Featured Dropping Cliffs

Discussion in 'Ski School' started by dean_spirito, Sep 1, 2016.

  1. dean_spirito

    dean_spirito Freestyle Ski Coach Pugski Ski Tester Instructor

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    This question inevitably pops up in the "Freestyle Tricks and Tips" thread but I think it is a topic that deserves its own separate discussion. To get the ball rolling here I am going to post a short article that I wrote several years ago. Please feel free to add anything I may have left out! And of course, this thread is worthless without pics! Please share some of your favorite cliff dropping pictures and videos!


    Dean's Tips for Dropping Cliffs!

    The two most important factors to consider when dropping cliffs are confidence and commitment. If you aren't confident that you are going to stomp your landings, then you probably won't. If you aren't committed to a particular drop, then you will most likely make last minute defensive maneuvers that will get you into trouble. So that being said, before you start haphazardly throwing yourself from high places, you are going to have to put your fears to the side. Here are a few tips that will help you approach a cliff of any size with confidence!


    *Do some investigation first! Scope the drop from above and below. Probe the landing to make sure you aren't landing on anything that can hurt you. Make mental notes about the approach, the drop, and the landing. Is the approach really steep? What is the trajectory of the takeoff? Does the drop require that you air over rocks or trees? What kind of landing should you expect and how are you going to control speed after you land? Also keep in mind that cliffs usually look very different when you are standing on top of them. Depending on the size of the cliff you may or may not be able to see the landing. While investigating you should be creating a mental image of all of the details. The more investigation you do, the more confident you will feel about a particular cliff.


    *Make a plan for your approach, takeoff, and landing! After you have done your investigation you should have a pretty good idea of how much speed you should carry into the drop in order to reach your desired landing area. You should also have a pretty good idea of where you are going to negotiate turns after your landing in order to control speed. Visualizing the drop in your head from start to finish is paramount. If you can visualize it, you can probably do it! With regard to the approach, I recommend standing on top of the drop and sidestepping up to where you want to begin your approach. Start from a place where you can ski straight into the drop without making any turns. This way you can focus on the cliff, not the two or three turns leading up to the drop. Figure out the speed you need! I'm of the opinion that speed is your friend. Think of it like riding a bike. The faster you go the easier it is to balance. I cringe every time I see someone ski too slow into a cliff or jump because I already know what the outcome is going to be; they are going to roll down the windows, land in the backseat, backslap, and possibly tear a knee. I know it is counter intuitive to most but it is simple physics; an object in motion will stay in motion, while an object at rest will stay at rest. Remember that you will accelerate at roughly 9.86m/s every second while in the air. If you are moving very slowly at takeoff, your body will try to stay where it is while gravity pulls in a different direction. The result is that you get into the backseat, which makes negotiating landings difficult and dangerous.


    *Takeoff. What sort of takeoff do you have? In my opinion, takeoffs can take 3 general forms; downward, flat, or upward. Upward takeoffs are probably the most difficult because they tend to pop you into the air and the trajectory is the furthest away from your desired landing position. Downward or flat takeoffs are much easier (although downward can also be very difficult if the slope is very steep because it makes speed control on the approach more complicated.) I recommend starting with a flat takeoff. Below is a picture that shows a relatively flat takeoff.




    *Landing. If you look closely at my skis you can see that they are almost parallel with my landing surface (although you can't exactly see the landing in this photo). If you look at my hands you can see that they are in front of my knees. The key to stomping any air is to land with as much of your ski as possible. You never want to land on your tips or tails. Land on your feet. In almost every case your landing is going to be on a slope. Let's think about this for a second. If your takeoff is "flat" and your landing is on a slope, you need to drive your weight forward in order to match your skis to the landing. This involves some core strength as well as some subtle manipulation of your skis using your feet and knees. Not only can you use your 6 pack abs to keep your upper body over your knees and toes, but you can flex your ankles or bend your knees to change the angle of your skis in the air. If I flex my ankles my tips go up. If I bend my knees and pretend like I'm kicking myself in the butt, my tips drop. I can use a combination of these tools to make sure my weight stays forward throughout the drop and that I land on as much of my ski as possible.


