Words: Wolfgang Heinzl | Photos: Andreas Putz & Snowsports Academy
Freeriding – An ever increasingly popular, and even addictive discipline, associated with freedom, fun, risk and action. How does it work? What do we have to watch out for? And what exactly does this have to do with ‘Wedel-ing’, and what does that even mean?
Even in the German language, the word "Wedeln" has come of age, but as a ski instructor you are still asked about it every now and then. Wedeln was the ski technique, which became world-famous by Professor Stefan Kruckenhauser and was elaborated to perfection, which from the 1950s onwards become the ideal idea of elegant skiing in many minds.
The so-called "twisting technique", which was characterised by an upper body rotation opposite to the direction of the turn (counter-rotation), was just as characteristic as the narrow ski and the exaggerated up-unweighting movement of the time, which allowed the simultaneous "side-push“ of the heels. In fact, Wedeln is no longer found in today's Austrian ski curriculum, but has evolved in many ways to become "steered, dynamic short radius turns". The main technical difference now is that because of the shape and construction of modern skis, a different radius can be skied. Unlike wedeln, where you descend by using a windscreen wiper-like movement of the skis and where you control the pace in the corresponding drift phase, one masters this task today by controlling and steering the edged ski along its length. The result is a turn that is not pure carved on edge in the sense of a slalom racer, but which creates a much rounder track with a larger radius than the ‘Wedeln’ turns of old. Dynamically skied, the "rule of thumb" for the track width of these dynamic short turns, is approximately the width of a snow groomer (approx. 5 meters).
In the realms of "freeriding" and wide powder skis, all this seems to be of little relevance. For the hardcore freerider, who leaves the house heading for freshies on the untracked slopes above the tree line, this may only be partly true. If the conditions and the terrain are not ideal, the short radius turn is a very elegant and energy efficient way to get down, tackle most challenges and allow you to master sub-par freeride terrain. Short turns make it possible to make quick changes of direction in the smallest space. In addition, just like the early days of ‘Wedel-ing’ using much less space allows other people to enjoy the untracked deep snow off piste.
From the point of view of a passionate ski instructor, mastering a good short turn technique is therefore essential for all variations of skiing, especially when not on the slopes. In other words: For everyone looking to experience freeriding and wants to uncover more challenging terrain, should first master the necessary techniques in order to be able to dive safely into nature and enjoy what freeriding has to offer.
Finally, it can be said that freeriding is one of the most beautiful disciplines in skiing, but the "perfect" descent requires good basic technical skills, which can be learned by perfecting short turns on the slopes. Once you have mastered the technique and can "surf" deep powder snow, you will agree that this feeling can’t be compared to anything in the world.
What to look out for in your short turns:
1) Middle position & Alpine Basic Position
The technical elements of the Austrian (and any other) ski curriculum are the basis of ski technique. The goal is to be in a ready, balanced position which adapts to the steepness of the slope and speed throughout the turn.
Even if it is demonstrated by the experts in a relaxed, light manner: Short turns require good core stability and strength, to enable rhythmic turns.
3) Speed control
The pace must always be adapted to your own skills and of course external aspects of safety. However, for dynamic short turns to even be possible, you need to achieve a minimum speed, defined by the steepness of the slope.
4) Energy efficient skiing
The rhythmical short turn leads on the one hand to an increase in stability and on the other hand to a more economical, i.e. a more energy-saving way of getting down. Especially for skiers with more experience, they can handle much longer distances and more turns in succession. This can be attributed to the fact that there is a successive change of tension and relaxation of the muscles. The more experienced a skier is, the longer the period of relaxation, which is also referred to as relief. As soon as the skis are re-edged and controlled, the increase in the forces is counteracted by the tension of the muscles. With optimal execution, the skier gets the feeling of a suspended state, through which the descent can be mastered with a playful ease.