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# Picking the line . . . so we can ski the slow line fast

So much discussion has appeared here about controling speed, NOT by skidding, but by SKIING THE SLOW LINE FAST. OK. I'll bite. Now, Bob Barnes et al., do tell: What IS the "slow line", and HOW DO WE FIND IT?
<BLOCKQUOTE>quote:</font><HR>What IS the "slow line", and HOW DO WE FIND IT? <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Great question, Oboe! I'll give the short answer toward the end of this post, but bear with me for a little more explanation (and mind games)....

Good skiing is skiing a slow enough line as fast as you can--WHEN you can!

That is my full statement that has often been quoted as the directive to simply "ski the slow line fast." There are some significant differences between the two statements!

First, to ski "a slow enough line" suggests that there is often more than one such line. Usually there are MANY slow enough lines down any run. And a slow ENOUGH line could be very different from just a SLOW line! How slow is slow enough is up to you.

Likewise, "as fast as you can" does not necessarily imply FAST either! It all depends on the line....

The key point is to control speed by DIRECTION when possible, not FRICTION--by gliding uphill to slow down, rather than by braking with skidding skis.

So a "slow enough line" can be one that simply takes advantage of the existing ups and downs of the slope, the natural little knolls, the sloped sides of gulleys, the miniature little "hills" we call moguls, and so on. If I want to gain speed, I go downhill; if I want to lose speed, I go uphill (if I can!). When I ski, I am always looking around, scanning the slope, looking for where to go to minimize my need for braking. The key word, whether I'm trying to gain or lose speed, is always GO!

If I want to slow down or stop, and there is a natural uphill in front of me, I'll just ski straight ahead and go up it--as fast as I can. But usually, of course, it's all downhill in front of me, so to go uphill, I'll have to make a turn and go back up the mountain. Usually, I make linked turns. I make a turn and try to go as far around the circle as I can until I feel that I'm going "too slowly." Then I release my edges, let my skis turn back downhill, and start a new turn. As I go downhill, of course, my speed increases, and I continue around the arc until once again I (literally) want to go faster--then I turn the other way. The size of these circles can be anything I choose--it's how far around them I go that determines the "slowness" of the line.

This all may sound a little silly--and obvious. But watch skiers on the hill--almost NONE will ever complete a turn to the point that they are going back uphill--EVER! There are only two ways to slow down--by increasing sliding resistance (skidding, falling, wind resistance, hitting a tree, etc.), and by GOING uphill. Since few skiers ever go uphill, they must be braking all the time--or going very fast! Since few skiers ever "complete a turn," they are skiing a "faster line with the brakes on."

Habitually skiing the "fast line slow" is defensive, exhausting, unreliable (brakes fail!), and in many ways, out of control. Since the very moves that allow our skis to act as brakes (skidding) also reduce our control of LINE (you can't go uphill by pushing your tails downhill!), braking compromises control of direction. The movements of TURNING (guiding the ski tips in the direction you want to go) are contradictory to the movements of BRAKING (pushing the tails in the direction you DON'T want to go). Furthermore, balancing on skis that are skidding sideways is much more difficult than balancing on skis that are cleanly gliding and carving. Ironically, the faster you go, the less you can afford to hit the brakes!

So to summarize, and to give a simple answer to your question, Oboe, a "slow enough line" is one made primarily of COMPLETED TURNS.

When is a turn "complete"? That's entirely up to you! The pre-requisite to any good turn is the desire to GAIN SPEED--because that's obviously what will happen when you point those skis down the hill (unless you have the brakes on). The only time I ever want to gain speed is when I feel like I'm going too slowly (a state of mind, by-the-way--not a speed--one person's "too fast" is another's "way too slow").

So--a turn is complete the moment I feel like I want to go faster--the moment I feel like I'm going "too slow." At that moment, and not a moment sooner, it makes sense to turn the skis back downhill and gain speed--and enjoy the ride!

Gliding around linked, completed, turns--that's all there is to skiing the slow (enough) line fast!

