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Outside magazine, January 1996
THE CARVED TURN
"You've got to recapture the jungle beast," says Tommy Moe, sounding more like celebrity wildlife commentator Jack Hanna than one of the world's foremost experts on alpine skiing. "Think cheetah. Reconnect yourself with your inner grace and power."
The 25-year-old Moe, who won the gold medal in the downhill at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, and who indeed manages to look big-cat-like while rounding corners at 90 mph, sounds less touchy-feely when it comes to actual nuts and bolts. The most important technique, he says, is the turn, and the only good turn is a well-carved one. The reason is simple: "There's so much more energy stored in a well-carved ski than a skidding one," he says. "It's like riding on a slippery bar of soap--your skis just want to jump out from under you." Herewith Moe's recipe for adding a veritable veldt full of power and grace to your skiing.
1. Finding Your Edges
Now, as you practice these turns, think outside ski. "It's the most crucial thing to remember," says Moe, "and for a lot of people, it's the biggest problem in making the transition to higher-speed carved turns. You've got to trust yourself to put all your weight on the outside ski." To help you do that, he advises, "At the beginning of the turn, lean on the ball of your outside foot--the sweet spot--and feel your ankle bend as you roll that ski onto its edge and steer it into the fall line. Setting an edge early in the turn--that's what makes the skis arc."
2. Downward, Ho!
3. The Crucial Link
"Imagine that you've got high-powered magnets strapped to the bases of your skis," says bumps diva Donna Weinbrecht. "And they're being tugged on from deep beneath the snow. It's almost impossible to pull your skis off the snow."
A far-out concept perhaps, but that, says the 30-year-old Weinbrecht, is what you should think about when skiing moguls: keeping in constant contact with the snow so that you absorb the bumps rather than letting them buck you off. An implacable force on the World Cup circuit and Olympic gold medalist in mogul skiing at Albertville in 1992, the former mall girl and figure skater from Jersey has come to define the style of modern mogul skiing--powerful, precise, ultra-smooth. "People get all locked up when they ski moguls," she says, making the discipline sound easy. "They panic and stiffen up when they should be supple." A good rule of thumb: Don't bother venturing into the bumps if you haven't mastered the groomed runs. Beyond that, says Weinbrecht, "Loosen up. The bumps are a dance."
1. The Absorption Factor
The most important thing to remember is to use your legs as pistons, keeping your upper body facing squarely down the fall line. At first, advises Weinbrecht, don't even bother turning and go at a comfortable speed--concentrate most on being smooth. "As you crest," she says, "think about those magnets and how they help you drive your skis down the mogul's backside."
2. Planting Your Poles
And don't hesitate. Remember, constant pressure on the snow is your new MO. "The moment you plant your pole," says Weinbrecht, "roll your hips forward and dive into the new turn." Don't even think of unweighting. "A lot of people are confused about that," she says. "But there's no active unweighting phase in mogul skiing. The bump does most of it for you."
3. Finding a Line
To control your speed, she says, make shorter turns: "Get those legs pumping. Drive those skis into the turn." It also helps to focus on realigning your stance. "When I want to reel it all back in, I concentrate on pulling my feet back under my hips," says Weinbrecht. "But if you really feel like you're starting to lose control, hey, there's always stopping."
The most amazing thing about extreme skier Scot Schmidt is not that he's spent much of the past 15 years airborne on narrow, 50-degree chutes and the ice-encrusted lips of skidom's meanest couloirs, but that he's escaped from it all with barely a battered fibula. Widely regarded as the guru of the American extreme-skiing movement, Schmidt, 34, has laid claim to dozens of first descents and has appeared in a slew of ski films. Yet no matter how death-defyingly hairball his stunts, he always appears in control.
"To ski the really big stuff," he says, "you have to be so in tune with yourself and your abilities that you act without thinking." To prove that he's spent way too many oxygen-deprived, adrenaline-pumped hours on the steeps, he's now drawing inspiration from mountain goats. "Have you ever noticed how they have a sixth sense about snow conditions and mountain dangers?" he asks. "I figure they're just better plugged-in to their environment. I want to be just like them." Here, Schmidt's two-legged secrets for surviving the steeps.
1. Being the Boss
To prepare yourself, try this exercise: Stand with your skis perpendicular to the fall line on a short, steep slope, and jump and turn your skis 180 degrees so that they're facing in the opposite direction. Now do it the other way. The goal here is to keep your upper body as quiet as possible. Imagine a metronome as you try doing ten, 20, 30 of these jump turns on the spot. "It's the perfect drill to get you sharp for the steeps," says Schmidt. It also pays to work on independent leg action, the ability to move quickly from foot to foot. "In the steeps, you never ski like your two feet are one."
2. Milking the Sweet Spots
Knowing how to read the slope can make the difference between a good run and a dismal one. "No matter how ugly the terrain, the sweet spots are always there," he says. Terrain breaks--bumps, knolls, ridges, and lips--can do all the turning work for you if you know how to use them. "Make your turn just as you crest of the sweet spot, where your skis are lightest," says Schmidt. "That way the turn becomes effortless."
3. The Importance of Om
Learning how to relax, then, is fundamental to handling stressful situations. While meditative exercises like yoga, tai chi, and karate develop discipline and teach you to control your breathing and calm your mind, simply logging miles in the backcountry will often take you to the same place. "Leave the chairlift behind and start climbing. Pay your dues," says Schmidt. "And pay attention. Learn about the weather. Learn about the snow and its different characteristics." The point is to find your own limits--how steep you can go, how high you can jump, how exposed you can get. "There's no time for second guessing in the crux," says Schmidt. "You simply have to be instinctual." Goatlike.
Michel Beaudry is a mountaineer and writer living in British Columbia.