AASI 2005 Rider Rally at Jackson Hole, WY
The Rider Rally is an event put on by the Rocky Mountain division of AASI that is open to snowboard instructors who are AASI members no matter what their division is. This year the event was held from March 29 - April 2 at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Instructors from ages 20-57 come from all parts of the country. This year even families of instructors came. Rusty saw a few familiar faces. They must be coming back for a reason. If you could not make it this year, maybe these clinic notes will you help you understand how to snowboard better or maybe how to teach snowboarding better. Maybe just maybe you will see how much fun this event is and give it a try next year.
The really cool part about this event is that 5 out of the 7 demo team members were on hand to teach the clinics (Randy Price, Scott Anfang, Mikey Franco, Chad Frost, and KC Gandee). These guys can ride! When you split up 20-25 people among 4 groups, everybody gets at least one demo team member and the groups are small enough that you get a lot of personal attention. Based on preferred clinics indicated on the applications, a schedule was set up that rotated people among clinics with different foci. Depending on demand, some clinics were offered multiple times. These clinics notes cover the ones Rusty did attend, but for reference, these are the other clinics that were offered:
surf the mountain - general exploring and riding improvement
park n pipe
Rusty started day 1 with the Joey Slide group. KC Gandee was our leader. The focus for the whole day was rails. Except that since there was some fresh snow, we definitely needed to warm up. While we were waiting for the tram, KC gave us the history of the Joey Slide and the verbal walk through of its secrets. The Joey slide originated from the East coast, specifically from observing New York snowboarders attempt to ride rails for the first time and say: "Hey Joey - Watch this!". The rider would stop at the top of a short (6 foot) rail that was embedded close to the ground (3-4 inches high), hop on and board slide (ride straight along with your feet on either side of) the rail at a ridiculously slow speed (because the pitch of the rail was just barely enough to overcome rail/board friction). Eventually the Jersey Slide variant involved side slipping up to the rail (instead of stopping) and hopping onto it for a board slide. The idea is that these approaches are great ways for helping beginners to get comfortable riding rails.
Needless to say our warm up runs took the whole morning. At Jackson, you have to (not really - but you do anyway) start out with a tram ride. And once you hit Rendezvous bowl for a warm up run, you undoubtedly are going to stop for a chair ride back up to the good snow and before you know it - it's lunch time.
After lunch KC reviewed the 3 things necessary for beginners to
successfully ride the rails:
1) the approach must be straight
2) the rider must maintain a flat board on the rail
3) the body must be stacked.
Before we headed up the lift we practiced some great flat board drills on the flat ground around the lift. The idea was to set the board down on the ground and then run up to and hop onto the board (feet up next to the bindings) and ride it. We did 50/50 and board slides practice. Rusty had a tough time because his board surface was slick (note to self - get more stickers). The key to running and hopping is that the approach must be low and arching as opposed to hopping up in the air and landing coming down on the board. You need to have horizontal momentum when you land on the board. The idea here is to get practice "riding out" the slide on a flat board. With your feet not in the bindings there's no possibility of getting any edge angle. But be careful, there is a good possibility of falling on your ass. Most snow near the lifts is packed down enough for this exercise. A flat or gently sloped area works best. Make sure you're out of the flow of traffic.
KC noted that a lot of park riders use zero forward lean because standing up can cause pressure on the high back and thus cause the board to go on heel edge. KC also noted that a "Cowboy" stance (legs bowed out) is good for maintaining a flat board, but if you stand up from fear, it's easy to to your heel side edge.
We made a pass through the big park. KC reviewed slope style and some tips for examining features. On the approach we want to see a flat approach as opposed to a double fall line. Later on we actually shaved an approach run to make it flatter. You want to note whether the approach is a ride on or a hop on (and if so what height to hop). You want to note what shape (flat vs round) and width the rail is. Round rails are easier to bail off, but harder to stay on. You want to inspect the slope angle of the rail and the material/slickness of the rail. Wood and plastic rails can get nicked easily and can develop spots that will catch edges. Multi piece rails can get gaps that can catch edges - you want to make sure the pieces are flush through the whole length of the rail. You want to note the length of the rail - six to eight feet is ideal for beginners.
