The Gates by Al Vickers
This article first appeared in Waterski Magazine Volume 13 Issue 3
The gates are a very important part of the slalom course. They really determine everything from the rhythm, width and space you ski with into each ball down the course.
A good gate set up is best judged by how smooth we come off 2 ball and arrive out into 3. A lot of swervers get a ripper 1 ball and arrive into 2 super early, yet rather narrow. This makes life difficult to get a smooth turn off two and stay on time into 3. Nine times out of ten this comes from how we set up on our gates.
There are a couple of key ingredients in our set ups needed to ensure a good gate and an easy pass, no matter what style set up you go with. One handed and two handed set ups need to be timed right to allow us to carry width on the boat, speed through our carve in, and a tight line to ensure we pass the gate balls with maximum angle and minimal line load.
When focusing on our set up it is better to have the mind set of going on the early side so we end up just missing the gates. This helps to take out any panic which results in leaning away from the boat and causing excessive rope load that will leave you narrow in the course.
The first thing I like to teach skiers about their set up is to use the boat as a gauge on how wide we are, not balls 2, 4 and 6. By using the boat as a gauge we can be a whole lot more accurate as we are much closer to the boat, so it becomes easier to judge. We will be a lot more consistent with having the identical width each set up, which makes going through the gate balls every time easier also.
You want to try and pick a point on the side of the boat that you want to see the rope get to; ideally no more than 15 centimetres behind the ski pole, or if you already start on a shortening, no more than 10 centimetres behind the ski pole. This means the angle you stand on your glide in relation to the boat does not vary, making it easier to transition through different rope lengths as we carve back in.
You will stand much wider than 2, 4, 6 at 18.25 metres, close to 5 metres wider than the course. At 13 metres you will be a little more than 1 metre wider than the course.
Once width has been achieved in your set up, the next thing to consider is creating enough speed through your pull out so that you can break free of the boat into a glide until it’s time to carve back in towards the gates. The trick here is to keep a tight line while gliding, and keep it tight when carving back in.
If you don’t break free from the boat you will not hold your width on the glide, resulting in the boat pulling you in towards it, making it impossible to carve your ski back in towards the gates. Instead you will be forced to lean against the line, which creates speed, not angle, leaving your shoulders ahead of your feet when arriving at the gate balls.
When you are gliding with speed, it is a good idea to be always working the handle away from the ski pole towards your left hip. This will ensure you feel rope tension and keep moving wider on the boat, as you are travelling faster than it. If you do not keep gaining width on the boat while you are gliding, the rope will lose tension and go slack.
The last piece of the puzzle is understanding when to carve back in, and how much speed is needed when you initiate that carve back in. A common thing here is skiers think they cannot carve in with the correct amount of speed without the rope going slack. This usually comes from the skier trying to carve in too late and having to rush to get in on time. When we carry speed through our carve back in towards the gates, the radius of this carve gets a whole lot larger, leaving more time to generate angle and leaving a later smoother boat pull as you approach the gate balls. Ideally we want to start carving in for our gates before we reach the same speed as the boat.
Remember, speed ultimately skis us into angle. We don’t want to really hook the ski around hard on our gate carve. Instead we want to move onto our inside edge subtlety to begin with, so our ski carves us back in towards the wakes nice and smooth. This stops the ski from “biting in” hard and causing slack in the line.
As the ski carves back in it is important to keep the handle moving across your body towards your left hip. This will keep you over the ski and keep the rope tight. Make a goal to try and keep carving into angle the whole time, when moving towards the gate balls, not to accelerate in. A good idea is to try and start moving in before the boat enters the gate balls by a couple of metres. This will vary from skier to skier, but the wider and faster we are when we carve in, the earlier we need to start our carve.
Well, enjoy guys and I hope all you swervers get something out of this article. Until next time, enjoy the water. I know I will.
Article by Al Vickers