If I was to ask you which of your turns skidded out the most?
Which of your turns is the weaker one?
Which do you use to stop?
Which one you fall over the most on?
Which one do you get stuck on in powder?
I’m pretty sure 90% of the reply would mention the Heel side turn.
The Heel side turn is the harder turn on which to balance and edge the board for sure. This is due to the way in which our body bends and flexes…but it also the easier turn to over rotate and over finish finish due to the fact that we can see where we are going and our body lines up easily towards the end of the turn.
It is the easier edge to stop on, yet the harder edge to carve on.
the Heel side turn is the one you are most likely to skid out on, loose your edge, skid on and end up on your ass from…
So what can we do to improve and get rid of a skidded Heel side turn?
How can we tune it up and make it our strongest asset?
It might come as a bit of a surprise to a lot of riders when I let the cat out of the bag and tell you that a skidded Heel side turn often comes about due to an under steered Toe side turn.
To put it simply, it’s probably not your heel side turn that is to fault, but your toe side turn that needs work.
Yep, you’re skidding your heel edge turn, partly, because your don’t finish your toe side turn?
Next time you’re out riding, take a look around you and watch some of the other riders on the hill.
Take a look at how much they actually steer their board, look at how far the board actually turns across the hill and think about how they are controlling their speed. It might come as a bit of a surprise to you to note that the riders going fast that you thought we’re the good guys are actually going fast because they can’t finish their turns!
I love the statement, ‘wow this board is really fast!’ What a great line…and what a load of bollocks!
The speed of a board, any board, depends on how much you turn it. If you turn a board across the hill it will slow down, if you turn a board to 45 degrees to your line of travel it will not slow down as much, if you go straight it will not slow down at all…This is called control of line and speed…the two are directly linked.
A stiff board that is hard to turn, might give the impression that it is a fast board due to the fact that it is hard to steer across the hill and so hard to slow down.
A stiff board might also be more stable at speed, which might also give the impression that it is a fast board.
However…Whether or not a board is fast, simply depends on how much you turn it.
lets go back to looking at the riders on the hill…
I want you to notice 4 things.
1. How much the board turns in order to control speed? look at how much it actually turns and how much it should turn in order to control the riders speed. How are they controlling their speed? by turning the board or by skidding?
2. Where does the riders upper body face as they ride? Down the hill or does it turn and follow the board?
3. What is their line of travel? Around and across the slope in arcs that control speed or a straight line down the hill skidding from edge to edge?
4. Where does the rider look as they ride? Around the arc, toe side and then heel side or straight down the hill?
So lets look at number 1 first.
Most riders that you see will only ever turn their board to about 45 degrees to the line of travel.
Speed can be controlled in 2 ways on a snowboard, you can either turn and keep turning until you have controlled your speed by the line you take…or you can skid!
Both are effective ways of scrubbing speed, but only one is an effective way of riding the mountain…to put it simply, once you get away from the smoothly groomed piste and have to fit your riding to the undulated contours and changing conditions of the Off Piste mountain, skidding your board from edge to edge simply won’t work. The trickier the terrain becomes the more you’ll need to steer and turn your board to control your speed and maintain your flow.
One of the best ways to appreciate or visualise how much you need to turn a board in order to control its speed without skidding your way down the mountain is to imagine that you are riding a bike down the hill with out brakes.
You want to ride at a speed that you can handle and that isn’t just getting faster and faster.
Think about the line of travel, the shape the turn would need to be and how far around the turn you’d need to go in order to control your speed.
How much you steer will depend a lot on the steepness and width of the slope, but you will straight away appreciate that the line of travel is a clean arc and the turn finishes, either across or even back up the hill in most cases…anything less and you’re accelerating out of each turn and pretty soon will need to crank a big turn finishing back up the hill or hit the brakes and throw in a skid!
The line we need to take to ‘control our speed’ whilst riding a Snowboard is pretty similar to the line you can imagine you’d need to take whilst ridding a bike down the hill at a constant speed without using the brakes!
The more we steer a board around the turn and across or back up the slope, the more we can control the speed of the board.
‘Control of speed through line’ is one of the fundamental elements of high performance snowboarding!
In order to cut out skidding, the turn shape needs to be an arc, any strong rotation that breaks the arc will cause skidding.
To my knowledge, there are only certain cartoon characters such as willy coyote that can change direction at 90 degrees, the rest of us have to follow the laws of physics and change the direction of our momentum by following a curve.
Again, imagine you’re doing the arc on a bike and then you suddenly turn the front wheel strongly into the turn, if the rotation is too strong the front wheel will simply skid (or you’ll eat the bars and hit the ground?)