The rails sucked in the big terrain park for what we needed. Many of the rails had gaps or nicked features that could catch a board and cause nasty falls. On our way to the kiddie park, we first practiced a speed check move where we got the board sideways to slow speed without changing a straight line approach. Next, KC had us practice flat board turns. This involved holding the board flat in the middle of the turn for a 2-3 count before changing to the new edge. KC noted that this exercise also helped shoulder turners make better turns. When we finally got to the kiddie park with the Joey rail, we scoped it out and KC told us that hiking the rail was key to locking in the experience. First we started with a board slide. The most important piece was lining up the approach straight. The second key was not fighting the board if it drifted off line. This is far easier to do when the rail is low to the ground. It only took a couple of passes for most of us to be able to 50/50 the whole length of the rail. KC noted that the faster you ride 50/50, the easier it is to stay on the rail.
When we started to board slide, the biggest key was to bend the knees and keep the pressure on the downhill edge of the board. Note that the downhill edge thing is counter intuitive compared to our normal riding. Most of us were relatively comfortable doing the Joey move by ourselves, but KC acted as a spotter for some of us. He took his board off and walked backwards (with one foot on either side of the rail) down the rail in front of us holding hands to help stability and encourage forward lean. Once you've got the knee bend thing/pressure thing down, the next key is to focus on the end of the rail instead of your feet! We practiced a ton of board slides. Some of us got the hang of it quick enough so those guys started working on toe side slides (back facing down hill). KC advised either looking between the legs or underneath one shoulder to spot the end of the rail.
We all met at the Mangy Moose at the end of the day to pick up our T shirts (with the Go with a Pro logo on the back!). At the Moose someone from another group shared a cool learning exercise for doing heel side to heel side turns-> take a toe turn to the fall line, do a 180 in the fall line, then ride the heel turn until it's on the next toe turn into the fall line, then repeat the 180 to finish in a heel turn. Once you get comfortable with that you can start doing the 180s earlier until you are doing continuous heel turns.
A lot of us did dinner at Bubbas (all you can eat Ribs for $10!).
Chad Frost led off Rusty's day 2 groups. O boy - 7" of fresh! The bumps were going to be easy. We started off with an exercise to develop counter to assist with short radius turning. The first part was to line up hands arms and shoulders downhill and then do linked pivot slips riding both normal and switch (hint switch was harder). We then transitioned into doing normal turns to build up counter. Next we talked about using the hand covering the nose of the board as a reference and attempting to get the nose of the board to pass the front hand in the turn in order to develop counter. Chad also advised us to keep the front hand low to encourage getting more weight forward. We talked about stance differences effect counter. A duck stance starts with the rider more aligned to the board where a normal stance already has some amount of counter already built in.
Before lunch Eric and the other Chad came by to film us. Of course, by this time, the freshies were more like cruddies and the visibility was getting tricky. And like most of Jackson's runs, the bumps were fairly steep. So we pretty much looked like crap compared to the demo team guys. At least we did not fall on film! After lunch Chad shared that the Northwest folks talk about independent leg steering as the same thing as when we talk about board twist. It was funny to hear Chad talk about twist using "functional tension" (something the skiers have been talking about for a couple of years now). We did a shoulder alignment drill to work on twist but Rusty did not get a good description of this. God knows how we got to the next drill, but while we were cruising down a groomer to the bottom, we did a heel side turn and finished it by grabbing the nose of the board and holding while we buttered. the object was to hold the board on the nose only and perpendicular to the fall line and hold it as long as possible.
