Drop into the pipe dude…
I guess you might have heard such words at your resort. After skiing for over four years in the East I believe most skiers become either bored with the slopes or become comfortable and never progress with their own skills. Well we are humans and we like things that we know. In general that holds us, skiers, back from learning new exciting stuff. Many times we believe we need to go somewhere else to improve our skiing skills but is it necessary to go to a superior resort to improve our skiing adventure? Why don’t we take the step forward and break our traditional skiing and try something out of the ordinary at our home resort? Let’s face it, you always wanted to “drop into the pipe” or “hit the table”!
I became inspired to write about freestyle skiing after meeting a skillful free-style skier in Engelberg from Verbier (France) at a Swiss Snowsports event. Steve is a Swiss-French pro skier and the son of a heli-ski tour operator in the Italian Alps. This year he is working at a small ski resort in the Swiss Alps next to Crans-Montana, the former host of the Alpine World Championships.
As a professional skier, safety is a necessity when trying freestyle skiing. It’s recommended for all skiers regardless of skill level. Many skiers today have helmets, back protection and armor gloves. I, myself, started skiing with a helmet for the first time this year. I was not sure about my orientation functionality at first but it works just fine. I love it and do not ski or Telemark without it. Try one today and rent one at your local ski resort or pro shop. Helmets are cool… and they protect.
I have to make one request before I can continue with my freestyle guide. Make sure you are an accomplished parallel skier before trying freestyle skiing.
First we need the right skis before we can even hit the park. Twin-tip skis have tips at the front and at the end of the skis. They are specially made for park and pipe. The ski is not designed for speed. The length of the ski is always a little taller than you because you need the stability when you land after a corked spin, etc. The bindings are always in the middle of the skis, not like on traditional skis where they are a little towards the back. The edges should not be sharp because it’s a handicap by railing that’s why I recommend rounding them up. Poles are as important as in traditional alpine skiing. They give you stability; the poles should not be too tall. Do not put your wrist through the straps on your poles. Boots can be racing boots or soft boots -; whatever you feel comfortable with.
There are a variety of slope tricks such as the Ollie, the fakie switch, the nose & tail turn, and the power slip. I would like to talk about the pipe today because that’s where the fascination is most visible. Dropping into the pipe can be the start of a great skiing experience. The other day I had a group of teenagers from Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Russia and Canada for a week-long ski school session at Engelberg-Titlis, Switzerland. They wanted to learn how to ski in a quarter pipe and a half pipe. In Engelberg we are very pleased to have one of the best park and pipes in the world, we even have a World Cup event at our park. It’s always good to have a great park, which is not only advertised as one but also kept as one. Some resorts offer better park and pipes then others. In most Eastern U.S. resorts the parks have a faulty layout and are not extraordinary by any means.
How can you ski a well-defined pipe and even make some jumps? It’s a combination of the right speed, the right turning, and the right flexion and extension of the body. For best results, take a class that specializes directly in proper pipe skiing technique. Skiing in the pipe is a variation of the parallel turns. Speed gives us the constant contact with the wall and a turn in the air without the full body stretch. According to your choice of line you will turn in the transition, vertical, and/or in the air.
Another important lesson for you is the pumping in the pipe. With that move (whole body up and down) you will increase speed and the height of the jump. In most cases, the jump is a passive jump. After the jump stay relaxed on your feet and look for the contact to the snow/wall ASAP.
There are many trick jumps in the pipe like the alley oop, handstand, 540-degree, and fakie air.
I believe after you try a couple runs just doing the first part of the pipe you will get more and more used to the pipe and your turns. After a couple runs, try to go higher in the pipe and increase your speed. I guarantee you will have a great time. Even if you don’t like it, it definitely will help you to become a more accomplished skier.
Iwan F. Fuchs is a certified Swiss ski instructor and the former Ski and Snowboard School Director of Hidden Valley Resort. He has 17 years of experience teaching, and has also served as a USSA racing coach.