Right, so go back to your observations on the hill. Look at riders of different speeds and confidence and I’m pretty sure that very soon, you’ll notice that they are all pretty much doing the same thing.
For the most part you’ll see riders turn their board to about 45 degrees to the line of travel, the board will skid a little way and then be thrown to about 90 degrees the other way in order to control speed with a skid in the opposing direction whilst looking and travelling straight down the hill.
Ok it works like this…
Most riders learn the same way.
In the beginning they try to turn the board from heel edge to toe edge and land on their face…hard!
It hurst and so a survival instinct comes into play that says, ‘don’t catch your edge’ and rightly so!
Unfortunately, from this point onwards, turning a snowboard in the manner that it is designed to turn in is a lost cause.
From this point onwards the rider learns to throw the board around from the heel edge to the toe edge in one movement using the upper body, that from this point on, will always cause a rotation and skid.
Some riders will get better and this movement will get smaller, but at the end of the day, the rotation is a rotation and the skid is inevitable and it’s quite hard to start a curved momentum change with a skid.
The Heel side turn can also be wrongly initiated with the upper body. This needs less of a throw and more of a twisting action that also causes a rotation around the front foot and a skid to finish.
On the piste this upper body initiation might work, and if you’re only riding a week a season and having fun with it, then don’t worry about it, get on with it and have some fun.
If however, you’re looking to improve, get away from the pistes and take on the greater challenges that the mountain has to offer, you’ll need to sort this out at some point as skidding in variable terrain and changeable snow doesn’t work so well.
Basically a board is designed to run along its edge from tip to tail and will turn on its own if allowed to do so. (unless obviously you’re going backwards ok, then its the opposite).
The side cut and camber of the board, makes the board follow an arc whilst it runs from tip to tail. Yep, the board is actually designed to turn, its only you throwing it about that is ruining its chances of ever performing to its best ability!
When a board runs along its edge in a clean line this is called carving.
If you flex the board whilst it is running from tip to tail you can influence the arc or the shape of the carve that the board will follow…More flex = sharper arc.
If you flex different parts of the board it will change the shape of the arc.
If you flex the front of the board for example, it will steer a tighter arc into the turn.
When a board follows an arc, the front portion of the edge, from the nose to your front foot, dictates the tightness of the initial part of the arc.
About midway through the arc the middle of the board, that between your feet will start to work.
At the end of the arc, the rear portion of the board, will take on most of the work, and whilst the font of the board is still to a lesser extent steering your line of travel, how much you edge and flex the part of the board from your foot to the last point of contact on the edge will now dictate how far around the turn you will flow, how powerful the end of the turn is and how much speed you take out of the turn and into the next.
This is a very simple way of looking at how the board is designed to work.
In effect, we shouldn’t be trying to turn the board! We should be trying to flex and bend the board so that it turns by design.
There’s no point buying the latest super ‘Pro’ board, with ‘quadratic side cut’, ‘rocker/camber/rocker/camber’ and ‘magna power’ if you’re simply going to rotate it and skid it from side to side?
But yes for sure, it’ll be stiff and feel like, ‘Hell yeah, a well fast board!’
Lets go back to you observations on the hill…
So, if you’re not turning across the hill to control your speed, what are you doing to control it?
There’s a pretty good solid bet that ‘you’re rotating and skidding’…It’s time to book a lesson…But with someone who knows what they are talking about! And learn to ride from the feet upwards rather than from the head down.
Yep, I’m afraid if you’re not already carving clean arcs to control your speed you fall into category number 2…You need help!
(Category number 1 is ‘Pro’s or seasoned sponsored riders)
You can book a lesson, buy my book ‘Go Snowboard’…(photos maybe a little bit dated but the technique DVD is spot on! and for those of you that are confused because its all goofy foot, watch it in a mirror or something and stop moaning about it in the reviews…it’s not my fault you chose to ride with your weaker foot forward!! Imagine writing the wholly grail of snowboard technique and the only complaint you get is, It’s all goofy foot? Rant over!)
Or you can work it out yourself…yep, it’s not actually that hard…but you’ll need to work out how to flex and bend the board with your feet…hmmm…yeah maybe, buy the book or get a lesson?
Oh, or you could join me on one of my Technical Clinics? (I only run one a season, but if there’s demand, I could, if pushed, put another on next winter…let us know?)
Back to your on the hill check out.
So most riders, no matter how good you think they are, (or how good they think they are) are controlling their speed with a skid.