    *Landing continued. Just because you land on your feet doesn't mean that you are done. You still have to ski away like a boss. The biggest mistake that most people make is that they try to control their speed too quickly after landing. Remember that you are accelerating while in the air and traveling pretty fast by the time you land. If you rush to control speed you are going to eat it. Land. Regain balance and control. And then think about making some turns. On a small drop (5'-8') you may be able to jump back into some short radius turns. On larger drops, think about negotiating medium to large radius turns. Think about the big boys being filmed from helicopters dropping cliffs down huge faces in AK (Mark Abma, Sage Cattabriga-Alosa, Seth Morrison, etc.). I would describe their turns after landing as huge radius. The bigger the drop and the faster you are traveling, the longer it is going to take to effectively control speed. This is why scoping your landing and developing an exit strategy BEFORE you hit a cliff is so important.


    A few other things to keep in mind:

    *Start small

    *Get comfortable catching air, whether it is on park jumps, moguls, or a trampoline.

    *Watch other people. Identify what they are doing right. Identify what they are doing wrong. Replicate the good and avoid the bad.

    *Have fun!!


    I hope this information helps! Please feel free to post any questions you may have!
     
  2. Tricia

    Tricia The Velvet Hammer Admin Pugski Ski Tester

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    I am always amazed at what others are comfortable with. I've had the occasional moment of courage but dropping is not something that comes naturally to me. I will definitely keep working on it. Thanks for the tips.

    My little air -
    [​IMG]
     
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  3. Thread Starter
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    dean_spirito

    dean_spirito Freestyle Ski Coach Pugski Ski Tester Instructor

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    ^ I love this picture Trish! Cornices are a great place to start when it comes to catching air! They are perhaps the epitome of a "flat takeoff".
     
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  4. crgildart

    crgildart Gravity Slave Skier

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    Speed should be inversely proportional to the slope of the landing zone. The flatter the landing area, the faster you need to be traveling to deflect the impact. Steeper the landing, the less speed you'll need to have a smooth, softer impact. Too much speed approaching a really steep landing can result in either out jumping the LZ or having WAY too much speed to manage once you do touch down.
     
  5. Philpug

    Philpug Enjoying being back on two skis. Admin Pugski Ski Tester

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    You said that you posted this several years ago. In that time, has anything changed and since we are all students, what have you learned since then?
     
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  6. hbear

    hbear Out on the slopes Skier

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    You bet, but also rare to see skiers that are just learning to drop cliffs going too fast....similar to the park, see way more skiers knuckle than overshoot the landing zone.
    For skiers new to dropping cliffs, see lots of heavy breaking and speed checks before takeoff, no momentum and falling straight down (usually with a back slap/shin bang combo landing).

    The pickup in speed one gets from dropping any air can't be over emphasized, it feels like you are hauling after landing a drop! Certainly need to resist the urge to hammer the brakes and create the self induced cartwheel maneuver.

    Good simple article.
     
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  7. MikeS

    MikeS freeski919 Instructor

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    I'm really glad you made this into a separate thread. While there's a huge skill overlap with getting air in the park and dropping cliffs, there are definite differences. They're two different endeavors, and are often undertaken by two different groups. I used to hit the park regularly. But now I'm over 30, I have gray in my hair, and I wear ski clothing that fits me. My park days are over. But I sure as heck am doing drops off rocks and cliffs all the time. I see a thread on freestyle, I keep moving. I see a thread on cliffs, and here I am.

    I found a nice way to do a natural progression of getting comfortable with drops, using terrain and the inevitable change of seasons. I teach a seasonal program, so I have the same group every week. By early January, there are a few rocks and ledges, maybe 3-8 feet each, whose downhill sides fill in with snow, so you can go up them, then down, without your skis leaving the snow. Then, as the season progresses, and the snowpack starts to recede from the rocks, the outrun becomes steeper, and steeper, until a lip of rock starts to get exposed, and the kids have to hop over that. Then the rock band becomes wider, and they're gradually having to catch more and more air in order to reach the snow below. Without them really noticing, by the end of the season they're doing 6' drops comfortably.
     
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  8. crgildart

    crgildart Gravity Slave Skier

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    I have a different take off motion on a jump than I do on a drop. You want your hands forward for both, but a jump requires more of a distinct, forward pushing POP to take command of the air where a drop is more subtle, hardly any pop, just reaching forward and pressuring the shins against the tongues some.
     
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  9. Monique

    Monique bounceswoosh Skier

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    I had your article bookmarked on "the other site." Love it.
     
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  10. MikeS

    MikeS freeski919 Instructor

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    Less of a pop, more of a leannnnn.
     
