Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Advanced Snowboard Turns: Carving, Cross-under, and Quad-point turns with a digression into the flats

I have briefly searched the web for snowboard turns and no-one really addresses the subject well so here is my take.  I am going to briefly review basic sliding, carving and cross-under turns to create a common basis but then move into concepts that I have never seen described.  For brevity, I am going to mostly discuss toe-side initiation but of course heel-side is similar but opposite.

Sliding (windshield wiper) Turns

Sliding turns are the first turn that you learn.  The easiest way to do it is to put your weight on your front foot and slide the back foot perpendicular to the axis of the board (push it "out", or pull it "in") and go on edge.  This makes the board "slide" or "skid" -- you are moving in one direction but the board is oriented in another.

99% of snowboarders do this even when they think they are carving. 

The problem with sliding turns is that:
  • you lose speed (this is an advantage too in steep slopes)
  • you can't ride rough terrain or "bad" snow because you hit the bumps or ice chunks broadside.
  • it isn't nearly as fun!
If you hear a scraping noise when you turn or a lot of snow is kicked up, you are doing a sliding turn.

Carving Turns

Carving turns are when you put the board on its edge and let the natural curvature of the board dictate the turn.  Your direction of motion and the board are aligned throughout the turn.

A good way to learn a carving turn is to go straight down a beginner slope (or runout) and put your board on its toeside edge, without trying to turn.  Don't lean much,  just try to ride straight on a steep toe side edge.  The board will turn on its own and you'll probably fall the first time :-).  You'll leave a sharp curved groove in the snow rather than a sliding mark.  YOU don't turn the board, you put it on edge and it turns itself; its a bit of a scary feeling at first but its ultimately awesome!  As you build up speed, you will need to lean so far over to counterbalance the turn that you can reach out and touch the slope toeside.  This makes toeside a lot easier -- you can use your arms if your balance is off but heelside is possible (if you are losing your edge carving heelside, bend your knees more).

The advantages carved turns is:
  • you do not lose speed.  Even if you aren't a speedy rider, this is important so you don't have to walk on run-outs and cat trails.
  • you hit rough, crusty snow head on.  This is very stable.  You can't slide turn crusty snow...
  • it looks and feels awesome!
  • You can control your speed by doing a partial slide, partial carve turn.

Cross-under Turns

Cross under turn are quick, linked carved turns.  Rather than physically moving your body to lean into the carve, you achieve the lean by moving the board to one side and then the other.  This allows you to turn quite quickly, and there is a fun "pop" feeling coming out of each turn.  It is important to master Cross-under turns in order to do moguls well...

Quad-point Turns

Quad-point turns allow you to turn maybe 3-4 times faster than cross-under turns (several turns per second), optimize your body position in other subtle but important ways, and execute extremely tight turns.  The board carves so fast and cleanly that there is a sensation of swimming down the slope.  Its almost like the turn is pushing you downslope.  Your feet are acting independently which makes them feel separate -- no longer connected to each other by the board.  More importantly, a quad-point initiation into a carved turn provides much greater control.

To introduce quad-point turns, let's talk a little theory.  In all prior turns you either went toe-side or heel-side.  But with your two feet there are actually 4 edges (points) that can be used, front-toe, front-heel, back-toe and back-heel.  Also, your front or back foot could be in neutral position (not on edge), giving you 6 basic positions.  By going front-toe and back-heel, you are putting a twist on the board.  The core of quad-point turns and quad-point riding is the understanding that you can use this twist to independently put different edges in contact with the slope to great effect.

To start a Quad-point turn, begin on your heel-side edge.  Now, go neutral on your front foot while holding the back-heel (edge) hard.  No longer gripping the snow, the front of the board will slip downslope while the back continues to track.  This will drive the board to turn downslope.  After initiating the turn, move your front foot from neutral to toe-side and your back foot to neutral.  This will cause your front edge to carve, pulling you through the turn.  Your back foot now goes toe-side to finish into a toe-side carve.  You've done a Quad-point turn!

As you can see, your feet edge independently which is the hallmark of a quad-point.

To link turns quickly, the neutral time is minimized into a smooth transition and you will never be fully toe or heel-side; your front foot needs to be initiating the next turn as your back foot completes the prior.

Besides awesomely fast linked turns, quad-point turning proactively drives the board during turn initiation and completion.  This results in faster turn initiation and a sharper, more stable and consistent turn.

Flats and Moguls

Have you ever been riding fast and flat (neutral position) on a run out only to catch the front edge and do a neck-breaking faceplant?  If you have, I'm sure you've heard the advice to lean back when riding flat (or to never ride flat, if you got bad advice :-)).  By thinking about riding using the quad-point theory, you can understand why leaning back works. 

First, understand the problem; you catch your toe edge if your board starts to slip very slightly toward the toe rather than going straight down-slope.  Eventually this motion digs a groove in the snow and you catch the edge.  But if you lean back, you will catch the back edge only,  this will knock your back foot back under your body, rotating the board.  This rotation corrects the slipping motion that caused you to catch the edge in the first place. 

You can actually use this to turn; its essentially a rear-foot initiated turn and can be very useful, especially in deep light powder where you need your weight a bit back to ride on top.   A neutral front foot and back-toe will catch the back front edge, causing the rear of the board to go underneath you, rotating the board and allowing you to go full-toe.  This happens quicker than weight transition to toeside (it moves the lighter board rather then your heaver body) so allows you to initiate turns quicker.


I am still learning to ride moguls quickly on a board like a skier does -- not like the snowboarders you see on YouTube.  I think that the basic problem is that a snowboarder has a harder time rotating the board compared to a skier and fast turns are essential for mogul riding.  The technique I use is quad-point and takes advantage of the rotational power generated by catching the leading edge of the rear of the snowboard, just like we used to straighten out on flats.

I'll describe it starting with the heel-to-toe transition.  As you approach the face of the upcoming mogul heel-side, position yourself on the slope so that the front of the board is going to miss the mogul face (its in the groove between moguls), and be neutral on the front foot, heel-side on the back.  As you hit the face, relax your back foot heel-side, keeping your weight somewhat forward and toeside. You will hit the mogul face and due to its angle, you'll hit it either flat or on the toe-edge, just like catching an edge on the flat.  However, you are expecting it and so be prepared because this will kick your rear foot HARD under your body rotating the board into a toeside turn.  Make SURE the front foot is neutral and outside the edge of the mogul. If you hit the mogul with both front and back toeside edges, or you weight is not far enough forward, you'll go flying :-).

Now you are toeside so you use that edge to line up your front foot so it will miss the hard face of the next mogul; your weight and upper body is already turning forward and twisting to look backside over your front shoulder, releasing the front foot toeside while holding hard to the back foot toeside.  When you hit the mogul face with the rear foot, it will catch the back foot heel side and kick the back of the board hard underneath you, rotating it heelside for your next turn.

If you are doing it properly, it will seem like the board is kicked left, then right, then left again with little active control on your part.  Your upper body won't move much depending on your flexibility, while your lower body is whipping back and forth through the turns.  And a point about 6 inches to a foot in front of your front foot will be strangely stable; this is the point of rotation.  It feels awesome, like you are a marble in a groove.

Good Luck and Always Have Fun!!!