Next we talked about the difference between coaching low end and high end riders. Chad said he often teaches low end riders to use full body rotation to help get people started on steep bumps. But for higher end riders, he works to quiet the upper body and rely on counter instead. Lesser skilled riders need to turn first and then edge to a traverse to get any independent leg action to actually work for them.
Chad noticed Laura's stance was a bit weird. She had a zero degree stance so he he encouraged to try more of a duck stance to help her flex better. (note: Mikey Franco later noted that all the JH board instructors ride duck) We talked about how duck introduced the cowboy stance where the knees go apart when flexing and come together when extending. On toe side turns the feet get a little pigeon toe pressure. This led to a discussion on how different binding manufacturers had different feels for the same stance angles due to the differences in feet curves to the binding. Chad noticed that Laura's board was WAY too stiff for her. One thing led to another and they ended up switching boards for the rest of the day. Laura's riding improved tremendously. Chad whined a lot, but it was hard to tell the difference.
Somehow out of all this, Rusty got a personal tip to deal with heel side chatter problem he'd been working on for a couple of weeks: Drop the front shoulder. Rusty knew he was loading the nose too much and was not rounding out the top part of the heel sides. He'd been experimenting with more pressure on the back foot either by pushing the foot out or rolling the back knee back with some success. But the front shoulder down tip was the missing link for riding on the steeps.
Chad finished the day with a thought about high end riding. His main focus was pushing the board into the snow as opposed to getting higher edge angles or steering.
Dinner was at the Snake River Brewery in town. Food was good. The beer was better. They had a foosball table and old fashioned video games. Some of us hit the Million Dollar Cowboy bar afterwards.
Rusty was thinking of going to Targhee or staying at Snow King, but the tickets to Jackson were free courtesy of the Rally. After a slow start, Rusty cruised the mountain looking for pics, then spent the rest of the day working the 1/2 pipe. One nice thing about JH's pipe is that the crew makes passes on skis (backwards!) grooming the transitions. They had a wonderful handle tow to session the pipe. Riders need to hop into the tow so that they can use their forward momentum to get their front hand on the rope and position the handle on their hip and hold it with their back hand. It works if you just use both hands to hold on to the handle in front of you, but it uses a lot more energy to ride up this way.
Rusty went buffalo hunting for dinner. The Gun Barrel had an outstanding buffalo wrap appetizer and the buffalo sirloin was very tasty. Expensive, but very nice.
Mikey Franco is a demo team member and a guide for Jackson Hole. He knows the mountain. Normally the price for a guide is $495 per day. We got a bargain. However, the terrain we went to is similar to stuff Rusty has hiked to on his own (i.e. off trails, but avalanche controlled and within shouting distance of open trails). The cool part of being guided is that you can get on the tram before the public does (skipping the line). The bad part is that you have to wait at the top for the resort to officially open and you get less runs in when you hike. When we got to the top, Mikey did a gear check. Most of our group brought our own gear (packs, shovels, probes). O lord, Rusty's pack does not have straps for carrying his board - he had to carry his board the hard way - by hand. Some of the group had collapsible ski poles to aid the uphill treks. Mikey talked about the extra gear he carried as a guide (med kit), but noted that since we were so close to help, he carried less gear and he rarely carried rope and an ice ax. After the gear check, Mikey went over the rules: we were going to take it easy, nobody needs to go anywhere uncomfortable, always rejoin the group below him, but otherwise stay behind him,
Our first run was called Crags. During the hike up the head wall Mikey talked about breathing techniques and the mountaineer step. Mikey advised us to breathe in deeply through our noses and out through our mouth. That was a nice thought, but Rusty's nose was congested enough he had to breath in through his mouth. Mikey emphasized the importance of breathing deeply out to expel CO2. The mountaineers step involves extending the uphill leg and pausing briefly before continuing. Another fine thought, but for our short (20 minute) hike we just plodded on up the trail. We went over etiquette on the trail: step aside and let people pass if they catch up to you. On our way up we took a peak at a run off the backside looking at Grand Teton. It looked really sweet, but it had a 45 minute traverse to get back to the resort. When we got to the top of the headwall, the snow was all skied out and cruddy - o well.