The turns can be any size--again, it's how far around them we go that determines how slow or fast the line is. And they are naturally linked. Why? Why NOT?! Why, if I feel like I'm going too slow, would I traverse across the hill? Why not turn downhill? And why, if I do NOT want to gain speed, or if I want to LOSE speed, would I traverse? Much more effective to turn UPhill! So I start a turn, gain speed, continue around the turn until I want to gain speed again, and then start a new turn.

Because I only do it when I want to gain speed, I enjoy every dive down the hill into a new turn. Gravity, the "enemy" that most skiers struggle against, becomes a toy to play with, a force that does my bidding.

That's what I mean by skiing "a slow enough line as fast as you can." Anyone who can turn can ski a slow enough line, if he chooses. The "fast as you can part" involves maximizing the glide, minimizing the braking and skidding. It's a function of skill, equipment, and conditions that determines just how fast a skier can travel on any given line. A more skillful skier, all else being equal, will obviously be able to ski any line faster than a lesser skier, if he/she chooses.

Then there's the "when you can" part. None of this discussion should imply that braking is bad! Just like driving a car, effective, skillful, and judicious braking is a critically important skill in skiing! But RIDING the brakes is an exhausting, bad habit. If we can't ski a slow enough line--whether limited by skill, crowding, fatigue, obstacles, or whatever, then we NEED brakes. A little intentional skidding here and there can be necessary, effective, and even fun.

Finally, do expert skiers usually complete most turns back uphill? No. But this does not contradict the "slow (enough) line fast" ideal! There are several reasons why experts don't usually need to complete turns back uphill. First, they usually like to ski very fast, when conditions are safe. Sometimes even straight downhill is a "slow enough line." Second, at higher speeds, WIND RESISTANCE plays a big role in speed control. And third, ALL turns involve at least a little increased sliding resistance, whether intentional braking or not. The cleaner the turn, the less resistance, but there's always some.... Quite often, especially on steeps with soft snow, it is all but impossible to actually go uphill--but the INTENT to do so is what matters. The rule to go as far around the arc as possible until you want to gain speed again still applies!

Go downhill to speed up. Go uphill to slow down. Take advantage of terrain features. Complete every turn. Glide when you can. Brake when you have to. Play with gravity--don't fight it!

That is the simple essence of "skiing a slow (enough) line as fast as you can"!

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
Thank you, Bob! That's a great post and worth more than many of the lessons I've taken in the past. Another related question: Let's say I'm going to ski a one hundred or two hundred yard length of trail. It's a bit crowded. How does the NUMBER OF TURNS made in that sapce related to speed control?
The clearner the turns are, the less they will directly affect speed, no matter how many you make. Indeed, if making more turns results in none of them being COMPLETED turns, those turns will contribute to a LOSS of speed control! A hundred incomplete turns won't slow you down as much as one single, complete turn! Remember--in a "perfect turn," the only thing affecting your speed is the direction you are going.

On the other hand, if each of those turns combines a little tails-out braking, whether intentional or not, they can be all you need. In an extremely narrow avalanche chute--or a very crowded "green" run--you may not have the option of completing a turn at all. So letting them skid with each turn will not only help you remain in the "fall line," it will provide the speed control you need.

I can remember the great Phil Mahre laughing about the very question you bring up. He shook his head as listened to the shouted advice of "speed control" patrollers to "MAKE MORE TURNS!" He described a bunch of little wiggly turns barely veering out of the fall-line--followed by a great big yard sale!

