In this article, I'm going to concentrate on tricks and techniques for getting down those hills and drop offs you'll encounter in your everyday skating. Hills big and small are an inevitable part of skating. While we'd love to glide gracefully down them all, that's not always possible. The goal is to get down the hill with your wheels, not your skin, stuck to the pavement.
Dare to be a Wimp
If you don't like the looks of a hill, the safest thing to do is walk. If it's short, you can sidestep down the slope: face across the hill and step sideways down. If you're lucky enough to have a railing, hold on while you're sidestepping. If there is grass or soft dirt near the path, step down it.
If the hill is long, you're probably better off removing your skates and walking. Better yet, find a way around it. Don't worry about getting laughed at. It's your body!
A sure fire way to maintain control on most hills is to use your heel brake. Apply the brake continuously, or in spurts. In either case, use the brake before you get out of your speed comfort zone.
Controlling your speed with the brake also lets you skate straight--a real advantage in heavy traffic or on a narrow path.
Watch out for cracks and rough spots. They can grab the brake and throw you off balance. Raise the brake just before these obstacles and quickly reapply it when you're past.
You can brake in a "T" stop position, too. Personally, I don't find a "T" stop very effective on hills, and I don't like its relatively unbalanced position. Learn to use your brake well, and you can safely get down almost any hill.
My favorite way to get down a hill in control and still have fun is to ski down--making turns to slow down. Since I have covered this in detail in other columns, I won't go further into it here. But I recommend that you practice turning whenever you can.
Let 'er Drift
On a narrow path, it may not be possible to do turns to slow down. If the hill isn't too steep and has a good run out, you can just let your skates run. Keep your knees well bent and your hands in front of you. Be prepared to brake if things get out of hand. If the hill isn't fast enough for you, you can even use a tuck position like a downhill ski racer!
The Jagged Edge
If you come across a drop-off or stairs, the sidestep described above is an effective way to get down. Hang on to something if you can. However, the most fun way to get down a short drop off or flight of stairs is to clear it with one jump or to stair ride. Stair riding is a little dicey, but it's easy to learn to jump two or three steps at a time.
The three important factors for a long jump are speed, body position and landing. Approach the jump with sufficient speed to carry the distance, with feet a little apart and slightly scissorsed, knees bent, and hands in front (sound familiar?). You can roll right off the edge this way. Just before touchdown, reach for the pavement with your feet, and then absorb the landing with your knees.
You should end up in the same body position as when you started. Begin to learn stair jumping with curbs. Work your way up through one, two and three steps. Soon you'll be a jumpin' fool! But don't be a real fool--make sure you wear your helmet.