Half way down we stopped and dug a snow pit. Although this was nowhere near what a real avalanche course is about, it was very informative. The first trick for digging a pit is locating a good spot. Mikey picked a spot below some trees that helped to block out possible ski tracks through the area. Although the spot was facing in a slightly different direction than the majority of the slope we were on, it was good enough. Mikey dug down about 4 feet. With unfamiliar terrain, he'd dig down to the ground. But the bottom layers don't change much and with pit logs you have a record of them.
The first test Mikey performed was the "brush test". Mikey ran his glove over the wall of snow in the pit feeling for different snow consistencies. Where snow had crusted hard in the pack, he drew horizontal lines in the wall by brushing looser snow away from above and below the crusted areas. These were potential trouble spots that would get logged into the pit log. While he was brushing the snow he noticed what kinds of snow crystals were at each depth. The next test Mikey performed was the "fist test". He attempted to push his fist into the snow from top to bottom. Where the snow was too hard to push his fist in, he would try four fingers and on down to one finger and then finally a pencil. This would gave a map of snow hardness for the depth of the pit. Finally we started on shovel tests. Mikey had a "Red" brand shovel that had a saw inside the handle tube to convert the shovel into a saw (cool but not being made anymore). He used the saw to cut two slits into the wall creating a tall shovel width block. Then he cut a little angle cut so that the cuts were an inch and 1/2 wide at the pit wall (this let the snow blocks slide out clean). After that he pushed the shovel blade into the snow about a foot behind the column. If a snow block came off the column just from pushing the blade in, it would rate "easy". If he had to pull the handle toward him before a block would break off, that would be medium. If there was any more effort required, it would rate hard. Once a block was broken off, we would examine the bottom layer. If it was flat and smooth that would be a quality one (that's bad). Our first block bottom was very uneven, making it a quality 3 (that's good). So this test would be logged ST-E3 (shear test - easy quality 3) with the depth of the break. The next block came out ST-M2. So he had two possible places in the snow pack where the snow could slide, but it was not too bad.
While Mikey was cutting another notch into the wall for another kind of shovel test, he told us stories. Jackson Hole had the first successful dog rescue of an a avalanche victim in the US. He talked about the factors of an avalanche triangle of terrain, weather and snow with a human in the middle. We learned about dreaded "faceted" snow that is cup shaped and very prone to sliding. And finally we learned about "lemons". Finding a bad thing (lemon) in your snow pit would not necessarily prevent you from riding a slope. Finding a lot of lemons should cause you to get off that slope. Finding a few should change your behavior to be appropriately more cautious. Mikey also mentioned that the "pressure bubble" of a skier or rider only extends about 3 feet into the snow pack. As a skier passes over a spot the snow bows in then take 1-2 seconds to rebound back (to slightly less than it was before passing). Here is yet another reason for separation between folks and staying out of other peoples tracks in the back country. Mikey talked about using a "clinometer" (homemade) tool for determining potential slide run out zones. He also indicated that guides made up names for different layers in the snow pack to facilitate communication amongst themselves. Although we did not measure the temperature of the snow pack, this is another key test. Sometimes having the same temperature all the way through the snow pack was a good thing, sometimes it was a bad thing, depending on what kind of snow layers you had.
The last test we did was the "pat test". Placing the shovel blade on the top of the snow column face down, Mikey proceeded to pat the blade. The first ten pats were just using the hand. The next ten were a little stronger, bending from the elbow. The next ten were bending from the shoulder. You stop patting when you first see a block break. This test gave similar results to the first shovel test. We had one CT-11-Q3 and one CT-23-Q2 block.
