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Breakable crust?

post #1 of 28
Thread Starter 
I don't know if what I experienced technically qualifies as "breakable crust" or not, but for lack of a better term, that's what I'm going to call it. My favorite ski mountain (Cannon, New Hampshire) received about a foot of snow [img]graemlins/thumbsup.gif[/img] from Friday night to Saturday morning. I got in one run through the sweet stuff, and then it began sleeting. :

So, in a couple minutes, we had a foot of powder where the top layer was being impregnated with a thin layer of ice. And don't forget about the wonderful New England "hardpack" underneath the new snow. Sometimes you'd crash through, sometimes it would support you, and all the time it was frustrating. The only thing I found that even remotely worked was to retract my feet to get them at least close to the surface and turn, but that's an exhausting way to get down.

I have to know -- is there any way to ski that stuff with anything approaching style and grace? I noticed even the patrollers and the instructors were getting bounced around, so I didn't feel too badly about having my butt kicked.
post #2 of 28
This time of year at higher elevations we get a first cousin called wind slab. I used to hate the stuff and have come to enjoy it. One can ski on it or in it!

The best piece of advice that I have gotten was from Bob Barnes who said one needs to be going in the direction the skis are pointed. It isn't a time for skidding.

Pressure control becomes critical. I also think movements need to be slowed down. If the conditions are severe enough skis need to be redirected as opposed to arced.

The stuff is fun.
post #3 of 28
We get that a fair bit in oz, sometimes it's dangerous to the point of breaking legs, but otherwise we tend to revert to ancient ski techniques involving some fairly muscular up and down movements.
post #4 of 28
Decide if you'd rather punch through or break through. And Bob B. is perfectly correct.
post #5 of 28
The stuff is fun.
Good luck convincing anyone of that, Rusty!

Breakable crust is one of the truly challenging conditions in skiing. But as I always say, there are only two kinds of snow conditions: conditions that are good...and conditions that are good for you! Breakable crust can be really, really good

for you.

The thing about breakable crust is that it, perhaps more than any other condition, demands OFFENSIVE skiing movements. That is, speed control coming from the line you ski, rather than from the braking effect of skidding skis. But breakable crust is intimidating! So offensive movements are counter-intuitive. Even highly skilled skiers become defensive in it. And defensive movements do not work in breakable crust. Hit the brakes, crash--it's a pretty consistent pattern! (Of course, to get a good taste of ANY conditions, you've got to eat some....)

As Rusty says, you do NOT want your skis going sideways in the stuff. No skidding. Nothing will catch an edge and trip you like breakable crust. You CAN'T catch an edge if your skis aren't skidding--so keep 'em pointed the direction you're going. Or go the direction they're pointed. Either one works.

That leaves you with two options. Either hop your skis completely out of the snow, redirect them in the air, and then set the edges cleanly when they return to the snow, or keep them firmly in the snow, "carving" turns with smooth, progressive, highly skilled tipping and pressure control movements. Both of these strategies have their advantages and their limitations.

You really can't control (i.e. twist, skid, or displace) your skis when they're locked in the snow, so the theory behind the first strategy is to spend as little time as possible there. "Float and sting." Set the edges, then rebound or hop as quickly as possible back out of the snow. It's an effective technique, but it takes a lot of effort and athleticism. It's aerobic and exhausting. And you can never quite tell what's going to happen when those skis hit the snow--that's the nature of breakable crust. Sometimes they break through, sometimes they don't. So timing the movements and keeping a smooth rhythm are a challenge. You're likely to get tossed out of balance with each edge set and rebound. On the other hand, you can easily move your feet beneath you in the air to make the needed recovery.

A couple more thoughts on the "float and sting" technique. Make sure to use BOTH skis at once ("simultaneous leg movements"). Pressure both skis, and hop both skis together off the snow. If you try to stand on one while turning ("stemming") the other, that platform you're standing on will let you down, with embarrassing, if not painful, results! Try to maintain a rhythm. Your skis will behave like springboards. When they want to spring you back up, GO with it! If you hesitate for even a microsecond, you will lose the energy stored in those bowed skis, and you will have to work MUCH harder. With this thought in mind, land softly, flexing your legs to absorb the impact, enabling you to sense the buildup of pressure and to spring back at just the right moment. No traverses! Because of the inconsistency of breakable crust, each turn may have a different timing--sometimes the skis will immediately load up and snap back quickly, other times they may bog down and delay the effect. Pay attention to what your skis tell you, and work in harmony with them.