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
Want to get the concept immediately? Ski in a gully.
last year i had perhaps my greatest breakthrough, the one that propelled me out of being a high intermediate (who had occasional illusions of greatness), when i finally grasped the idea of "skiing the slow line fast" (of course, i'd never heard it put like that). basically i began to always go in the direction my ski tips were pointed. no more sliding my tails around when i wanted to slow down, trying to sideslip over steep icy spots that i didn't feel comfortable with, etc. etc... it was a whole different way of looking at going down the hill and speed control. it opened up new horizons to my skiing that i've yet to fully explore...i flow effortlessly, no type of snow conditions give me the slightest pause (save wide open sheets of ice if i'm on my xxx's). the steepest terrain is well w/in my grasp. going too fast? complete my turns a little further. death cookies? not a big deal. it's truly an incredible feeling -- i feel like a ski god. i can focus now on staying balanced and forward instead of slowing down. my skiing's a series of completed turns where it had once felt like a series of recoveries. i'm (almost) always in complete control. it's what turned skiing from one of my favorite sports into one of my passions. i could go on and on...

don't get me wrong, i've no illusions of immortality, and this post isn't ego-driven. i just get so pumped talking about it... and then to think that i'll be in central OH and SW MI for the next couple weeks w/ little occasion to ski -- i'm afraid i'll burst.
I think I get what BB is saying. I was skiing at Sun Valley last week. They have a lot of wide runs down draws or gullys. I ski on K2 ModX 188. Those skis really feel awesome in long GS turns. Most of the better skiers were choosing to ski down on a straighter line. I chose to make the most of the terrain. I would ride the inside edge of my downhill ski through the bottom of the draw. I would unweight and transition to the other ski on the upside of the draw. I love the feeling of the g-forces on a fast carved turn. It was like a pendulum. Where the greatest velocity was at the bottom of the draw. The only difficulty I had was that I would sit back a little in transition on to the other ski. I found that I carried more speed through the transition when I sat back slightly rather than being forward on the ski. But I had to move back into proper position before I started to weight the edge again.

By skiing this way, I could enjoy high speeds on populated runs with a greater sense of control. I love skiing fast but I am always concerned about the other skiers. I never know where they are going or what they are going to do.
Auxcrinier--

You...have got it!

Skis going the direction they're pointed is a natural outcome of skiing the slow line fast. And skis going the direction they're pointed is the key that unlocks almost ALL the "difficult" conditions and makes them easy and fun. It's the key, as I mentioned above, to turning gravity and the mountain to YOUR side--a trusted ally, a fun toy, rather than the "enemy" that we must subdue or overcome!

Great post! Auxcrinier's enthusiasm and passion are ALSO natural by-products of learning to REALLY "ski the slow line fast."

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
Dirtydown, just as you're about to reach the point you'd normally begin to transition to a new turn, start relaxing the leg you're standing on. Your body will start to go toward downhill and you can avoid the "backseat" you've been experiencing.
But watch skiers on the hill--almost NONE will ever complete a turn to the point that they are going back uphill--EVER! There are only two ways to slow down--by increasing sliding resistance (skidding, falling, wind resistance, hitting a tree, etc.), and by GOING uphill. Since few skiers ever go uphill, they must be braking all the time--or going very fast! Since few skiers ever "complete a turn," they are skiing a "faster line with the brakes on." <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

That's REALLY interesting. I've never thought of skiing in this way. I do indeed always ski "with the brakes on". I didn't know there WAS any other way.
Have been participating in a Level 1 Boarding certification this weekend.

How were we taught to stop? Keep turning until you are going uphill!!!!

Who said boarders were stupid?
Great posts...It improves the clarity of what I have read in BB Book and what I have been told.

I have only really started to understand and enjoy sking "a slow enough line as fast as I can--WHEN I can" this Winter. Last year I was told by SpinHeli, "Complete your turns, make them more round. I'm working on it...My friends...and having fun.

Thanks

<FONT COLOR="#800080" SIZE="1">[ January 06, 2002 07:14 AM: Message edited 1 time, by MammothCruzer ]</font>
This topic seems to relate to another thread about more injuries with new equipment. Completing the turn puts you at a different fall-line than most skiers. More so on flatter terrain since most skiers tend to run out the flats instead of turn. Cool part is the turning skier slips right on by the straight runner.