Finally, we filled in the pit, packed up and headed down for lunch. My how time flies when you're having fun. On our way down, Mikey talked about focusing our eyes down the mountain on steeps and letting our body react to the snow underneath our feet. Easier said than done, but it definitely helps your riding. We discussed chatter on the heel side turns. Mikey's take was the late edge engagement was the primary cause. On steeps, it's hard to initiate heel side turns launching your back down the hill. This causes you to need to edge more through the bottom of the turn and voila - heel chatter. Mikey talked about need to reduce edge angle through the bottom of the turn and just go into the next turn. We finished with a quick run through the kiddie park.
In the afternoon, we entered the Y Not area above the Hobacks. The first thing we chatted about was signs of avalanche activity. We looked for tress bowed from the pressure of heavy snow and trees that had their uphill branches knocked off. On some pitches across the way we could clearly see old slide paths that had only younger pine trees on them. The snow down here was a little more dangerous so Mikey advised us to stop to the side of the open areas and always facing uphill. We had a great run from Y Not past the rental yurt and into the Hobacks to end the day.
Nick Wilson's (tram restaurant) for our traditional 4th day party and raffle. For some reason Eric and the demo team guys were drinking heavily. The pizza was free and as best as Rusty can recall the first few pitchers were free too. Pretty much everyone who bought a raffle ticket won something. Some folks who bought $20-$30 of tickets won "repeat" gifts ( a lot of T shirts and packs of wax were handed out) gave their extras away to the less fortunate. Eric even started giving away special prizes to the cutest couple (shots) and the most loyal couple (Joe and Jody got a free pass to next year's event because they had attended every Rally since its inception).
It's another day with Mikey. Jackson Hole is known for it's steep runs. Mikey did not disappoint. A couple of us, (no names mentioned Rusty), were not able to handle some of the balls out steep and tight terrain except by side slipping down it. So Mikey was great at splitting up the group to send the guys down the gnarly stuff and finding easier ways down for the wimps. But the phrase for the day was "Shoot - that's a lot of chutes!"
The good news was that we got some tips for riding the steeps. The bad news is that none of these tips actually do you any good, because you know what to do already. It's just that your brain won't let you do them. Well they did seem to help a little bit if you forced yourself to first try the tips on easier terrain where you did not need them. So here they are:
focus across the hill as opposed to down the fall line
keep you focus about 20 feet ahead, don't look at anything inside 10 feet
it's all about rhythm
start your turns by turning your head first (especially heel side)
keep your front hand on the uphill edge of the nose once you've crossed the fall line
get your shoulders facing across the hill
Once you've got the brain ok with the steeps, then you can work on keeping a quiet upper body and getting that upper lower body separation thing going.
Jackson has some cool natural half pipe gullies. We practiced steep turns going down the wall into one of these gullies. It was only 30 feet of vertical, so the pucker factor was minimal. Mikey got 7 turns in. Rusty got a charitable 4.
One great drill Mikey talked about was drawing lines down an open trail and asking your victims to stay within the lines. When you ad lib some imaginary dangerous things outside the lines, students show you whether they have it or not. Another drill we covered was pivot turns on a line. Pivot then stop, then pivot again and stop while keeping the line underneath the middle of the board.
The neatest thing that worked the best was the tip roll. Keep your front hand low to the nose, aggressively lift the tail of the board, keeping the nose in contact with the snow. Swing the tail around while the nose carves the turn entry, then set the tail down after you pass through the fall line and carve the finish of the turn across the fall line. Mikey says he uses this exclusively on the super steeps. It allowed him to make super short radius turns down tight bumpy shoots.
Rusty quit at 3 so he could hit the road. Destination: Salt Lake. He squeezed in one more half day at Snowbird before catching the red eye back to Baltimore. He finally put one run down the steep bumps together. Success! This is what the Rider Rally is all about!
http://www.jhavalanche.org/ - backcountry avalanche forecasts
www.stormshow.com - cool video trailer to give a taste of the resort
www.startbus.com - the bus schedule; resort parking was $5
Rusty's pics from Jackson