Survive to Ski Another Day

Using Your Outrigger

We all find ourselves as some point, a bit over our heads in terms of hills and conditions. If you have previously downhill skied or xc skied a lot, you probably have a few survival techniques so you can “ski another day”. My days of riding the rails down all and every hill are long gone, I am too old for “crash and burn” so I find this technique pretty handy.

Just like an outrigger canoe, a skier is also more stable in a wider stance. The Outrigger stance has a lot of advantages and some very specific uses, even though it is poo-pooed by the better skiers. In fact, I don’t even think it is considered a technique. But that is okay – we can call it a survival exercise. (I did find that Ski Instructor Keith Nicol does mention it in a video, and calls it a Half Plow. More on ski videos in another post.)

This is a technique for longer and steeper or curvy downhills. The problems:

  1. The hill has been skied a lot and is almost icy and very fast
  2. The hill is softer with skate or herringbone ridges dug in
  3. Some of the curves are difficult to stay in track.

Problem #1

The hill has been skied a lot and the skate lane is almost icy or bumpy ice after grooming. This makes it difficult to hold a regular snowplow as the skis are unable to grab anything. Getting your skis to “plow” straight while putting extra force on them as they jump around due to the bumps is also tiring.

Photo 1

Solution: use the outrigger by keeping one ski in the track and the other snowplowing in the skate lane. You can make quite a wide “V” with your ski and push down to slow your decent while the other ski runs in the track and keeps you going in the right direction. (Photo 1) (Okay, this photo is not taken in icy conditions! We just haven’t had any lately!)

Problem #2

The hill is softer with skate or herringbone ridges dug in to the skate lane. When you try to snowplow, your skis are parallel to the ridges and your skis catch in the ridges. (Photo 2) This limits your speed and comfort.

Photo 2

Solution: use the outrigger by keeping one ski in the track – and the other snowplowing in the skate lane. This puts your snowplowing ski at right angles to the ridges that the uphill skiers created. (Photo 3) And bonus, it regrooms the track, getting rid of the ridges.

Photo 3

Problem #3

Some of the curves and are difficult for you to stay in track on a long hill in fast conditions, but you want to stay in track for most of the run. The tricky corners may already show several crash marks.

Solution: you want to get used to having both skis in track and moving your inside ski – the one next to the skate lane – in and out of the track as required. You may only need the brakes for those two tricky curves where the centrifugal force seems to want to throw you into the bush; the Outrigger allows you to maintain some speed through the turn and then you can enjoy the rest of the run.

Here is a Keith Nicol trick to get your weight on the outside ski. Gently bend to touch your outside knee. This will get your weight over the outside ski and hold you in the turn. (Until it doesn’t.)

So which track should I keep my straight running ski in?

This kind of depends on conditions and your comfort level. If you are Outrigging a long way, you will potentially wreck the track if you keep your straight ski on the outside track, so use the inner track (Photo 3) and your snowplow will be more confined to the skate lane – where it should be. It also allows you to get into the skate lane more easily if you choose to.

If you are going in and out from two skis straight in track to Outrigger, keep your straight running ski in the outer track (Photo 1). Weight shift is a bit tricky here, but keeping your hips facing the track should help.

I will be the first to admit it is an “adrenalin killer” and maybe not as much fun as heading down full out, but I want to ski another day. Lately though, after convincing the one of the groomer guys to leave the pads down more, I have been having a lot of fun “outrigging” at higher speeds and through tighter corners.