August 13, 2009: Power in the Fall Line

Mt. Hutt, New Zealand – Yesterday’s dreary weather cleared up to a clear, crisp morning. Our early morning call stuck so we got to the hill in time to catch the sun rise over the mountains. It was a beautiful sight.

The snow conditions were challenging, stuff that I’m normally afraid of. The slushy wet snow was groomed and then froze over forming stiff lines of corduroy that looked great to ride in from the chairlift. But once on it the snow was unforgiving and hard and made it quite painful to ride. The vibrations from the lines not giving way under the snowboard made my shins and ankles feel like they were shattering.

But I tried to power through as much as possible with the single focus of ‘Forward! Forward!’ in my head. I noticed that I had to be way more aggressive on this type of snow because if I backed off just a little and got in the backseat, the board would just take off out of control with me just trying to hang on. And then trying to slow down and stop after that made me wince in pain. So I needed to stay low and always be attacking (forward) to stay on top of my board. After a couple of warm up runs I was starting to get the hang of it to the point where I was confident and it wasn’t so painful. I did have to crank down my boots as tight as I could stand it because it felt like my feet were going to slip right out of my boots.

The first half of my first run in the course felt pretty good. I remember thinking ‘forward, forward’ on each turn and tried not to let the hard snow intimidate me. But I was too straight from the flats and coming over the knoll into the steep section that I got thrown into the backseat and lost control of the board. On the second gate of the steeps I was too straight, too fast and too much in the back so when I leaned in on my toeside, I fell and slid down to the next gates with my board bouncing off the snow repeatedly and painfully. (My left knee and right quad are bruised because of the fall.)

I was pretty bummed because I think I could’ve gotten a decent time if I had just dove down into the turn and not let the board run away from me. My teammate said that I looked aggressive coming over the knoll so if I had just held on… Too many what ifs in this sport.

My next few runs were not good. I’d either be too timid coming over the knoll or just blow out of the course before it. (Although I did learn just how necessary it is to get forward in the steeps; the board was on the verge of getting away from me so I just dove down and hoped for the best and amazingly I regained control and was able to finish the course.) On one run I blew out and was so angry and frustrated that I would’ve hyperventilated if I didn’t get my breathing under control. It was a true mental test of staying calm and not getting over emotional. I don’t think I passed it because when Coach Mark asked me how things were going I almost broke down and could barely get a few words out. I wanted to cry and hit somebody at the same time.

I’m sure he could see the frustration in my eyes because he spent the rest of the day with me. We analyzed the course as we slipped it, he told me exactly where to change edges and power the board, we worked just a few gates at a time to make sure I understood where I needed to be, we watched other riders and talked about it. Then he would watch me freeride and give me immediate feeback. It was awesome! He said that overall I can ride correctly when freeriding, but my timing in the gates needs work.

There are four detrimental points to remember:

  1. Power in the fall line. Administer force when the board is in the fall/rise line. Switch edges at the beginning of the small arc around the stubby when the board enters the fall line and release pressure as the board is exiting the fall line, at the bottom of the small arc. The arc normally starts at the point between the panel and the stubby, around the stubby and thenends at the point between the stubby and the panel. But when I switch edges and commit to the new edge I really have to commit all in to it and really pressure the board. Whoooshh! (That’s the sound of power in the fall line.)
  2. Closer to the gate transitions. My edge changes need to happen about two board length above the gate, not the usual six lengths that I originally thought. I’d always thought that you should switch edges about half the distance between each gate, but that is way too early and necessitates drift and loss of pressure/power on the board resulting in loss of speed. It’s a bit uncomfortable to wait that long because I think I’m too late and will miss the turn, but when I tried it around a few gates and really powered the board, it made the appropriate turn shape around the gate and generated a lot of speed coming out of the turn. I just have to trust it and hang on.
  3. Move with the board. Exactly as being forward. Can’t get whipped into the backseat, especially when you really commit and pressure the board, otherwise it will throw you back. The good thing is that now that I don’t have to change edges until almost at the gate, that’s extra time that I have to ‘float’ and move forward on the board before switching edges again. By floating I mean the board is running flat and I’m not exerting pressure on it. But I must use that time to get forward on the board.
  4. Old edge is faster than new edge. Just a point I never thought about, but the old edge (right after pressuring and releasing the board) is moving faster than when you switch to the new edge. So it makes sense to try to be on the old edge as long as possible.

So next time I’m on snow I need to really focus on those first three things. But it was such an invaluable time with Coach Mark (Thanks Mark!). I feel like I’ve learned half a season’s worth in a day. Now to implement it!

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