I watch in amazement as Jamie Beauchesne carves turns that other skiers only dream about. It's the first run for this slalom world-record holder on a breathtaking morning with blue skies and perfect conditions. His style is dynamic with flowing movements as he effortlessly links turn after turn. But there's no shortening the rope today, and that's perfectly fine with him — because Jamie is carving snow.
On this December day at the Heavenly Mountain Resort overlooking beautiful South Lake Tahoe, I'm being schooled. New- schooled, that is — Jamie finally got tired of telling me how his wintertime passion has helped him run 41 off, so he decided to show me. We also brought along fellow pros Chris Rossi and Marcus Brown. For these guys, the body mechanics and principles are the same in both sports — and their resulting style has helped define the “new school,” or “West Coast,” approach to slalom on the water.
Our plan was to divide our time between Heavenly and one of the sweetest man-made sites in the world — Shortline Lake in nearby Elk Grove, California. What can all of us learn from snow skiing that will make us better water skiers? This crew has identified four parallels between the sports to help us do just that. Welcome to this fresh look at your center of mass, speed, edge change and turn.
1. Center of Mass
On the snow: For years, snow skiers have used the term center of mass to help describe the source of a good or bad turn. The center of mass is the theoretical concentration of weight at the navel. “When a snow skier carves a perfect turn, the center of mass is falling in the direction the skis are moving,” says Marcus. “To accomplish this, snow skiers have been counter-rotating for decades. Counterrotation is twisting the shoulders and hips away from the direction of the turn. To turn to the right, the shoulders and hips are first twisted to the left. Skiers do this because it allows them to angulate their bodies very effectively, and shift their center of mass to the inside of the turning arc.”
On the water: After Jamie, Chris and Marcus all had one set under their belt at Shortline Lake, one standout characteristic of their technique was apparent — they all move their center of mass in a dynamic way to stay balanced on the ski and carve a perfect turn. “Your center of mass dictates how much ski you have in the water,” says Marcus. “Carving a turn on water is exactly the same as carving a turn on snow; it's just the rope that confuses people the most.”
Move your center of mass too far back in the turn and a wheelie will soon follow — too far forward and you'll kiss your ski tip. Keep your center forward and engaged in driving the turn and you'll be right on the money.
On the snow: Jamie has no fear when it comes to sick vertical drops and mowing over double black-diamond moguls with intense speed. He found runs at Heavenly where photographer Bill Doster and I wouldn't dare venture. On snow skis your speed depends on the incline of the mountain, compared to the pull of the boat in water skiing.
“The slower you're going, the less your ski edges can support mass off the side,” says Chris. “If you start an aggressive turn without enough speed, as you shift your center of mass to the inside you will likely skid or fall over.” The more speed you can take into a turn, the more angulated you can get, and the more your skis will carve.
On the water: The new-school crew ski fast and maximize angle. Even though it was wintertime in California, Marcus was attacking the course at Shortline Lake and back-siding every buoy. “If you don't have enough speed approaching the finish of the turn and you're not free from the boat, you're not going to produce a carved turn,” says Marcus.
For Jamie, his motto has always been “speed equals angle.” Without the right amount of speed, you'll have less angle, and you'll be pulled farther down course by the boat. Speed allows you to be free of the boat to carve.
3. Edge Change
On the snow: “The sensations that are felt through the edge change are the most dynamic, coolest aspects of both sports,” says Jamie. Chris equates the unweighting on snow to the edge change of water skiing. He says, “It allows your skis to travel through and your center of mass to move from one side to the other.”
Before Jamie left me in his snow dust at Heavenly, I followed his path down the mountain. It was interesting to watch how he unweights his skis on the snow — I could really see the energy transfer as he counter-rotated and his skis carved outbound. This is the type of movement that will gain you valuable width in the slalom course.
On the water: The freezing cold water of Shortline Lake didn't seem to bother Chris, because his edge change transitions looked effortless. If he's on, you can't tell a difference between his 32 and 38 off. When most skiers get cold it only increases the chances that they will muscle their way through the course when they get tight.
Chris skis in the exact opposite of a power style — he's all about finesse. “If you're light on the rope with little resistance, you'll have a better chance of maintaining speed from your edge change into the turn while taking your direction outbound,” says Chris. “When skiers are heavy on the rope and slow, the ski will not support a hard turn.”
4. The Turn
On the snow: After several epic days of skiing at Heavenly and Shortline Lake, we kicked back in the condo one afternoon and analyzed photos. When you look at a side-by-side comparison of a snow turn and a water-ski turn, you really notice the similarities — counterrotation, center-of-mass movement, angulation, level shoulders, vision.
The guys recommend starting your first descent on the mountain on an easy groomed trail. With your center of mass over your ski bindings, square your shoulders, build speed downhill and roll your ski edges while letting your center of mass shift to the inside of the turning arc. “Try carving from one side of the trail to the other in one continuous turn,” says Jamie. If you're a first-time snow skier, this is when you start feeling the same movements that you do on the water.
On the water: Jamie's offside turn is the best in the business. His turns are symmetrical on both sides of the boat because he's balanced on his ski and he's extremely patient. “Too many skiers — both snow and water — overwork and rush their turns. Relax and give your ski time to carve. As soon as you start to move around with your upper body and rotate, the ski's going to shoot out in front of you,” says Jamie.
Chris has a unique way of analyzing the turn that will help skiers be patient when carving. “I like to think of my turn as one continuous movement into the wakes. The efficient turn is where you can't tell where the finish of the turn is and the start of the so-called pull is.”
Water Skiing Makes a Big Impact
Skiing the killer gate on water or snow is all about perfect timing — which proved to be much like our visit to South Lake Tahoe. We arrived on the opening night of Warren Miller's latest snow-ski flick, Impact, which features a brief water-skiing segment at Ski Paradise in Acapulco with Marcus Brown, Jamie Beauchesne, Andy Mapple and Glen Plake. The theater at Caesar's Palace was packed with more than 1,000 witnesses to the big-screen action.
My hat goes off to the film crew for capturing the pure stoke of water skiing. The speed, timing, adrenaline and beauty of shortline slalom ignited the audience's applause, with robust hoots and hollers at ripping runs into 41 off. One scene, shot from a 10-foot ladder that was rigged in the ski boat itself, really highlighted the pendulum swing that skiers emulate in the slalom course and captured the G-force acceleration. Sitting in the audience and watching the night's event unfold with a supercharged look at slalom skiing made me proud to be a water skier. — TR