I skied new years eve and new Years with some friends and their kids. I sort of became the designated leader. One of the comments that came up was when someone commented to us it was like a group of ducks following their mother as I had told them to follow my tracks not follow me so they had to make all the turns. one of my friends told her that I was the only one who could do it because no one else could keep their ground speed up and still make all the turns. If they were leading all the kids would have kept bumping into them. [img]smile.gif[/img] the kids were great. By the end of the day they were following me everywhere, bumps, in and out of the trees, medium steep, crud, packed. no problems anywhere..
Well, today, I did it - skied the slow line fast - WHEN I COULD - which meant, today. most of the time. Also, perhaps as a result, I am feeling more comfortable with speed. This was odd: Because I felt more comfortable with speed, I let my speed pick up in a long, wide open area leading to the lift area. Of course, some skiers passed me, going even faster - so I figured that I wasn't really going all that fast. Next time I'll let the speed go up a notch. A large part of what has been holding me back is FEAR - which means I have lacked confidence that I can handle the next step, in speed or whatever. By "skiing the slow line fast", I have decreased my fear and increased my confidence. More on this later - this is a GREAT start. Thanks many times, Bob Barnes. AND Warren Witherell.
Thank you, Bob Barnes, for some great tips, as usual. I always find myself printing any threads you contribute to.
You MUST (if you haven't already) make a DVD. I'm sure it would be a "hit."
And thank you, Oboe, for asking the right question. Typically, you started a great thread.
One of the many reasons why few skiers finish their turns is that it is more difficult to initiate the next turn the farther from the fall line you turn. Another is that the forces due to your inertia and gravity act in the same direction at the end of the turn so you can lose edge grip trying to finish the turn.

The idea of skiing a gully is a good one: there is one near the bottom of the S lift at Copper Mt. which is a hoot: a natural half-pipe. You can come almost to a stop at the top, make a 180 degree turn, and down for another.
Oboe--congratulations! Cool, eh? It's exciting to hear about personal breakthroughs, and if you think I had anything to do with it, well, that's very gratifying--thanks! It is amazing, isn't it, that real control eludes us until we finally realize that LETTING GO of control (of speed) is the key to GAIN control!

Skis gliding the direction they're pointed are MUCH more stable and predictable, much easier to balance on, and much less vulnerable to changing conditions and terrain. When your skis are going sideways, no one needs to tell you when you're going too fast--it's obvious! When they're slicing clean, speed is FUN! It's ironic that the best way to CONTROL speed (direction, not friction) is also the best way to HANDLE speed!

Which brings up an important point. As you become a better skier, making cleaner turns, remember that you must also ski SMARTER. You will feel as comfortable at 50 mph as you used to feel at 15--maybe moreso. And everything will be fine, until suddenly you have to make an emergency move, or until something goes wrong--like a ski coming off.

So look farther ahead, the faster you go. Anticipate danger areas--intersections, crowded locations, blind drops or curves, changes in light, and so on. Remember that sudden stops are more dangerous from speed! If there's any chance that you might have to put on the brakes, slow down to a speed where braking is not dangerous.

'Nuff said! Enjoy the new toy!

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
Thank you, too, Hugo! There has been some talk about a CD-ROM or a DVD, but I'm a long way off on that one. I've thought seriously about putting one together as a companion or alternative to the next edition of my book. Some of the work is done--stay tuned, and thanks for the encouragement!

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
Crudmeister--Good point about gravity and centrifugal force aligning toward the end of a completed turn. The combination can be quite powerful, and resisting these forces to hold the turn can take some real effort. But inability to resist these forces means very simply that I've lost control of my line--I can no longer go where I want to go.

If the stance is right (ie., not twisted around awkwardly, or excessively angulated in the knees in particular, or excessively flexed), most people are quite capable of resisting a couple "G's" or more. But to a chronic skidder, these forces will be unfamiliar--maybe even frightening. So they let the skis drift/skid a bit, reducing the forces, but also sacrificing the line. No problem in most situations, but if line is critical, this represents "out of control."

