Saturday, 22 March 2008

Dealing with Ice

We have reached that part of the season where the slopes are usually very firm in the mornings due to the melt-freeze cycle. Some days the snow can be firm and grippy, other days it can be like a sheet of ice. Ice is one of the most intimidating snow types for many skiers, so it seems like a good idea to address the techniques to manage it. Technically there is a difference between hard slippy snow (stuff that fell out of the sky and has transformed due to weather, passage of skiers, groomers etc.) and ice (water which was liquid and then froze), but to most skiers the difference is academic.

On firm, slippy, icy terrain there is a perception that the skis need to be edged more to increase grip. In order for this to work the pressure against the skis needs to be increased to maintain balance, and the picture looks like the skier on the left in the diagram. The force against the skis has to be balanced by the centrifugal effect of the skier going around the turn, and by the weight of the skier. With high performance skis, perfectly tuned, a very good skier can do this. However, maintaining this position is dependant upon the skis continuously gripping a very firm surface. The moment the grip fails the skis skid out sideways and the skier's mass will fall downwards, probably hitting the ground.

If you are racing, or race training, the technique described above works well. For most people the skier on the right in the diagram illustrates a more realistic approach. Accept that you are going to skid sideways, and try to make it a controled skid. Keep the skis fairly flat and the bodyweight above them - this way when the skis skid sideways the body is not left hanging in the air but stays above the feet. Making skiddy turns keeps the speed under control and minimising the pressure under the feet reduces the likelihood of the skis skiiding out sideways. The idea, unless you really want to go fast over the ice, is to ski delicately and gently. Even if you want to start carving turns on ice, try to stay more over your feet and use less pressure. It is possible to increase the edge angle whilst keeping the center of mass closer to the feet, but that is another lesson I'm afraid.

Ice is just one more type of snow (notwithstanding the comment above) with its own set of demands on the skier. If you don't let it intimidate you it can be just as rewarding as any other condition.

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