Saturday, January 3, 2009

Slack Lining the variable snow!

Its 4:30 in the morning and I can't sleep because I am dreaming about the amazing afternoon of skiing that I had with Zach and Shelby, two really rippin' skiers who teach at Bridger, yesterday. I skied so many lines that I've never done before, and it was so wonderful to feel really good about knowing that my skis would turn where I needed them to. The snow was perfect "test your skills" snow, firmish and skied out in the off piste, with about 3" accumulating on top of it. Perfect for practice.

I have trouble with strong leg steering in the mank, and staying forward in thick, manky snow, patience is so important there, and yet, when you ski trees and bushes in that sort of snow, you have to make the move you have to make, or, well, hello, you are not going to miss that tree and ski into the open space you are aiming for! So I was grateful that the snow was variable enough to present a challenge, but friendly enough to allow me to experiment and play in.

So yesterday I skied the chair line down flippers about three times, first off, a line I've always wanted to ski but been a bit chicken to take, and chasing Zach forces me to ski at a bit of speed, and see what technique stays with me. Of course, I have a LOOOONNNNG way to go, but I was very VERY happy to feel some good turns with approrpriate pressure, and good directional movements that kept me going forward even on the steep drop offs and over bumps and variable snow. On the flippers run, I got in a little hop turn and a small air, which was thrilling, and while I got tossed a bit on the big bumps up top (okay, I skied those really poorly), the ones on the bottom where the pitch is a bit steeper and the speed was greater, I actually skied just fine.

All in all, four days of skiing Last Chance in slow motion while teaching bumps, and doing NO free skiing has proven to be a terrific thing, and I realized that it gave me a couple of days to let my afternoon with Hickey and Casto to kind of gell and set in my mind.

Michael (Hickey) had asked me to start slacklining when we first started working together, and I did it on and off, this summer I got on it whenever I could, and it's interesting: When you slackline, the line is going to move. You have to accept that. If you fight the movement of the slackline, it will vibrate and move more. If you accept that the line will move, and allow that movement to exist, rather than actively trying to quiet it, guess what? It quiets down. The vibrational experience of the "ground" under you goes way down, and you can walk.

When I was out with Michael and Casto, we were talking about how to get my stance operating in the off piste the way that it is on the groom, and I got two quick and sage pieces of advice that really, really stuck. Michael said "slacklining" and pointed at the South Bowl, and then took of in big, sweeping turns through the bumps, crud and bushes, and I followed. Casto skied behind and watched the results.

Something clicked in my mind about the correlation between not fighting the vibration from the ground in the same way you would on a slackline, but it took about four or five days of skiing in slow motion to really incorporate that and have the light go all the way on in my mind. The other really excellent piece of advice, which works better in mankier snow for me, is ski it like you are skiing on very thin ice or a thin sheet of glass.

Essentially, you are trying to keep the forces even, keep the touch light, the pressure from building, so you never break the ice.

Today, skiing down the very steep and moving from thick cream cheese to buffed out steeps and over some rocks (mini-huck!), I felt for the first time a real acceptance of the terrain variability, and stopped trying to fight it. Strangely enough, i hadn't really realized how much I had been bracing in that terrain previously, I had felt aggressive and forward, but that's really the key. This snow doesn't need aggressive, this snow needs touch. Suddenly, skiing was so much easier!

I think this is the beginning of a type of understanding I haven't had before about how my feet function, how my center of mass moves (how quickly, how far, when in the turn, etc), the beginning of something that feels like reaching for flow and really "skiing" it, rather than loading at the bottom of the turn and trying to reach for "control" (ie, the ability to scrub enough speed that I feel in control before the next move), but just feeling in balance and ready for the next move, so I don't HAVE to load and compress.

It still happens, of course, but there is some sort of fantastic change that's beginning! OH! And another good thing! I'm in fairly stiff boots, but my Achilles tendons are sore, and my quads are NOT, so I'm thinking I may actually be flexing my ankles finally! YAY!! FRONT SEAT RULES!

Okay, must get some sleep, have to get up in two hours and do it all again!

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