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Turning Points 5: Racing

posted: 01/16/2002

You're not going to win Gold in torino. you might never even run a NASTAR course. But logging a few hours in the gates will make you a better overall skier and infuse new life into a tired ski day. Learn how to manage speed in the steeps, how to preserve it on the flats, and when, where and how to scrub it. Soon you'll be making turns wherever you want and, more importantly, wherever you must.


Problem: Skiing Too Straight

A straight line might be the shortest distance between two points, but it's rarely the fastest in a racecourse. Driving straight toward a gate might feel fast, but you'll have to jam on the brakes before making your turn. When this happens, most of your arc occurs below the gate, and it can throw you out of rhythm and off the fast line. Carefully planned and well-executed curves—with very little skid—help you create and maintain constant speed.

Solution: Turn Above the Gate
A. Set up a turn by looking ahead to the next gate and even to the one after that. Your mind needs to work even further ahead to plan your course and keep you on the fastest line possible.

B. If it helps, use a pole plant as your signal to change edges early as you start a new turn. Look to the inside pole of the upcoming gate and visualize a smooth round path toward it.

C. Start your direction change, and then put both skis on high edges well above the gate.The apex of the turn (when your skis are farthest out from under your body) should happen before you reach the gate's turning pole.

D. The arc of the turn, which started with the early edge change (see B), should bring your inside shoulder close to the turning pole. The round route that your feet take continues under the gate as you start to swing your pole forward, anticipating the setup and early edge change for the next gate.

Key Concept: Round out the Turn Below the Gate
Straight running from one gate to the next forces you to start turning right at the gate itself. Your tactic should be to have most of the turn already completed by the time you reach the turning pole. Finishing your turn under the gate gets you ready for the next turn sooner and allows you to stay on the rounder, faster line.[NEXT]ADVANCED

Problem: Feet Too Close to the Gate

The "breakaway gate (a hinged pole that flexes when hit) has spawned entirely new racing techniques. Racers now tend to ski through the pole—knocking it over with their shoulder— rather than around it. Less-than-elite racers who try to emulate this often ruin a good stance by rotating or counter-rotating as they contact the gate. If your feet get too close to the pole, you'll be forced to skid to avoid it, resulting in a massive loss of time.

Solution: Keep Feet Away from the Gate
A. Let your shoulder pass close to the pole, even make contact with it. But don't blow through it so hard it throws you off balance or off the course. With your skis far to the outside of your body, you'll have enough room to clear the gate while you scribe a clean, controlled arc.

B. Advanced skiers can eliminate the edge-change pole plant, which might disrupt a smooth, flowing transition between turns. Shift pressure from one ski to the next gradually, without abrupt movements, and you'll increase your speed.

C. Commit your upper body to the next turn and avoid defensive moves as you anticipate hard contact with the gate. If you're holding a good edge, your feet will be out from under you, and your outside leg will be in a long, strong position.

D. Pass the pole as though it isn't there. Don't let contact with the gate cause your edges to release.

Key Concept: Keep Skis Away from the Gate
Skidless turns let you retain as much speed as possible. If you get distracted by the gate or come too close to it, you'll surely brake. Keep your skis high on edge and away from the gate as you carve, and lean your upper body into the turn. Knocking the pole with your arms or shins may be too risky.[NEXT]EXPERT

Problem: Can't Find (or Hold) the Fast Line

Unless you know exactly where you're going, it's easy to get off the fast line in a racecourse. Outside a course, expert skiers love to make symmetrical arc-to-arc turns. But course-setters may not let you do that for long. They build in rhythm, yes, but also rhythm changes. To be fast you need to pass some gates early, some toward the middle and some later in your turn. You also need to make quick adjustments when you get off line.

Solution: Adjust your Line as you go
A. Even if you've memorized your line, you may attack some sections with too much or too little speed and end up above or below your intended path.

B. One way of adjusting your line is to drift sideways into the next turn. This is not a skid. Instead, unweight and flatten the skis to move laterally back to your desired path. Rather than going directly from carve to carve, delay the edge-change without slowing down.

C. Delicately pick up the new carve when you're back on the fast line. Set your turn up so the apex occurs above the turning pole. Try not to jam your edges abruptly into the snow.

D. Challenge the pole with your shoulder if the best line to the upcoming gate demands it, but leave enough room for your feet to pass cleanly. Solid upper-body positioning should not be interrupted. This way you can carve with both skis instead of just one. Double-ski carving is faster than only working the outside ski.

Key Concept: Learn How to Drift to Adjust Your Line
Just as a golf-course architect designs holes that demand different clubs and shots, a course-setter changes patterns to demand different skills and turn shapes. Great racing technique is not always about going directly from carve to carve. Flattening the skis or letting them drift can get you back on track.


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