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How to ride cat-tracks and flat sections on a snowboard

Posted on: Apr 5, 2011 Listed in: Riding Tips by Chris Skinner

…the board starts to twitch – flicking back and forth from edge to edge…. then suddenly without any warning you’re heading off the side of the slope or head first into the ice wall….

When riding the flats and cat tracks, keeping the board straight can be a nightmare. Those tight runs, a 50 meter drop off one side, people zooming past you, the skier snow ploughing at 2 miles an hour, ski poles like spears, ready to impale you should you get too close, or the snowboarder that wants to side slip the whole run on the heel edge. You know the feeling!

So, lets take 5 minutes out, rummage around, talk a little and find out the secret to making those fearful and usually ‘last runs of the day’ a little less daunting.

The Snowboard sidecut

Snowboard sidecutFirstly lets talk a little bit about snowboards. They are not designed to go straight, or they would have straight edges and look like a big rectangle.

Snowboards have a side cut, and it’s there for a reason – to help us turn. This side cut dictates the shape and length of a turn the board will make. The length of a snowboard’s side cut differs from board to board.

This is an important factor to consider when buying a board as a longer side cut will lean towards a more responsive (twitchy) feeling edge to edge, while a shorter sidecut will feel more stable underfoot but take longer to complete a turn (the turn shape and arch will be longer).

A board’s side cut can of course

be altered and influenced by your body weight and pressure throughout a turn (but this will be disused in a future post).

Identify the problem

Pick up your snowboard, hold it upright and look down the edge. This is your side cut.

When focusing really hard on keeping the board straight we sometimes end up weighting the front foot far too much, thinking this will help. Let us pause for a second and think about what happens when we do this. Let us refer to the workings of a basic turn as an example.

A basic turn involves weighting the front foot and then pressuring the downhill edge under the front foot. (let’s say it’s the toe edge). The front of the board slowly heads downhill and the sidecut of the new edge digs into the snow, it then wants to take over and dictate the rest of the turn.

The problem however with too much weight over the front foot, and keeping it there, is that the back of the board starts to spin out, due to the fact you have just created a pivot point over the front of the board and the lighter end will always speed up (the back in this case). We don’t want this to happen on a tight cat track.

This is where the problem lies. Too much weight over the front foot and not enough (or 0) weight/grip over the back to prevent the board turning too much.

The front of the board starts to twitch – flicking back and forth from edge to edge, one side always wanting to dig in and take over – then suddenly without any warning you’re heading off the side of the slope or head first into the ice wall! Neither of which are appealing.

Tactics

It’s time to change the way we think about ‘straight’ running.

The board has a side cut, yes we know that. It doesn’t like going straight, we also know that. So what to do?

We also know that when any pressure is applied to one side of the board at the tip, (as discussed above in the basic turns) the side cut then wants to take over and the back spills out.

Have a look at the following frames and see that my body position doesn’t change that much from edge to edge. Where am I on my board? Forward, central, back..?

how to ride a cat-track on a snowboard shot1 toe edgehow to ride a cat-track on a snowboard shot1 heel edge
Left picture I am on my toe edge (notice the definate line I’m leaving in the snow). Right picture is heel edge.

The answer should be centered. Rocking positively but slowly from one edge to the next, letting the sidecut do the work.

The key is to try and always be on one edge or the other (heels or toes – not dead flat base) not somewhere in between. That way you won’t be in for any surprises because you know where you are.

Wait, hold the phone…!

I know what you’re thinking, you don’t want to hold an edge while going down a cat track, do we?

Let’s look at the lines we would take depending on where our weight is over the board if we were to tilt the board onto an edge and leave it there.

Q: How about if we keep all our weight over the front foot?
A: Caution, as the side cut of the board will want to take us into the turn quickly risking the back rotating around and slam you’re down. NOT good!

Q: More centered with our weight, over both toes or heels? What line would we take then?
A: Even pressure throughout the sidecut, but still with some pressure on the front of the board to steer with enough on the back for control. A more drawn out start to the turn, depending of course on the length (radius) of our sidecut.

Q: How about all on the back foot.. ?
A: Sometimes not a bad thing. I’m not talking about doing a tail press all the way down. I’ve actually had excellent results when coaching people who struggle riding cat tracks and getting them to think about being on their back foot.

But is this down to the fact that when I ask them to come more central, they still remain on the front foot, so when I ask them to move to the back foot, they actually move to the centre of the board… (thinking they are at the back)

Where to go from here

To effectively use your side cut when rocking from edge to edge (ideal for cat tracks) it bears more promise to stay centered but do try front, middle and back to get a good feel for your side cut.

  • Practice rocking from one edge onto the next with minimal movement, check for any twisting going on as you do this (you can do this at home up against a wall, start on your toes facing away from the wall, about a foot or so away and drop back – then after a couple, turn around and do the same on you heels to toes).p.s. on the toes to heels facing away from the wall, try to feel your shoulder blades touch the wall rather than your bum, ideally the angle at which you lean against the wall wants to be the same, or close to, the angle from the floor to the ends of your toes.
  • Cross the whole body over as you change onto the new edge – stay strong in the core and move as one.
  • Be positive going from one edge to the other, tell your board what to do – not the other way around!
  • Practice on some wide open green runs progressing by spending less time on each edge. Work to make the edge to edge quicker (re-check the first 3 points as you quicken the change up to make sure you posture is sound).
  • If you feel to much speed coming on, put a big hockey stop in, although try not to suddenly turn across the cat track – rotate the board under you onto an edge, then slow down. Then start back up again.
  • Think tactics, if you’ve been down this run before, remember where you need to stop or slow down. If it’s the first time, follow someone down to gauge the required speed needed, stopping areas etc. Or if riding alone, do the run for the first time during lunch hours when there is likely to be less people on the hill
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