will be fine.  If, like most good skiers, you are not content to stay within slalom speeds just because you have SL skis on your feet, you run a big risk.  So long as you are arcing the ski at a radius less than it's sidecut, everything is fine, but if you ramp up the speed to GS or SG teritory, you will be making GS or SG turns, the ski won't be arcing, it will be drifting.  It is while drifting a longer-than-its-sidecut-radius turn, that the ski can suddenly succeed at doing what it was designed to do and go into a tight turn, but only if conditions are right.   It's easy to dismiss the problem Bob speaks of, based on personal and anecdotal information, but don't dismiss it.  I too, was perfectly happy screaming down runs at a mile a minute on 13-m skis, until I finally found the conditions needed to trigger an unpleasant event. It's not likely to happen on icy hills or very hard snow, nor very soft yielding powder, but it can happen in conditions that are in between. "

Is there more that can be added to the two excellent posts above?
post #2 of 3
Originally Posted by geoffda View Post

Is there more that can be added to the two excellent posts above?
Not really :) It's written really good, so I don't think there's much to add. Except that in some cases, same things can happen also on GS skis (I experienced this myself few times, but luckily always without broken bones).
post #3 of 3
Agreed. My SL skis are my default groomer skis and while you can get away with shallow turns at higher than SL speeds if you aggressively pressure the tip and engage them they will snap round.... if your body isn't right to handle the turning force you will get pitched big style. It something to be aware of with SL skis and I can't say I have had any serious dramas even in variable snow.

You sometimes even see racers get pitched onto the fronts of the skis on the WC.
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