The second strategy is far more technically demanding, but much smoother and less aerobic. It requires much more skill and near-perfect balance, and no one can do it in all conditions. In soft snow, skis merely need a little well-placed pressure to bend into a smooth arc. Tip those arched skis up a little, and they'll carve a smooth, round track--guaranteed, as long as you sustain even pressure over their "sweet spots." Trust them as they dive straight down the hill; stay with them, and they'll slice smoothly around a complete, round turn. Relax, tip them the other way and return the pressure, and they'll repeat a turn in the opposite direction.

The only real difficulty--but a VERY real difficulty it is--is maintaining balance, which is critical for accurately tipping and pressuring the skis. If you lose your balance--get too far inside, for example--you cannot twist or displace your skis beneath you to recover. So you need extraordinary balance. This means quick and refined reflexes (see those "epic" threads of midwinter with David M) as well as highly developed movements and perceptual skills (the ability to read the snow and make appropriate movements "proactively," minimizing the need for reflexive recoveries).

This second (carving) strategy works best with a fair amount of speed, and on slopes that aren't terribly steep. There are several technical reasons for this, which I won't get into at the moment, but most skiers are intuitively aware that you can't sustain pressure and "carve" the upper half of a turn on very steep terrain. So my usual strategy in typical breakable crust involves a blend of both techniques. I don't leap my skis out of the snow and throw them sideways, but I relax and let them rise out of it at the end of the turn just enough to let me redirect the tips down the hill. Then I try to let pressure build smoothly and progressively through the second half of the turn, carving as much as possible, and sustaining the pressure as long as I need to finish the turn. When the turn nears completion, and I sense the pressure at its maximum, I begin to relax again and let the skis rise out of the snow, steering their tips down the hill again when they surface. At all times, I try to keep the skis going the direction they're pointed. When they're down in the snow and carving, I let them go. When they're out of the snow, I steer them carefully so that they're still moving forward when they return to its unforgiving grip.

Finally, or perhaps it should have been first, if you tend to ski in a taller, relaxed "skeletal" stance, lower it somewhat, to tighten it up a little. This is a good idea in any sort of inconsistent snow, where you can expect to be thrown around. A more muscular stance keeps you from being knocked around as much, and quickens your response when you ARE knocked around.

It's not easy. Everyone gets knocked around, at best, in breakable crust. But a few linked turns in the stuff can be highly rewarding, and even, yes, fun! Don't expect complete consistency, ever. You will fall in it now and then--that's part of the game. It's a real challenge. But breakable crust can be very, very good

for you.


Best regards,
Bob Barnes
post #6 of 28
Thx Bob, that explains why I spent most of the time on my ass when sking that stuff, I dont feel quite so bad now.
post #7 of 28
Thread Starter 
Many thanks on your detailed reply. I sure don't have the aerobic capacity or carving skills to smoothly pull off either option that you present. Goals for next season though! My standard conditions of hardpack gives me plenty of time to fine-tune my meager carving skills.
I was definitely in "defensive skiing" mode, as I rarely see powder at all (maybe 3 or 4 times all season, and it's gone in an hour). Make it more challenging by putting a crust over it -- in 11 years of skiing the East, I'd never seen anything remotely like that.

post #8 of 28
Maybe my bad memory here.... but

Thought I had been taught to do a few hops & then decrease the 'hop' bit until I end up doing normal turns.... until I lose it & then hop again to break free .... repeat until I wear out....

Trying to learn to not 'push' on snow & keep pressure really constant through turn????
post #9 of 28
Originally posted by KevinF:
[QBI have to know -- is there any way to ski that stuff with anything approaching style and grace? [/QB]
Kevin, I'll be brief.............NO.
post #10 of 28
You'll need three things to ski breakable crust such as was found that day at Cannon. I was at Burke that day (saturday) and the bottom third of the mountain was just like that (although the top half was straight up pow, and the lift ticket was free with a food donation).

