Four Important Keys to Tight Line Turns

Get off the slalom couch and learn four important keys to tight line turns. by Todd Ristorcelli

For a slalom skier there is no greater source of frustration than a slack-line turn. Whether you are banging buoys in the course or linking turns in the open water, slack rope will interrupt your flow, disrupt your timing and bring an otherwise seamless pass to an overtly abrupt halt. Eliminating slack line is a relatively easy fix. The first step in addressing the problem is recognizing the true cause of “losing the line.” It is important to understand what does and what does not cause slack in the rope.

Speed Check

You know the feeling: You come flying into the turn, the line goes loose and your entire pass becomes disjointed. “I had way too much speed on that one,” you say to yourself. This is the most commonly held misconception regarding the cause of slack rope. You must first understand that you cannot generate too much speed in slalom. Your goal is to create as much speed as possible, so to simply target excessive speed as the source of your undoing is inaccurate. Raw speed alone will never cause your line to go loose in the turn. It is the direction in which you carry that speed that can be the source of your troubles.

Where You Headed?

When you lose direction during the release off the wakes, you are essentially taking a path that will result in a looser line. When you are at your widest point in the turn, you will be closer to the boat than the full length of the line will allow; thus the line will be loose. If you carry your speed out to the widest point possible, your rope will have to be tight. A loss of direction is the only factor that can cause slack rope in the turn. Now that the source of the problem is correctly identified, we can get to work on a solution.

Evaluate Your Intensity

Over-leaning is the second cause of slack line. Too often we get stuck in the mind-set that increasing our lean will result in an increase in speed. However, an increase in lean will only result in added line tension, and as we learned above, this will make it more difficult to keep your direction off the wakes. Once your path has been set out of the turn, concentrate on keeping the tension on the line consistent as you move closer into the wakes. By staying open to the boat with equal pressure on both arms, you can allow your ski to truly accelerate and avoid simply “burying” your shoulder into the wakes. This will ensure you do not overlean and create more tension on the line than can be effectively handled. Now with controlled intensity you will release efficiently through the wakes and continue on your path to the widest point a tight line will allow.

Adjust Your Timing

The most common cause of a loss of direction and the subsequent slack line is simply pulling too long. The further past the second wake you stay on your outside (cutting) edge, the more your back arm pressure will increase. As this back arm pressure increases, it becomes more difficult to maintain your position. As a result, you are likely to get pulled back in toward the boat, causing your center of mass (or your hips) to move away from the handle and your tip to point down the lake before you want it to. You are now set on a path destined to be narrower than the full length of the rope will allow. You will not reach your widest possible point, and the rope will go loose. To combat this problem, start your edge change earlier. If you have good acceleration into the wakes, you can start your release as soon as you come through the second wake. This will allow you to control your line tension and continue on the cross-course path you set out of the previous turn.