So just what are you supposed to do with your knees, anyway? Back when manyof us were still learning how to snowboard, there emerged possibly the firstreally identifiable style that pretty much everyone thought looked cool.People like Craig Kelly and Keith “Duckboy” Wallace were riding around withtheir knees jammed together, and yeah, it looked really cool! But now withthe advent of skinny symmetrical race boards and steeper stances, the schoolof carving has changed, and riding around with your knees stuck togetheris not necessarily the key to riding the sweet spot of your board.First,we need to define the modern carving stance to see how the knees fit in thepicture. The first step in achieving the modern carving stance is to squarethe shoulders and hips to the direction of board travel, and maintain thisalignment at all times throughout each carve. When this is working, the torsoand hips are facing the nose of the board. The hands are no longer leadingand trailing, but are back to left and right, and they stay that way. Itis obvious that the surfers and skaters among us will have to adjust theirbody and hand alignment, but the skiers have a less obvious task.
A cross-over skier will have to make the conscious effort to look in thedirection of the carve, rather than always down the hill. As carves progressaround the curve, we are actually looking across the trail at the beginningand end of each carve. This is also a much safer way to ride, in additionto its benefit to carving. Maintaining proper alignment of the head withthe board is crucial to maintaining this stance, since the body is builtto follow the head. If you make each carve looking all the while down themountain, the torso will open up, cease to be aligned with the board, andthe rest of the stance will fall to pieces.
The hands are equally important. Mechanically, the body wants to conserverotational momentum. This means, as the board and lower body rotate right,the upper body rotates left, and the would-be leading hand typically comesacross the nose of the board when executing a heel side turn. By keepingthe hands on their own sides of the board, and by looking in the directionof the carve, we can prevent this counter-rotation from happening. The resultis greater stability, and consistent edge pressure. The board and body areunified as one solid unit. With the counter-rotation, the upper and lowerbody separate, and the body position over the edge changes, compromisingedge pressure. By resisting the separation, we can maintain our body positionover the edge, and sustain better edge hold.
The second step in achieving this stance is to keep the shoulders level tothe slope of the hill. This helps keep more body mass closer to the edge,thus increasing edge hold. A good way to think about doing this is to keepthe hands both at an equal distance from the surface of the snow at all times.This will help keep the shoulders level to the slope of the hill. When wetilt our shoulders in to the turn, we are taking more body mass away fromthe edge, reducing edge grip. With a forward facing posture and by keepingthe shoulders level to the hill, we can keep more body mass closer to theedge at all levels of angulation.
Now, the knees. “What’s so wrong about riding with my knees together? Itlooks good, and it feels good!” you might reason. Sure, it does feel good,but it’s only a quick fix. By sticking the knees together, they become asingle point in the structure of your body. By doing this, you are forcingyour center of gravity to find the center of your board. Since the kneesare one point, your center of gravity finds its most comfortable positiondirectly over this point. This point is also right in the middle of yourstance, which is where the board was designed to carve best. This is whycarving with the knees together feels good. Now, carving the sweet spot iswhat we are trying to achieve, but with our knees stuck together, we areactually making it more difficult to maintain this position when we encounterhigh speeds or variable terrain (i.e. ice, ruts, bumps etc.).
Here’s why: with the knees together, there is a triangle formed with yourboard and your lower legs. Since your legs are not elastic, that triangledoesn’t really want to change shape. When you initiate a turn, in order tomaintain that forward facing, level shoulders stance, the angulation occursmainly from the waist down. Therefore, it is the duty of the knees to getunderneath you, to the inside of the turn, in order to hold you up. As weattain higher speeds, we logically require a lower center of mass in eachturn. When the knees are stuck together, they can only move in to the turnby a limited amount. After your knees stop moving in, your upper body gets”tripped” as it tries to move further to the inside to compensate for thelimited range of knee motion. Also, with the knees forced together, the hipstend to face strictly in the direction of the binding angle, leading to thedeterioration of the forward facing stance. You end up breaking at the waistand tilting your shoulders down and into the turn. This results in a highercenter of mass, further away from the board, a combination which producesthe minimum edge pressure.
The remedy is to allow the knees to remain comfortably separated while carving,and even to force them apart while carving aggressively. This is facilitatedwith the new toe and heel lift system, as the typical cant tends to pushthe knees together. When carving at high speed on steeper or variable terrain,we want our center of mass to be moving smoothly and quietly along a consistentpath for maximal stability. This means maintaining a quiet upper body andmaking the turn initiation from the waist down, primarily with the knees.On a toe side carve, this translates to a slight outward movement of therear knee, towards the inside of the turn. On a heel side carve, the turninitiation becomes a slight outward and forward movement of the front knee,towards the inside of the turn. This helps get the center of mass forwardon the board at the beginning of the turn to engage the nose into the carve,and to ensure that the entire edge is utilized, not just the tail. By keepingthe knees apart, they are allowed to bend naturally and function optimallyfor shock-absorption, thus upholding the level and stability of the centerof mass. Riding with the knees apart is structurally more sound, as the centerof mass is supported by two independent members which afford greater stabilityand range of motion. With the knees together, they become a single pointwith limited motion, above which, the center of mass precariously teeters.
The combination of separated knees, forward facing body alignment, shoulderslevel to the hill will all help achieve a more stable center of mass, closerto the edge. The less the center of mass is jostled about, and the closerit stays to the edge, the better you will be able to maintain high speed,consistent carves on a variety of carving terrain. Riding with the kneesstuck together is a fun way to quickly find the sweet spot, but once youknow where it is, you are ready to step up to the next level. Riding withthe knees apart allows you to carve the sweet spot consistently, with stabilityand confidence.