On a very steep run, especially with soft snow, it is indeed unlikely that we'll be able to ACTUALLY complete a turn uphill, but the intent and effort to do so are still the right tactic. As I've said, some skidding happens in pretty much every turn we make, whether we're trying to carve or to brake. But INTENTIONAL skidding--pushing the tails out on purpose--is something that we can learn not to do, as a habit.

As far as the difficulty of starting a new turn after a very complete turn--this is a common complaint. But consider this: it is indeed hard to BRAKE after completing a turn uphill--it would take a lot of effort to throw those tails even farther up the hill.

But it's actually very easy to start a TURN! Think of it--if you roll a bowling ball up the hill, it will turn and roll back down--without difficulty, and without discernible technique. If a bowling ball can do it, yet we find it difficult, what does that say? All you have to do to initiate that next turn is relax your edging--let go of the mountain--and LET gravity pull you as you guide your tips DOWNhill.

The only problem for many people is that this LETTING GO does not FEEL like a turn--because the turns they're used to are really braking moves! Releasing the grip of the edges is exactly the opposite of what many skiers associate with the sensation of "turning." It's not that it's hard--it just doesn't feel "right." Letting gravity have it's way with us is hardly most people's definition of control!

Their loss!

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
At the workshop this past weekend, my instructor asked if we minded having a friend of hers, a guy named Drew, who is an instructor trainer at Alpine Meadows, observe us on one run, and make some comments {which he relayed to the instructor} about our technique. Drew used to teach at Okemo. and supposedly, so he can maintain both PSIA east and west certs, he had to work in the east for 1 week.

His comment about most of us was that we needed to practice what he calls "patience turns". It seems that we were all turning a bit abruptly. He suggested that we let the skis "turn when they told us they wanted to".
Part of the problem was the fact that it was a crowded day on an icy New England weekend, which afforded us many excuses to make abrupt changes of direction.

But then I had this revelation. What happens when you get off the lift, and lets say you want to go to the right? You sort of look to the right and allow your skis to follow the line of the exit ramp. Eventually, the terrain sort of slopes uphill, and the skis will follow that line and slow down.

That was a helpful thought for the rest of the day, skiing as if I were following the line of the exit ramp on the lift, but instead of coming to stop, continuing down using the same feeling. I may not be explaining this well, but following the line of the slope feels very different from pushing the skis into a specific direction.
Another great outcome from the skiing the slow line fast, The kids as well as My wife's turns later were more controlled and rounder. I didn't have to say anything or give any other instructions except to have her follow behind the kids in our slow small round turns. I'm pretty sure the exercise for her and the repeating of movements have helped all who followed. Most of the time I was changing the size of the turns, long sweeping turns followed by 2 short radius then a few middle sized turns, 2 shorts again and a few longs turns. It was great fun and a great way to ski.

<FONT COLOR="#800080" SIZE="1">[ January 09, 2002 06:35 AM: Message edited 1 time, by dchan ]</font>
Yes Lisamarie--that's it! It's easy to let those skis zip down that little unloading ramp because you can look ahead and see that shortly the hill will flatten out, and then go uphill. It's not just easy--it's fun--and you CAN'T get "out of control"!

The next step is to look down ANY ski slope and, instead of just seeing "down," realizing that here too your path can go downhill briefly, across a flat, and then up a hill. It will happen with with every complete turn. Visualize this! The "long steep pitch" is actually just a whole bunch of short little unloading ramps, each followed by an uphill. Picture that path in your mind before starting a turn. Then enjoy the ride!

As long as you believe in your movements, there will be no doubt--and no fear--as you dive down that "little" hill. It's a sure thing!

I think I recounted this story some time ago, but it's worth repeating. Years ago I was skiing with an elderly but fit and highly skilled gentleman whose technique was the old Arlberg method of "down-UP-and around" to throw the tails from one braking skid to another. We played with "letting go," "falling downhill" to start the turn, and completing the turn uphill for speed control--gliding on the "slow line fast." It was totally foreign to him, at first. But then he caught on--a huge breakthrough. Toward the end of the day, I stood on a steep blue run watching him ski by. With every turn initiation, he would shout out--at the top of his lungs--

"DIVE ... and HAVE FAITH!"

