Heelside Remedy: Use Both Feet!

Having trouble with that pesky heelside carve chattering out? Part of theremedy may be a trip to the tune-up guy, but more likely it is that you’reforgetting the distinct advantage snowboarders because we have both feeton one edge. While it is refreshing to see more skiers feeling a true carvewith the new shaped ski revolution (inspired of course by snowboard envy),they are forever constrained by the handicap of only one point of interfacewith their carving edge. But we have the ability to actively and aggressivelywork the board to our advantage.

The concept is fairly simple: we want to pressure the nose at the beginningof each carve, and pressure the tail at the end of each carve, shifting weightgradually back throughout the carve. Chattering generally occurs when theboard naturally wants to do one thing, while we tell it to do something else.One of the reasons toeside carves are typically easier, is that our bodymechanics, alignment, and binding angles encourage a forward carve initiationand the tailward shift necessary to allow the sidecut to do its job. Heelsidecarves, however, require a more conscious decision to make the right moves.This usually goes right out the window when we are scared by high speed,ice and steep slopes.

What often happens on heelside turns is we end up staying on the front footthroughout the turn. This excessively loads up the nose of the board whichresponds by trying to make a tighter carve than the tail. The result of thisconflict between nose and tail is chatter. The board naturally wants us tofollow through to the tail at the end of each carve, but by staying too farforward, the nose thinks it supposed to be carving back up the hill whilethe tail just slides along.

Inspection of a chattering carve track in the snow compared with a cleancarve track shows the obvious difference. If the chattering was not too severeand the board maintained a more-or-less circular path, the chattered carvetrack will show a rippling in its width along the path. The clean carve trackwill show a consistent width. The rippling in the chattered track is evidenceof the nose and tail trying to take different paths. This is analogous toa skidding car, whose back wheels are following a different path than thefront wheels. Where the ripple in the track is widest, is where the nosewas trying to carve back uphill and the tail was sliding ineffectively along.

The solution to the chattering problem is a pronounced forward and back weightshift throughout each carve, which must be coordinated with the side to sideweight shift when changing edges. At the initiation of each turn, our weightmust come forward to start the nose carving the beginning of the turn.Immediately after we’ve established the beginning of the carve up at thenose, we must then continue with a smooth transition back to the tail asthe carve progresses. The sensation is as if you were trying to feed theboard through the turn with your feet, sort of like feeding a crisp dollarbill into a change machine.

Pressuring the tail at the end of the carve acts to lock the tail into theend of the carve until we are ready to release it by shifting quickly upto the nose for the next turn. This builds up a lot of energy in the tailwhich we can use to our benefit. We can harness this energy by using thespring in the tail to assist our shift up to the front foot. By making aquick transition up to the front foot at the beginning of a carve, the energyin the tail is used to propel both us and our boards forward into the nextcarve and onto the other edge, reinforcing edge hold at the beginning ofthe next turn. This starts the other edge carving as quickly as possible,optimally while it is still the downhill edge. This minimizes the time wherethe board is just sliding on the base. This is a fairly gutsy maneuver; aslow or hesitant transition to the next carve will dissipate the energy inthe tail and it will not be able to be used in the next carve. By manipulatingthe springy characteristics of the board with our two feet, we can work theboard in such a way that both facilitates and improves stability and edgehold, and eliminates chatter.

As with any new skill, this technique should be practiced and mastered ona relatively gentle slope that will provide adequate speed without distractingyour attention with excessive steepness or difficulty. The total combinedweight transition takes a figure-8 shaped path in the center of our board.Starting with a toeside carve, we begin with our weight on the toe edge andon the front foot at the very beginning of the carve. As the carve progresses,we shift tailward onto the back foot. At the end of the toe carve, we springforward onto the front foot and change to the heel edge, crossing the boarddiagonally through the center. At the beginning of the heel carve, we feelpressure against the front/heel side of our boot cuff. Again as the carveprogresses, we shift back to the back foot and load up the tail for thetransition. At the end of the heel carve, we launch forward and onto thetoe edge, completing the figure-8. The combined transitions of front andback, side to side, result in crossing the board diagonally, but equallyin both directions. We initiate both heel and toe carves in the same placealong the length of the board, and is therefore not an asymmetrical maneuver.

This technique is only fully realized with the knees apart method describedin our last discussion. Independent leg action is imperative for the successfulexecution of this maneuver. With our knees stuck together, our efforts workthrough the single point of support that our two knees become, almost likea skier must work with just one foot on their ski. We cannot fully pronouncethe significantly large fore and aft shift, thereby reducing the desiredeffect in the transmission of our weight power to the board. The forwardfacing, square hips, level shoulders stance should be maintained for greatesteffect, but while practicing this technique on a gentle slope, other techniquesmay be neglected in order to isolate and concentrate on the figure-8.

The dynamics of snowboarding are important, and are showcased in this technique.We never want to be standing in one place on our snowboards while carving.We need to be moving at all times to adjust our position with respect toour direction of travel, gravity, and the forces acting upon us while weare traveling along an arc in the snow. With this technique, we ensure thatwe are always active on our board. With our two feet on the board, we havethe ability to really drive the snowboard, and not just ride it.