The cultural revolution within skiing and the birth of 'Freeride' owes much to snowboarding as well as to an evolved state of mind. Fortunately the ski has found a way of quickly adapting to this new skier identity and the gulf that once separated the boarder cult from the alpine skier, has gone the way of the monoski. All thanks to freeride. A combination of attitude, technique and new ski technology has meant that there are no longer bounds to the skiers capabilities, nor to his spirit.
Lessons to free movement and mind…
Reach out and touch the Corduroy. For a decade or so we have witnessed boarders linking exquisite semicircular troughs in the matted corduroy, hand brushing the snow as the body reaches that critical angle of attack before the edge looses its grip. The arrival of 'parabolic' or carving skis has similarly opened up the limits of the turn and stretched the parameters of technique. The balance of power has been handed back to the ski. Building up speed on a well-groomed piste, your momentum allows you bank in to the slope and allow your planks, more evenly weighted than before, to carve tight and fast arcs in the snow. Open your stance, reach out for the snow and feel the rush.
Lengthen the turn once in the powder The influence of snowboarding upon skiing has also seen the stretching out of the traditionally tight powder turn. Powder skiing has long been a refined art of do-or-die, characterized by rhythmic S's down the fall-line, occupying a limited part of the mountain. For years now snowboarders have demonstrated a different use of the mountainside - improvised arcs which exploit all that the terrain has to offer. Now the Freeride skier has adopted this tactic, permitted to do so by the wider cut of all-terrain skis that enable him/her to float closer to the surface of the snow. For the Freerider, a descent in powder has become a lot less tiring, much faster and a lot more fluid than before. For the first time we can see boarders and skiers cutting the same shapes and playing with the terrain in a similar way. Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité
By adopting a stable stance, weight slightly towards the heel (not thrown back) and evenly distributed over both skis, you can make your own mark in the virgin snow. The increased speeds experienced will of course increased the centrifugal throw in the turns so keep legs strong and the upper body steady and responsive.
Improvisation: On and Off-piste
Another characteristic of the freeride is the skiers use of terrain - piste or no piste. To go beyond the bounds set out by the piste markers and make the most of what the mountain has to offer. Groomed carve turns one moment and drifts, cornices, bumps and gullies the next - allow your skis to take you beyond the crowds to places where the only boundaries are those to your imagination.
If skis had not suddenly taken that much needed leap into the 21st Century, then these free spirits would today be expressing themselves in the same way, but with a single board strapped to their feet. The threat from snowboarding developed into the healthiest of competition for the ski industry and, today, freerider and boarder occupy the same spaces as well as the same slot on the halfpipe. This is not to pretend that the two rival camps have suddenly united - rather that the skiing fraternity has splintered in two: skiers and freeriders.
A good friend of mine recently traded in his board for a pair of all-terrain skis - a pretty small step in itself but symbolic of a giant leap in the fortunes of skiing, which has caught up with and applied the breaks to the all-conquering snowboard.
Out goes the Daffy, back-scratcher and 360 and in comes stylish and creative tricks, another concession to our boarding brethren. The tip cross or 'iron cross' is the defining signature of the freerider - a simple crossing of the ski tips while in the air yet an image which now graces the covers of ski magazines the world over.
To pull off an iron cross, approach the jump as you would any other - at the summit of the jump, reach for the sky to give yourself maximum air time. Once air born, keep your arms in front and your legs bunched up beneath you (see picture), then it is simply a case of crossing your tips and adopting the pose for the imaginary cameraman. Once the basics are tried and tested, then you could graduate to an 'Iron Cross Grab' or an 'Iron Cross Heli'. We can all dream…
Gone are the days of long hesitations before attempting a 4 metre drop or before negotiating steeps and trees - freeride is all about a fluidity of movement and improvisation. Freeride competitions value variety and the individual interpretation or the mountain above one-off feats of madness.