I can usually ignore the arrival of the first ski magazines in August and resist the Labor Day ski "blow-out" sales, but the first rains of the season here in California always cause my thoughts to turn to turns--ski turns. Unfortunately, it's usually quite a while between the first rains and the opening of ski season. To help pass the time, I do some serious downhill training on in-line skates.
If you've been following this column, you've already mastered basic downhill turns. Now we're going to throw in some exercises specifically designed to get you ready for the season.
Be sure to wear your protective gear whenever you skate, particularly while you are doing downhill training. It's easy to overreach your skill level and lose control. However, in the following exercises, we're going to start using ski poles to enhance the realism of the training. I've found that ski poles and wrist-guards don't go together. So when I train for snow skiing, I drop the wrist guards in favor of light leather gloves, or at the very least, bicycling gloves. Since doing away with your wrist-guards does increase the risk of serious injury, take careful stock of your own skills before you venture out without them.
Regular ski poles work fine for in-line skating, although Nordic Blader poles by Exel Sports are designed specifically for slaloming on the asphalt. It's a good idea to protect snow skiing pole tips to reduce wear. A bit of heavy duty tape or aquarium hose will also do the trick. I've found that a pole about two inches shorter than I use for skiing works best for skating: it has to do with not being able to sink the tip into the pavement!
Ski Exercise One
With poles in hand, start by making moderate-speed turns on your favorite hill. Try to make pole plants in the direction of your turn. For example, to initiate a turn to the right, reach ahead to plant your right pole.
Work on your wrist motion. Reach down the hill with the pole tip by extending your wrist, and lightly touch the pavement with it. Follow the pole with your wrist, keeping your hand in front as you pass the pole tip. Repeat with the opposite hand. Work on keeping both hands in front of you. Vary your speed and turn length.
Ski Exercise Two
Set up a slalom course. Mini highway cones work great. We use plastic soda bottles weighted with sand or kitty litter (clean!). Start with the markers about 15' apart and in a straight line.
Practice making smooth turns around the markers. Start each turn with a pole plant well before you get to the marker. Your skates should be going straight down the hill as you pass the marker.
Change the course by varying the distance between markers and staggering them across the hill. Resist the temptation to lean on your poles as you try to make sharp turns. Practice a light touch with hands in front, and start the turns early--well before the markers.
Think snow. In fact, think knee deep, light, fluffy powder. I am!