Look closely at how much their board actually turns and you’ll see that it is never actually steered across the hill enough for the line of travel to control the speed at all.
For the most part, the only time that the board will turn more than about 45 degrees to the line of travel will be when the rider needs to slow down as they’re getting to fast, avoid someone, or stop in bigger skid.
If you turn a board and let it run at 45 degrees to the fall line (an imaginary line that gravity takes down the hill) it will very quickly gain speed…simple physics and gravity stuff!
In order to control this speed, (as the board is exiting the turn still pretty much pointing down the hill) you will need to quickly throw the board 90 degrees against the new line of travel…
This will put the board at about 45 degrees to the fall line but on the other edge.
The board now accelerates again and speed control is a skid at 90 degrees to this line, again putting the board at 45 degrees to the fall line and so on…
For the most part, to a greater or lesser degree, this is what you’ll see on the mountain when you observe 90% of riders!
The rider travels, look and faces in a straight line down the fall line all the time.
So how do we start to change this and get out of this perpetuating cycle of skidding?
Right lets take a look at point number 2.
Where does the riders upper body face as they ride?
This is pretty simple? It faces straight down the fall line on the toe edge turn and does pretty much the same on the heel edge turn as the board swishes in a rotation from one edge to the other.
This is linked to 3 things.
The first is that in order to rotate the board the upper body must counter rotate in the opposite direction, thus, as the board is thrown one way the body swings the opposite way and in effect stays facing down the fall line.
It is also linked to ‘Line of travel’ and of course ‘Where the rider is looking’…
All these 3 things are inevitably linked…
If your line of travel is straight down the hill, you need to look there (otherwise you’ll crash).
If you look down the hill, you’ll more than likely ride the line that you’re looking at and so head straight down the hill.
A line straight down the hill is a straight line down a hill…there’s no way of controlling speed in a straight line down a hill with out either accelerating in a straight line or by skidding from one edge to the other in an aggressive…’man I’m having it!’ and a ‘wow, this board is fast’ sort of way!
by now, hopefully you can appreciate points 3 and 4 that we haven’t looked at yet…and see how one thing leads to another?
1. If you rotate and skid and don’t finish your turn then you’ll need to counter skid the other way to the same degree to control speed and momentum.
2. Because you counter skidded the other way, your board hasn’t turned enough to effect speed control and you’ll need to do the same again. Your line of momentum will more or less be a skidded straight line down the hill with you rotating from one edge to the other. You’ll need to look straight down the hill as this is the direction you’re heading.
3. Your body will counter rotate and stay in the fall line, making it impossible for you to finish a turn (especially a toe side turn, which was the point raised in the beginning remember!).
4. You’ll end up needing to look down the hill and so will be more inclined to follow this line over and over again!
On a positive note, it’ll feel fast and aggressive (as you’re fighting against the mountain all the time) and to the uninitiated you’ll look fast and Pro, you might also be having loads of fun and so long as this is the case and you don’t hit anyone, as you can’t actually change direction that well, you’re doing nothing wrong as it doesn’t really matter as long as you’re not a danger to others and are having fun!
Right, imagine however, that you have noticed all these points in others on the hill and have now noticed the same form in your own riding?
Where do we start the change?
As I’ve already pointed out, most of the problems are due to line of travel and so this is where you need to start to work.
First off, start to look around the turn to the point that you need to get to in order to control your speed with out a skid, rather than looking down the hill all the time.
You’ll need to feel for the end of the turn as well as look for it.
It might come as a bit of a surprise, but to a certain extent, we actually ride our boards around the mountain, rather than down the mountain, most of the time. Snowboarding is not about getting from A to B, but about what fun we can have in between these 2 points!!
1. Stop looking down the hill and look around the curve to the end of the arc to control your speed by the line you take without needing to skid!
Straight away, your ride will feel a little slow and you’ll have to wait a little longer both to start the turn and finish the turn…stick with it, this is because you’re controlling your speed for once. You can alter the line of travel to increase or decrease your speed into and out of your turns as you progress.
For now work quite slowly so you can focus and not worry about speed!
Now start to look, for riders on the hill that do actual travel in arcs (Skiers to, as they have the same problem). You’ll maybe see one or two that are worth watching. look at how they travel around the mountain in constant arcs and how far around they steer the board in order to control speed.
Also look at where they look and how their upper body stays inline with their board.
Whilst the guy skidding down the hill might seem faster and more aggressive, the guys carving and flowing with the terrain will actually be able to carry much more speed, but will also be able to loose and gain speed from arc to arc. Snowboarding, for them is not about getting to the bottom, but about fitting their flow to the terrain of the mountain.