I could never say it better!

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
Bob Barnes said

"If a bowling ball can do it, yet we find it difficult, what does that say? All you have to do to initiate that next turn is relax your edging--let go of the mountain--and LET gravity pull you as you guide your tips DOWNhill."

It says we are afraid of the fall line, but the bowling ball is not. Many years ago an instructor at Alta said to me (after a bottle of wine) "Your problem is that you are a chicken skier". He was right. He saw that my problem was not below the waist, but above the neck. Then I could start to solve it. Not enough instructors recognize that their student's problem is fear.
You're right, Crudmeister! Which brings up another point:

Fear is what keeps us alive in this sport!

That bowling ball has no fear, so it starts a turn down the hill with perfect relaxation and grace. But the ending is not pretty....

It's not so much that we are afraid to START down the hill sometimes--it's that we're worried that we won't be able to STOP going down that hill! And that pretty much eliminates any thought of going back UP the hill.

Dive...and HAVE FAITH!

Fear is not a bad thing. It's WORRY that we should worry about....

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
Thanks Joel--and congratulations on discovering the "slow line fast." Your experience bears out the fact, though, that this goes well beyond just a simple "understanding." Everyone knows that going uphill will slow you down. All of us have been told at some point, I'm sure, to "complete your turns." Instructors spout out constantly, without thinking, "control speed through turn shape," and accept the phrase as a given, and assume that they're doing it. But few instructors, even, let alone "lay-skiers," really show it in their skiing. For most skiers, it's just words that they repeat, not a "paradigm" that they live by!

Why is it that something so completely obvious remains so elusive?

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
"Swoop"

Amazing. That is a term I have been using for many years. It just came to me one day when I realized that all the tech talk was just producing blank faces. Also teaching in foreign lands sort of makes tech talk irrelevant ... no one understands my fractured languages anyway. "Show and sell" works much better. Point and swoop. No other explanation required. Swoop turns work wonders for the timid Z turners. Skiing is about feel and the “slow line fast” feels like swooping down the mountain.

Up (the hill) and .... Swwooooopppppp!!!.

Oz [img]smile.gif[/img]
Excellent, excellent, this so espresses that 'swooping' feeling I possess when I'm skiing well. This may really help me on the off days because I was never really sure what was wrong much of the time. In reading this and thinking back to the 'off' days I have, I realize that when I'm not skiing up to snuff my center and body are lethargic in getting the 'dive' portion of the turn freely flowing. It's like I'm not quite on top of my skis while hanging back a bit. Skiing this concept slowly and relaxedly might just get me back on line and in touch with my good skiing self.

I've read a lot of your posts on this subject to try and understand it as well as I am able from text because it seemed to describe a natural goal in my skiing , but it wasn't until this version that the light went off! "I enjoy every dive down the hill into a new turn." "Play with gravity --don't fight it!" "DIVE ... and HAVE FAITH!" I guess 'dive' and 'swoop' were close enough that I made some connections. This is exciting and I hope my suspicions are correct.

It is great to have a well defined concept to visualize and ponder for my on slope drill work and improvement. If I do get better from this it's your fault! Thanks a lot for your time and persistance. I for one, appreciate it greatly. That "AHA" feeling is the BEST. I'll keep you posted on my progress.

<FONT COLOR="#800080" SIZE="1">[ January 09, 2002 01:13 AM: Message edited 3 times, by joel ]</font>
You know this concept can actually be very helpful to eastern skiers. Mark and I were skiing with Tog {who sends his love to everyone} on Sunday afternoo. He noticed that we both have a tendency not to complete our turns. We were on a very icy trail, and I kept turning abruptly before each patch of ice. He told me to just let the skis slide right over the ice. Amazing sensation! Because the skis will decelerate pretty naturally, once they get onto more cover.
Oboe and others, do you ever get a chance to watch the GS races on TV? This could give you a good idea of what kind of line to take.
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