The A to Z of Skiing: F is for Falling

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The Independent Travel

The classic, ski-instruction manual, We Learned to Ski, claimed that the fall line "has nothing to do with falling". If only that were true. The book went on to say: "The fall line is simply the steepest line down any slope", the one which a descending tennis ball would follow. Why the metaphor? Where a tennis ball would fall, so does a tumbling skier - and his skis. Down the fall line.

The classic, ski-instruction manual, We Learned to Ski, claimed that the fall line "has nothing to do with falling". If only that were true. The book went on to say: "The fall line is simply the steepest line down any slope", the one which a descending tennis ball would follow. Why the metaphor? Where a tennis ball would fall, so does a tumbling skier - and his skis. Down the fall line.

Nothing crystallises so effectively the distinction between a beginner - or at least one who has mastered the physical challenge of merely staying upright - and a skier as the fall line.

For the latter, it is the fastest way down the slope, the line of least resistance to which the ski tips are inexorably drawn by gravity. Straight down is full power: to deviate from that route is to exercise self-control. A skilled skier will face down the fall line for most of the time, using the lower body to switch the skis from side to side.

In contrast, the beginner's preferred route is across the slope: anxiety about gathering speed makes facing the fall line a fearful proposition. The essence of skiing technique is to control the latent power of the slope.

With no technique, you can have no control; but the problem for beginners who have mastered the basics then becomes the mental challenge, one which is painfully obvious as they prepare for a turn - in which, momentarily, they must head straight down the fall line.

How does one overcome this challenge? Unfortunately, it's one of those mysterious riding-a-bike things: one minute you can't do it, the next you can. But the key is to embrace the fall line, as the source of the power to ski: (only a perfectly flat "slope" has no fall line) and the means of controlling your skis (you can't do much with them when they are not moving). To relax, and let your skis go where they want - straight down the slope - is, paradoxically, the first step in taking control.

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