One of the main reasons I started KEEN Rippin Chix Steep Skiing Camps was frustration. There was no information out there regarding catching air, let alone doing it well. In order to win freeskiing competitions, I had to up my game and my airs were just not consistent or confident. I even landed on my face jumping from a tramway in a ski movie. Embarrassing!
So I started asking the top male pros how they did each air, and why did they choose different ways to catch air off of different obstacles. Most responses consisted of “I just go”, “don’t hesitate” and “all air is just the same.” Needless to say, this didn’t help one bit. Clearly there must be certain muscles flexed and not flexed, focal points for the eyes that would increase success, better places to put my hands/arms/shoulders/knees/ankles/ass/etc.
Years of observation, success and failures have enabled me to develop my own special way to catch air, which ultimately led to my step-by-step process to teach ANYONE to be successful catching air if the desire is there. A memorable moment was teaching three 80-year old ladies and their 90-year old friend – I’ve never seen smiles so large.
So what are the keys to catching air? Firstly, there is the issue of confidence, and this is a chicken-n-egg thing that can only come from practice. Good air comes from being confident and going for it, but confidence comes from muscle and brain memory of being successful. To develop this, start with airs (little bumps really) that don’t freak you out, that also have a very clear visual of the downhill-sloping landing (up or flat landing increase knee injury potential). A small hit on the side of a trail is a good one – less than one foot or so. If you are scared of it just looking at it, find something else. If it has to be 1″ to build confidence, so be it!
Before you go, lets prep, starting from the bottom up. Starting with your feet, there should be pressure just in front of the instep of the foot or the ball of the food, not on the heel and not on your toes (wiggle and relax them). For some, it works to pretend that you are “squishing grapes to make wine” on the tongue of your boot or push your “knee to your ski”
Secondly squeeze your butt really hard (I call it “squeezing the thong”, “pushing the bush” or “free Willy”). This brings your weight out of the back seat and onto the right part of your foot. It also can prevent knee injury that results from airing while in the “sitting on the toilet seat” position – which almost always results in a blown ACL or meniscus injury. This also prevents the dreaded slap of the upper body coming forward upon landing. Then think of your hands – they should be in the position of serving a tray of martinis or driving a car (see below for good examples and my airs above for a not-so-good example).
After positioning my hands (if it feels awkward, then most likely it is perfect!), I pull my pinkie fingers slightly towards my elbows. This positions your pole baskets behind you, keeping the dreaded “grip in the eyeball” effect upon landing. This is very easy to see in my turquoise/green outfit above.
Then comes the key part before you push off for your air. EYES. EYES. EYES. Where you are looking before you go, when you go, and when you land will often be the most determining factor for success. If you look down at your landing, you will most likely “go down”. You must choose a focal point ideally about 30-50 feet ahead of your landing spot. Pick a slow sign, a snowball, a stopped person, a lodge, lift, etc. At no point will you look down at your skis or boots. If you can not pick a good focal point, or think that it can’t work, find another air that will meet these requirements and enable you to look ahead and not look down in fear.
Lastly, make sure your ski angle is matching the landing of the slope. Usually this involves engaging your hamstrings and comes along with practice. This really protects knees! Even after 8 knee surgeries, if my ski angle is parallel to the slope, I can land softly without my joints screaming.
These two airs are great examples – my air on the left has my skis pointing more downhill, as the landing is steeper. My students air on the right shows a flat landing off a cornice, so she is keeping her skis flat. Notice that my hands are too wide for a martini tray, and that she is looking down at her feet/landing instead of ahead.
Mention this blog while registering in December, and win an Osprey Kode Backcountry pack or your choice of any KEEN Footwear. Camps that are not sold out currently include: Whitewater BC (my pick for most likely powder), Red Mountain BC (my pick for steeps/pillows), Silverton Mtn (my pick for adventure and learning backcountry), and Crystal Mtn (my pick for best mixed terrain+easy access)