The Fall Line, anywhere on the mountain, is the invisible path gravity wants to pull you if you let it. It’s the imaginary line a ball will roll along if you drop it. Sometimes the fall line is conveniently oriented in the same direction you want to go. Sometimes the fall line runs straight into something dangerous like a rocky gulley, trees, or a man-made structure.
Remember the Side Slip? By positioning your board exactly perpendicular to the fall line and holding with the toe or heel edge, the board stays still. Does this mean you need to carry a protractor with you measure the angles? Of course not – you will know your board is perpendicular because it will not want to slip to one side or the other.
Stay with me! I’m leading up to the reason why a knee turn is not the right tool for anything but the gentlest of slopes.
When you learn the Falling Leaf and the Garland, you will be amazed how eager the board is to get moving. Depending on the pitch of the slope, it won’t take much weighting on one end or the other to get under way. Even on the very first day, beginner snowboarders can be seen zipping with amazing speed as they traverse a slope. What you will realize right away is that the board is really slippery and will take off like a jet when its tip or tail is moved in the direction of the fall line.
Now, knowing (or believing) all that I’ve told you henceforth, consider this: To turn a snowboard, its tip must approach, and pass through, the fall line. Put in simpler terms, you have to point the thing straight down the hill momentarily. At first, and even for a good while, this will be a truly frightful concept. As I stated above, you will be awestruck by the force of gravity and near total absence of friction! Most normal people have a very healthy sense of danger when experiencing these sensations for the first time. As such, it’s nearly incomprehensible (at first) to think of pointing your board straight down the hill, if even for a moment.
This brings us to the reason why knee-turns won’t be your primary means of changing direction. Knee turns take too much time to execute. During a knee turn you’re “urging” the board around by twisting your body. The board does not respond quickly. The board’s tip slowly moves through the fall line. Depending on the slope, this can result in dangerous acceleration and you can easily loose control.
There is another problem as well: As the board passes through the fall line it becomes “flat”. You’re transitioning from one edge to the other so at some point (when you’re aligned with the fall line) the board is on neither edge. This is a dangerous moment. When a board is flat it does not have the benefit of an edge to keep it tracking straight. A board’s edges are like the keel of a sailboat or the fin of a surfboard. Without these devices the craft cannot maintain a heading and can spin aimlessly. So you must learn to minimize the time the board spends running flat, because it can spin you out of control.
Once you graduate to steeper terrain you need the carve turn. The carve turn overcomes all the problems inherent in knee turns. Remember our discussion about side-cut? Because of side-cut, a snowboard wants to turn if tipped up on its edge and weighted in the middle (with a rider). In some respects, a carve turn is less physically demanding of the rider than a knee turn. When I first learned to knee turn, I always felt as if I was fighting the board whereas with carving you’re letting the board do what it was designed to do.
So how does a beginner learn to carve? I was taught the knee turn by a snowboard instructor (Gunther, in Riudoso, New Mexico – a wonderful guy). After that, I had to wait a month before my next trip. I read a book and studied the material carefully on carving. It seemed to make sense and indeed I was able to apply the theory once I got back to the mountains. All told I had spent five total days of snowboarding (over a three month period) before my first carve. You can do it sooner with more instruction.
To understand the basics of the carve turn first imagine the “ideal run” down the “ideal trail”. The trail is plenty wide, not so steep that it scares you, is perfectly groomed, and there is no one to get in your way (this really is a dream!) The ideal run would involve starting in the middle at the top, traversing to one side, cutting a graceful arc of a turn, traversing to the other side, slicing another broad arc in the “corduroy”, and repeating this pattern all the way down. TRAVERSE – TURN – TRAVERSE – TURN. If you are a “never-ever” like I was, and have never thought about it, there is a reason for riding like this: You cannot go straight down! You would quickly accelerate to speeds no human is meant to endure because WHEN (not IF) you loose control, you will become yet another statistic in the accident records for the resort you’re visiting.
We can understand when, and how, carve turns are initiated by thinking about our ideal run. We broke our ideal run into parts: traverse, turn, traverse, turn, and repeat. You already know what a traverse is: it’s a side-slip in one direction. As you traverse (side-slip) toward the side boundary of the trail, you prepare for the turn. This might involve skidding a little to slow down. You initiate your carve turn at the end of your traverse by aggressively rolling the board completely from the edge you were just riding to the other edge. It’s a very quick edge-to-edge transition. Be brave! Have faith! The board will respond instantly and begin “its job” of carving a semi-circle arc to point you to the other side of your trail.