February 20, 2009
Crossover: Shared techniques between skiing and sleding.
From Corduroy to backcountry, snowmobilers and skiers have much more in common than just love for the fluffy white flakes we call snow. In fact, if you take a look at many of the top freeride snowmobilers today you might just notice that more than a few come from a skiing background. It’s because most of the techniques used in skiing apply directly to snowmobiling and crossing them over is easy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that anyone go strap on a pair of skis…but there is something to be learned from skiing, especially if you have experience on skis.
When I was young, my parents enrolled me into an instructional class at a ski resort to learn how to ski. I could hardly blame them for dropping me off so they could dash off to ski the fabled Utah powder, but while I thought it unfair that I was stuck on a bunny hill, it was there that I learned techniques and principles that made riding deep snow fun. Working as a ski instructor myself years later I passed on this knowledge to countless ski students, and now I remember some of the same ideas when I am carving powder turns on a 500-pound snowmobile.
The first thing they taught us was to see the end from the beginning. You have to know where you want to end up, and how you’re going to get there, but you also have to have in mind an escape route and alternate plan in mind for any possible problem that could arise. While the possibilities are infinite, I would say that identifying the top few problems areas and alternate plans for those areas is critical. Take for instance a side hill across a steep wooded slope. You pick your ideal line, but have to be able to identify which trees you can dip below, and which ones you have to stay above, and you have to know that snow conditions change as you cut across the hill. Or if you are coming downhill, you need to plan accordingly with slope steepness, turns, trees, and the runout in mind. What happens if you’re being pushed by a slew of snow that give you too much speed and you’re heading right for a huge pine tree? Do you have enough time to react and maneuver around it? Seeing the end from the beginning and having a plan are safety steps that can prevent precarious “stucks” and other dire situations. Take a little time and plan out your “routes”.
The next thing I was taught was to let the ski do the work! It is the same with sledding—let the sled do the work. The sleds these days are amazing. The engineering behind them is fantastic and the sleds are capable of doing so much more than their ancestors from just a decade ago. Don’t fight the sled if you don’t have to. Guide it and work with it. Too many people try to overpower the sled above or around obstacles. The really good riders always learn to be one with their sled. Use throttle control, weight transfer, and counter steering to do most of the work. Practice being fluid smooth and adapting your lines to the sleds reactions. More and more we see sledheads and skiers cutting the same shapes and playing with the terrain in a similar way. Today’s amazing snowmobiles are helping sledheads play like never before.
Two of the most important things when you are skiing deep powder are positioning and weight transfer. Making powder turns on skis is more about using your weight to establish a rhythm than forcing the ski to turn like you would on hardpack. Weight transfer is also crucial when carving powder on a sled, but you also have the added twist of a throttle and track. Smooth carving on a sled is all about using your weight, counter steering, and throttle control in constant harmony. Test your sled’s reactions on different slopes and in varying snow conditions until everything is instinct. Beginner skiers often have a tendency to lean back too far, which is bad thing. Of course on a snowmobile there are a lot of times when you want to lean back. However, when you are carving downhill leaning back too far will cause you to lose control. Centering your weight will give you the most control and lead to the smoothest turns, especially on steeper hills. You will find better balance on the sled and be more prepared for unforeseen obstacles.
Finally, get out and ride! Snowmobiling allows us to access ridiculous amounts of untracked powder that skiers and snowboarders could only dream of and to ride powder in so many more ways. Powder turns are great, but that’s only the beginning on a snowmobile—you can ride trees, boondock creek bottoms, explore for miles on end, and of course, you can do everything uphill too.
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