So stop looking down the hill and start to look around the hill…You’ll start to notice so much more and might notice the constant changes in the shape of the slope (this is something you’ll use to your advantage in order to fit your turns and flow to the mountain as you progress).
As you start to ride across the slope to control your speed, start to play with trying to ride on a clean edge. This is a carving edge, were the front and back contact points travel in the same line…tilt the edge with your front foot to increase the edge in the front of the the board (increases the pressure through the edge and so flexes the board and causes steering up the hill) or decrease the edge tilt in the front of the board (less edge = less pressure – flees flex and less steering).
These tiny movements of your front foot steer the board up or down the slope and are used to control speed by the line of travel out of each and every turn.
Next look at the rotation of your upper body in relation to your board and line of travel.
To simplify things, the Board will want to go in the direction of your hip. A rotation of the hip against the direction of the board will cause a pressure shift towards the middle and make you unable to flex and steer the nose and tail and so cause skidding.
In order to steer the board using edge tilt and board flex you need to be able to work through your front and back feet, both together and independently of each other using the principle that increased edge tilt = increased steering and decreased edge tilt = less steering.
Using this principle, you should be able to flex the board into the line of travel you need in order to control your speed just using tiny movements of your feet.
Go get the lesson, buy my book or get yourself on one of my Tech clinics…It is all very simple, but quite hard to put down in words without writing another book about it all.
Anyway, to summarise a little…
In order to control your speed by the line you take you need to finish off your turns more.
In order to finish off your turns more you need to change where you look, stop looking down the mountain and start to look around and across the slope instead.
Try to feel for the natural end to the turn and come out of the turn with the speed you want to carry into the next turn.
The speed that you want to carry into the next turn will depend on the shape and gradient of the slope.
Every turn is different so adapt your line, this is the beauty of riding with the mountain rather than just skidding down it.
The end of one turn ‘IS’ the start of the next, one turn flows into another and as you get better the movement to the rear of the board (to increase pressure and flex the board to finish the turn) will be used as a platform to move forward to flex and start the steering into the next one…
So finish your turn in a good place and with the correct speed and line to start the next one…
Think one turn ahead…Look to finish the turn you’re doing in a good place to start the next one.
Don’t look down the hill or you’ll rotate!
Ok…So back to the initial problem of the ‘skidded Heel side turn’ being the weaker turn?
It’s simple, most riders are caught looking down the hill, (especially on their toe edge) their upper body follows the fall line and they rotate into their turns to control their speed as they ‘have to’ as they didn’t turn enough to do it any other way.
When you finish a heel side turn, you can see down the hill and so whilst skidding down the fall line, you are looking in the right direction and the skid controls your speed. Because of this it is easy to get stuck on your heel edge, especially in powder!
When you finish you toe side turn with a skid, you’ll look down the fall line and you will twist your upper body in the opposite direction to where it should be and to where your board needs to go in order to control your speed by line rather than a skid.
This rotation of the upper body and fall line eye line, mean that is very difficult to finish the toe side turn (not impossible, but this needs good foot work for a surfer style oversteer style off the lip snap finish to the turn, great fun but quite a skilled manoeuvre) in any other way than a skid.
The upper body rotation and fall line eye line, simply mean that you ‘can’t finish off your toe side turn’ and so you can’t control your speed effectively into the next heel side turn.
You’ll exit the toe side turn at about 45 degrees to the fall line, skidding to scrub some speed but seeing as the board is still pointing, pretty much straight, down the hill you need to throw a big rotation into the heel side turn which diminishes any chance of you creating an arc on the heel edge and causes another massive skid.
If its icy you’ll probably end up on your backside. In powder you’ll probably, rotate to much, loose to much speed and get stuck and so it is often thought that the heel side turn is the harder or weaker turn.
In actual fact, it is probably the badly finished toe side turn that is the culprit…
Learn to finish your ‘toe side turns’ looking across the slope and you’ll be able to make more of an arc into your heelside turn.
An arc means that you can spread the momentum change out into the curve and not overload anyone point (that would cause skidding).
It’s simple really, but start to watch others on the hill and you’ll see the problem over and over again.
Toe side carve, eyes looking to the end of the turn…
Toe side carve with oversteer for speed control
So in conclusion, next time you ride, whether it is on piste or in powder, turn more and over finish your toe side turn and less on your heel side and you’ll ride like a god.
If you don’t understand any of this then…book that lesson, buy ‘Go Snowboard’ or come and see me…
I’ll sort you out.