Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Uphill Kick Turn

In the sport of back country skiing, there is no skill more difficult to master than the uphill kick turn. This of course does not include the down hill skiing part, which I think I will never master. If one does an internet search for up hill kick turn, you are lead to a bunch of websites showing skiers doing perfect 180 degree turns, on relatively flat surfaces. But give me a break, if the hill was so low angle, you would never need to do a silly kick turn (KT), and on the steep stuff, one would have to be extremely flexible and coordinated to pull it off so cleanly.

Since most of my skiing is done solo, I have developed my own not so orthodoxes methods of doing a lot of these standardized moves. Skippy doesn’t provide me with a very good example for this stuff. But I have developed what I call, “The between the leg pole grab, Kick Turn”. This technique is based on two BC skiing philosophies that I have developed over the years. These philosophies really only apply to the uphill skinning part of things, cause the downhill aspect of BC skiing is just skiing.

1-Static Quadriplegia Motion (SQM). As a skier you have four points of contact with the snow. Two skis and two poles. Often times when traction becomes limited, usually due to the steepness of the grade, one must rely on all four points of contact to keep from slipping and falling. In SQM three points of contact are stationary and only one point moves at a time. My father taught me this when I was a child climbing a ladder, something he was taught in the ARMY. This relies heavily on your pole plants. Ones pole plants can be sturdy enough to support the weight of your entire body, if for only a mere second or two. Try it next time you are out skiing on firm snow. Plant your poles and see if you can lift your body off the ground, even if it requires a little hop. Obviously this is less effective in bottomless powder. Your poles will never generate the equal amount of support your legs/skis will, but they can support a fair amount. An amount enough to keep you from face planting the snow.

2-Deliberate Movements. This is much harder than it sounds. And it also why SQM take some practice to do. We have learned to walk in a very fluid dynamic motion. The more you walk the less you think about it. Long distance hikers and marathon runners have it so ingrained in there brain to put one foot in front of the other, that sometimes it is difficult to not. Instead one needs to walk like a poorly programmed robot. One step, pause, both feet on the ground, then another step. Or in the case of BC skiing: step, pole, step, pole, or step, step, pole, pole. The main reason for this is because we are working with limited traction. A slight pause will insure that the rest of the SQM system has time to catch up, and a slight pause to test if that step is truly going to support your weight. How many times have you seen an uphill BC skier begin to slip and instead to bracing themselves and loading their pole, take several poorly planted quick steps, only to have them all slip and end up on their face.

Based on those two ideas I came up with my kick turn method. Lets take a look at this slope in picture 1. I am coming up and joining the main skin track. I will be making a KT to the right. The first thing to do is to stomp out a nice spot where your skis make good contact with the snow. Pay more attention to the lower ski, for this is the ski that will support most of your weight as you begin the KT.

Plant your downhill (DH) pole right next to your DH ski, pic 2. The pole is to act as an anchor so that the DH ski will not lose traction and slide. This is paramount. Next plant your right hand pole somewhere out to the projected pivot point, pic 3. A key is to make sure that the pole is planted behind the right boot, so that it will not interfere with the KT. (some of these pictures got rotated funny by blogger, and I don't know how to fix)

With three points in firm contact with the snow you can test your stance by lifting up the right ski. Do you have a good stance? SQM baby! If everything is good you are ready to take that first step. Swing your ski out and make the turn, pic 4. Make sure the kick is far out enough that you are not stepping on your DH ski, but not to far that it is impossible to make the weight shift to the uphill (UH) ski. Stomp this UH ski and make sure that it is firmly planted. Now replant the DH pole to the left of the UP ski, pic 5. Plant it close to the ski so it will not interfere with the DH ski as it comes around. Test your new stance by slightly unweighting the DH ski. If all is good time to finish the KT. Pay attention to the DH ski so that it clears the tail of the uphill ski. Twin tips make this a little harder to do. With your left hand pole between your legs, it is right over your bodies center or gravity and can support a lot of your weight, pic 6. The steeper the slope the funnier this looks. But it is not as funny as having you face in the snow sliding DH. With a little practice you can perfect this little move.

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