A. to ski ON TOP of the the crust without breaking through (best if there is little or no base, i.e early season, or in the glades):

1. Very long straight skis. When standing next to the ski reach your arm straight up. The tip of the ski should touch your wrist where it meets the palm of your hand. The weight is distributed over a longer area so you don't punch through. The edge is long, and so is in consistent contact with the snow, WITHOUT having to initiate a deep carve. A deep carve of the shaped ski variety will break the surface. You wan't to treat it like powder, keeping your weight evenly displaced between both skis. This reduces pressure on the unstable surface beneath you.
2. A very narrow stance, such as one would use when skiing in moguls. Do this on the offchance that you DO break through. Both feet will break under together. With a wider, more conventional stance one leg might sink in while the other stays above. This SUCKS, and WILL cause you fall. If the crust is particularly thick, you could injure a knee very easily. Keep you feet locked together. (another reason to use straight skis in this situation... The wide shovels on shaped skis bang together when you try to ski this way, either not allowing you to get your feet close enough, or causing your tips to cross and down you go. This is why mogul skiers will always use straight skis. The feet MUST remain together.)

B. To ski UNDER the crust (as I usually like to do)

1. Shorter straight skis. Again use the arm raised over the head measurement technique. This time the ski should come to the crook of you elbow. (I'm 5'9" and for me that's about 185cm.) The reason you want straight skis here (although I will admit, not as important as above) is you want to be able to easily punch back into the snow if you accidentally rise above the surface. This is easier with feet close together (no tip banging) and narrower skis (obviously they sink better). In this situation simply shove your feet down into the snow forcefully. Try, however, to prevent your tips from hitting the underside of the crust. To this end it essential that you keep your body attuned to the fall line. Unlike regular powder snow where you want your tips to plane and so you lean back, lean markedly forward down the fall line. Make sure that your skis stay entirely submerged the entire time. Although you are on straight skis, ski as if you are carving a groomer on short shaped skis. The crust will prevent you from skidding out of a turn. Keep your movements slow as if you were skiing powder, and keep your speed up because your shins are plowing through the crust.
2. Soccer shin pads large enough to fit over the top of your boots. Your shins will thank you. Before I started using shin pads I would get bruises from this technique. You need to treat the crust as if it were a slalom gate. Crash your shins right through it. This method is more aggresive than riding on top of the crust, and more tiring, but it also looks better. Your tracks will look like perfect powder turns and anybody following you down a trail will be markedly impressed afterwards. You will likely get comments from people so don't be surprised.

In short, the first method is about SURVIVING breakable crust. The second method is about THRIVING in breakable crust.

post #11 of 28
Old school.
post #12 of 28
I just love when it comes to technique in difficult conditions there is no old or new school, only ski school.

Hey if you can ski on top of it it is not breakable crust, its just hardpack. Likewise if you break through on every turn then it is just crunchy pow. The thing with crusty skiing is that no matter how you turn you may or may not break through at any given moment. The snow will dictate how you attack it, always AND the attack needs to be balanced and dynamic enough to respond instantly to either a break through or a rise up.

Best to practise ALL your drills so that your skills and balance are seamless.


[ April 10, 2003, 04:19 PM: Message edited by: man from oz ]
post #13 of 28
Thread Starter 
Darn! I knew I should have kept my old straight skis around. I sold them a few years back. Since I've never been on a ski longer then a 193 (and I'm 6'2"), I'm not sure either of Mittersill's suggestions would really work out for me.
post #14 of 28
Originally posted by KevinF:
Darn! I knew I should have kept my old straight skis around. I sold them a few years back. Since I've never been on a ski longer then a 193 (and I'm 6'2"), I'm not sure either of Mittersill's suggestions would really work out for me.
The second one would work. Just go to play-it-again sports and pick up a pair of used "rock-skis" for like $25. Use em in thin cover and breakable crust. That's how I ended up with my Rossingol ST comps (180cm). I saw em in my neighbor's trash and figured I could use em as a rock ski. Turns out that they're my best ski in breakable crust, and a fantastic mogul ski. I grabbed his pair of Rossignol ST 650's too (190cm). The camber on em was completely shot and they were totally squirly and chattery, not like a race ski at all. Now they make a great powder ski cause they're so soft and responsive.

If you see skis in someone's trash, grab em. At least stop and look. I believe a disney movie a few years ago had a lesson/moral about something called a "diamond in the rough." Keep your eyes peeled for shiny silver dollars when you walk along the street, and keep your eyes peeled for valuables on trash day (skis, snowboards, guitars, amps). Alot of people assume that just because they can't fix something, nobody can. Their trash is your treasure. Even worse dude, their wife coulda been doin spring cleaning while they were away skiing for the weekend, and thrown away their rock skis. This advice goes for everyone. Don't sell it short because you found it in a trash heap. I found a BMX bike in a trash heap when I was 9. I then raced on it and won a couple of medals in my age group. I found a beat up Brazilian Guitar in a trash heap when I was 16. I restored it, and now it's worth about $3000 if I were willing to part with it (which I'm not). Trash rocks.

