Learn to master Steamboat’s ski and snowboard cross course
Steamboat Springs — The racers at the top of the ski and snowboard cross course on Friday afternoon at Steamboat Ski Area fit no stereotype.
There were longhaired snowboarders with wild coats. There were young children with rental skis and old men with sunglasses, men who snowplowed and women who soared.
Heat after self-organized heat flew out of the gates with the same goals, however, through the short course and, inevitably, to the line at the Bashor chairlift, a wide collection of skiers and boarders yelling and laughing about turns and lines and winning and losing.
On Friday afternoon, Steamboat’s newest ski course was a huge hit.
Brett Buckles — three-time X Games competitor and former U.S. Ski Team member — knows a thing or two about ski cross, and amid the chatter of tourists boasting of beating their friends, she explained how she can be so much faster than everyone else on the short course without any jumps.
Some listened but few absorbed, kicking away from the gate without the aggressiveness she preaches and attacking the course without the foresight she advises.
Take in a few tips, however, and anyone can slash his time and dust his friends.
In ski and snowboard cross, a good start can render the race over only seconds after it’s begun.
“It’s really hard to pass someone who gets a good start unless they make a mistake,” said Buckles, who has long been one of the top U.S. women ski cross racers and is now a coach with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
The key, she explained, is a surge of energy through the gate.
Start crouched with knees bent and hips directly over the feet. Reach out and grab the starting handles while bent at the waist so the arms, back and butt all are on one level plane.
When the race starts, pull hard through the gate, first and most important by thrusting your hips forward and then the body out and down onto the snow. Drive the ski tips down the hill and onto the snow as quickly as possible.
Tuck it in
After the start, throw in a second or two of skate skiing if necessary, but spend as much of the race as possible in a tucked position to cut down wind resistance. It seems like a little thing, but it can make a huge difference.
Crouch down low and keep arms stretched out in front, hands in front of the face with poles swept up alongside the body. Keeping the arms there not only helps with aerodynamics, but also helps a racer stay forward on the skis and in an aggressive stance. Buckles compared the arm positioning to driving a car. Do it well enough and it feels more like flying a jet.
“Instead of reacting to the hill, you want to react upon the hill, where you’re the driver,” she said. “By having your hands up, you’re being aggressive and you’re driving yourself through the terrain and down the hill.”
Roll the rollers
The first obstacle at the course in Steamboat is a short series of rollers, or small ridges. They may seem like hurdles to some, but to racers, they should be weapons — tools to use to gain much-needed momentum. There are rollers throughout the Steamboat course, and they alone can decide a winner.
“You want your legs to mimic the terrain with the help of your ankles, knees and hips,” Buckles said. “As you go up a roller, you want your knees to come up underneath you, and as you press the top of a roller and start descending down the backside, you want to press down on it.”
Try not to get air. “Air is slower than snow,” Buckles said. The best way to avoid it and to pick up speed on rollers is to press down hard at the top of a bump.
Cutting a turn
There are four big, banked turns on Steamboat’s course, and they, too, can be used to gain speed and momentum. It’s important to cut through them correctly, however.
Pull out of the tuck a little bit and ski it like a giant slalom turn, keeping good forward pressure on the feet while rolling the outside ski on edge. Keep it as clean as possible, one smooth maneuver from the top of the turn to the exit out the bottom.
Enter the turn high, by swinging to skier’s left on the first banked turn, and to the right on the second. “You want to start high and exit tight,” Buckles said. Starting too low into a turn won’t allow as much added momentum and won’t be the fastest way down the run. Exiting too late can be problematic, as well, throwing a skier or rider far to one edge of the trail.
The top two banked turns on Steamboat’s course are most important. Neither of the banked sections of the bottom two are on the fall line, and it’s not necessary to swing up on them.
Follow the tips, master the course and bragging rights could be yours.
— To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or e-mail jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com
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