  11. Philpug

    Philpug Enjoying being back on two skis. Admin Pugski Ski Tester

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    P1010740.JPG P1010741.JPG
    Hand position is also very important. If you cna't see your hands, chances are your weight is back and you will not be matching the landing.
     
  12. lonewolf210

    lonewolf210 Jake K. Skier

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    I still have issues landing in the backseat even when I feel like I'm pushing forward. I've gotten comfortable on 10-15' drops but it's a constant battle to stay forward. I don't know if I'm subconsciously leaning back slightly when I get intimidated or what. My best landings have come from when I hit a drop that I thought was smaller then it was going to be. In fact my best landing came last year when I though a drop was going to be 6-8' but the speed I hit at turned it more into 12-15'. I stomped the landing. When I went to do it a second time knowing how big it actually was I landed backseat and had to fight to stay up. It's something I'm hoping to fix this year.
     
  13. MikeS

    MikeS freeski919 Instructor

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    Sounds like a mental thing. Once you get past about 8', you really have some time in the air to think about things. after about 12', you can start thinking about the meaning of life, and the validity of Freudian psychology. It's natural to start second guessing things when you've got a moment to think about it. What may be happening is that you're subconsciously reaching out for the landing with your feet. When you do that, your skis are going to level out, and your tails are going to land first. Don't reach for the landing, stomp it.
     
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  14. crgildart

    crgildart Gravity Slave Skier

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    <-----Ya, I need to worn on my hand position there hahahaha..


    For the record, I stomped the landing... But ya, before and after the trick hands out front... just like laces out laces out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
     
  15. slowrider

    slowrider Out on the slopes Skier

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    I don't look for "the air" it finds me.
    march4c.jpg
    march102.jpg
     
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  16. Thread Starter
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    dean_spirito

    dean_spirito Freestyle Ski Coach Pugski Ski Tester Instructor

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    Good point. For the most part, the fundamentals of good skiing remain the same. One of the major takeaways from what I've written on dropping cliffs is that it is all about balance and control. Through balance we achieve control, and through control we achieve confidence. Put all this together and add a dash of raw athleticism and you have yourself a recipe for some damn good skiing.

    One thing I have learned in recent years (that I certainly took for granted as a youngster) is that the more risks you take out there, the more likely you are to injure yourself. Since this article was written I've broken a collar bone, separated a shoulder (twice), broken at least 2 ribs, sprained my wrist, and lacerated my back pretty good on the edge of my ski. There is a video of that last injury somewhere. So that being said, I really feel that it is important to do some risk analysis before attempting any high consequence maneuvers out there on the hill.


    I do this with students all the time. In February and March out here certain cliffs fill in and become very accessible. As temps rise and snow recedes throughout the spring, these features can get bigger, and bigger, and BIGGER! The added exposure can make them really fun! One of my favorite inbound drops is at A Basin. Mid-season it is a pretty straightforward air. As the snow melts off, however, it turns into a cool double that you can gap with enough speed. Very fun.


    I'm going to agree with @MikeS on this one. Sounds like a timing issue. Remember that as the drops get bigger, you will inevitably spend more time in the air. Don't panic, just enjoy the ride! And don't forget to engage your core and keep those hands forward. This will help you to recover even if your weight does shift back slightly.


     
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  17. tromano

    tromano Goin' the way they're pointed... Skier

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    Thanks for the post. This is something that I will be looking for more this season.
     
  18. UGASkiDawg

    UGASkiDawg AKA David Pugski Ski Tester

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    Looks like a soft landing
     
  19. Thread Starter
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    dean_spirito

    dean_spirito Freestyle Ski Coach Pugski Ski Tester Instructor

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    Tricks off cliffs?

    Once you get comfortable doing straight airs, it is fun to start trying different tricks. The most common tricks we see off cliffs are usually grabs, 360s, and backflips. In more recent years, however, we are starting to see more technical tricks being taken from the park to the big mountain. Switch 540s, cork 720s, and even dub 1080s are becoming the standard for many of the top big mountain riders out there. What are your favorite tricks to do off cliffs?

    I personally love doing grabs, 360s, switch 180s, and backflips....





    But my absolute favorite tricks to do off cliffs (and elsewhere) are daffys and spreaders....



     
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2016
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  20. slowrider

    slowrider Out on the slopes Skier

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    I like a good Superman on occasion and stick it with a lawn dart.
     
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