By Pat Gannon, Mr. Moonlight
Twin tips changed skiing, maybe saved it.
Sure, sidecut was probably the biggest innovation of the past few decades, and rocker/reverse camber technology is definitely an up and coming game changer. But the twin tip ski kept a defecting youth in the sport and opened up a new way of skiing a mountain that was never explored before: backwards.
I grew up skiing long days on icy race courses in New Hampshire. At the time, it was the only organized ski team, and it allowed me to get out of school and travel to ski areas around the state. Good deal. But, by the mid-‘90s the explosive coolness of snowboarding was all over the country, and the once obscure terrain parks were popping up at every local hill. Something new and rebellious was going on, and as a teenager weary of running gates I couldn’t wait to get in on it.
Olin had a twin tip as far back as 1974, but it wasn’t until 1997 after snowboarding had truly exploded, that Salomon came out with the 1080 full twin tip ski. Many of us had made our own in the back tune rooms of local shops or in basements littered with clamps and epoxy, but when Salomon and shortly thereafter K2 started mass producing twin tips, everybody had access to this new way of skiing.
I went straight to my local shop and traded in my 202 cm Rossignol GS skis for a pair of the experimental K2 Enemys. That was 14 years ago. Look around next time you’re on the mountain, and you’ll see that almost every pair of skis now sports some sort of upturned tail.
The art and techniques of switch skiing have grown alongside the technology. As skiers experimented with backwards takeoffs, landings and turns, ski designers evolved symmetrical sidecut and bi-directional flex patterns. Many of today’s skis perform just as well backwards as they do forwards.
The art of switch skiing has risen to incredible levels: Skiers are dropping Alaskan faces, jumping 100-foot gaps, and landing huge cliff drops, all switch.
But skiing backwards isn’t just for the insane pros in the movies. Anybody can ski switch—even you. Switch skiing a great exercise for developing good balance over your skis, and it also opens up a new perspective of our sport and the way we experience the mountain.
So, next time you’re out on the slopes, turn around and try it out. Maybe you’ll cruise by your buddy and wave for a good laugh. Maybe you’ll land a 180. Maybe you’ll find yourself clicking in atop the Headwaters and, just to see if you can, drop in, backwards. I did.
How to ski switch in three easy steps.
1. Turning backwards (the return to pizza)
Quick, look behind you. Good, now which shoulder did you look over? That is your dominant shoulder. This is the shoulder you will look over while learning switch. The majority of adults look over their right shoulder (I think it’s from backing up cars), and kids can be a grab bag. Just choose the one that’s most comfortable.
When skiing switch and looking over one shoulder, you’ll have a blind spot just behind and opposite the shoulder you’re looking over. Be aware of your surroundings and consciously check your blind spot as you move.
It’s as easy as turning around and as hard as catching an edge and slamming on the snow. The keys are to unweight the ski and rotate on a flat base. To learn this skill, come to a slow hockey stop on a slope, but instead of stopping completely let your tails continue to slide downhill and allow your body to rotate uphill. This is a good time to start looking over your dominant shoulder.
Back to pizza. Push your tips outward and control your downhill speed with bigger and smaller wedges as you get comfortable with balancing over your skis while traveling downhill backwards.
Now you’re skiing backwards!
2. Turning like a hockey player.
Now that you’re flying tails first down the mountain in a controlled wedge, it’s a good time to learn about turning. Learning to turn switch is simply a matter of pushing on the opposite leg of the way you wish to go.
So, as you ski backwards, if you want to turn in the direction of your right shoulder, push on your left ski. Rather than pushing through the front of your boot, push downward through the entire bottom of your foot. That little extra pressure will turn you across the slope. Now try going the other way by pushing on the right leg.
Practice traveling back and forth across the slope, feeling how pushing down through the bottom of your boot swings your now masterful reverse wedge across the trail.
3. Time to parallel like a pro
Nobody wants to ski in a wedge forever. It’s exhausting and slow. Don’t worry, switch is just like regular parallel skiing, only backwards.
Now that you’ve made a few turns in a wedge, try sliding your feet into a parallel position as you move across the slope. Stand up tall on your skis and feel the balance over the tails. Don’t be afraid to return to a wedge to make a turn, as long as you return to a parallel stance when you’re moving across the slope.
As you gain confidence in your balance while traveling backwards, try making a smaller and smaller wedge in the turn. Eventually, banish the wedge altogether and feel the rush of a switch carve. This feeling is similar ice skating backwards, like a hockey player on defense.
Experiment with skiing switch in different situations and on different terrain. These days, just about anything that can be done forwards on skis can also be done switch.