Repeat after me... "Trash Rocks"
post #15 of 28
reminds me of johnny thrash, in Ski Bums, going through a huge trash heap near whistler, looking for thrown out skis he could use. [img]graemlins/thumbsup.gif[/img]
post #16 of 28
Johnny Trash, I mean Thrash, yeah!

Those who can ski crap snow on a ridiculous pitch with a 190 SL on the right foot and a 215 DH on the left are truly sublime skiers. I have seen this done masterfully. The guy was a total dirtbag on the outside and a Zen master on the inside, living his philosophy.
post #17 of 28
Thread Starter 
Those who can ski crap snow on a ridiculous pitch with a 190 SL on the right foot and a 215 DH on the left are truly sublime skiers. I have seen this done masterfully. The guy was a total dirtbag on the outside and a Zen master on the inside, living his philosophy.
Nolo -- are you serious? Have you really seen this done? If I saw that, I think I'd just head to the bar and start drinking as that would be the ultimate in realizing that not only do I suck, that I have no hope of ever getting above "suck" status.

Semi-vaguely-related: I saw a guy once wearing torn-off blue-jeans, no shirt, sandles and a beater ten-speed bike climb the initial 4.5 mile, 1500 vertical foot climb of Virginia's Skyline Drive in about 20 minutes. All my self-delusions regarding hill-climbing skills disapeared right then and there. I had been holding onto the thought of one day being a good skier, but Nolo might have dashed that as well...

post #18 of 28
The old Scott Schmidt bicycle turn works well too.
post #19 of 28
Truly, and the 215 was bent. The guy now owns a small construction company and a bit of a gut, skis a few times a year with his wife and kids. But when he was young, he was plain awesome--strong and fearless and in the moment. I watched him tear down a steep, bumped-up run right next to the trees, fall-line all the way, fast, ripping, perfectly confident. When I met him at the bottom, I saw what was on his feet. It would have been a phenomenal run with matching, tuned skis. But with two mismatched beaters, it was something holy.
post #20 of 28

Why did this guy quit? If you know the answer, bottle it and sale it to resort management. It has to be the answer to the 'no growth' problem. If skking loses its appeal to a guy like that, skiing is doomed to be a marginal business.
post #21 of 28
What led him astray? The American Dream: Three meals, a roof, regular female company, some offspring, health insurance, a mini-van, etc. Semipro ski racing wasn't going to make that possible. It's like Gene-Paul Sartre said: To live or to ski? One cannot do both!
post #22 of 28
Hmmm. Sounds like the same reasons I had for not pursueing a 'career' in the ski industry when I was jobless in the '80's. I still dumped all my 'disposable' income into skiing until children came in the '90's. Middle income people cannot support the industry in the manner neccessary to sustain growth. Better go after the wealthy if the industry is to survive. For the rest of us, skiing becomes a casual entertainment or we become part time instructors and undermine the wage structure for the full timers.

Sorry to hi-jack this thread. Now back to our regularly scheduled 'breakable crust' show.
post #23 of 28
There is one more way to ski breakable crust on top. Point the skis downhill, tuck and do not turn. You will stay on top. Works good in moguls too if you have the intestinal fortitude. You never drop into the troughs.
post #24 of 28
Gene-Paul Satre? Same as Gene-Claude Killy?
post #25 of 28
post #26 of 28
Gene Paul Sartre was my room mate in prep school, I think, maybe, but I dunno, it was so long ago, I forget, so much being, so much nothingness!
post #27 of 28
I dunno about the 215 ski (longest ski in my collection is the trusty 7XKs at 208cm, dreadful things), but back here people in my club quite enjoy getting a different ski on each foot (best if they are different lengths) and clowning down the hill. We pretend we are "comparing" them.
It's odd how ordinary they feel though.

I remember comparing a Rossi Salto (with Fritchi Diamir bindings, 180cm) with a 187cm Salomon X-Scream in this manner some years back. It was quite good fun.
post #28 of 28
I hear Arcmeister likes to wear a skiboard on one foot and a regular ski on the other just to make life interesting. On his recommendation, I tried it last year. It's a great adaptive challenge and makes a big impression on spectators, but, as ant says, it's not as difficult as it might seem. It might be just the exercise to train for breakable crust--getting both skis to work together even under different circumstances.
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