So you thought you were getting the latest and greatest of snowboardingtechnology when you bought that asymmetric alpine board right? Asyms arethe furthest possible progression in snowboard geometry right? Well, maybenot!
If you’ve been looking around your favorite mountain in the past couple ofseasons and you’ve noticed that the majority of hot shot carvers areretro-fitting themselves with good ol’ symmetrical alpine boards, there isa reason. It’s not because someone came along and told them all that asymswere no longer in vogue, it’s because people have discovered that ridinga symmetrical snowboard with a more advanced technique works better for manystyles of racing and alpine freecarving. But as with all learning processes,it took time for people to reach this conclusion, and asyms were a vitalstep along the way. Here is one interpretation of the progression of carvingtechnique that lead to the rise and fall of asymmetry.
When people first started snowboarding they stood with their back foot straightacross the board and stood sideways like a surfer. The weight transitionfrom edge to edge went from heel to toe and vice versa. With the body sideways,in line with the board, the transition went in a direction straight acrossthe board, hence the boards were symmetric (duh).
Then, people like Peter Bauer, Jean Nerva and Jose Fernandes started gettingsmart and angling both their feet like only the front one had been before.This helped the legs work together and carving became more comfortable andstable. The weight transition again went from heel to toe, along the angleof the bindings. With both feet angled, this resulted in a diagonal transferfrom edge to edge. That’s when the concept of asymmetry was born. This workedto compensate for what we now know is a not-so-good technique, that is, hangingyour butt out a.k.a. “sitting on the toilet”. This was the last tie thatsnowboard racers had with their aquatic surfing ancestors.
People like Shannon Melhuse, Mike Jacoby and many others began to understandthat they could hold a better edge while carving by keeping more of theirbody mass closer to the board. This meant, on a heel side carve, tuckingyour butt in over the board. To accomplish this, you must square your hipsand shoulders to the direction of board travel. The most efficient way tocarve is to keep the hips square and simply take the hips (center of gravity)straight across the board and drop them into the next carve while keepingthe shoulders level to the hill. The weight transition happens in a linestraight across the board between the bindings. This is when the conceptof symmetry was reborn, and it is good!
This is not to say, however, that it is impossible to efficiently and effectivelycarve an asym. Asyms are still the weapon of choice for many successful slalomracers. Peter Bauer is living proof. Many people maintain that asyms aresuperior in slalom, where only moderate stance angles are used to maximizefoot leverage across the board. In slalom, the board moves quickly back andforth underneath the body, and the hips and shoulders do not remain squareto the board throughout each turn.
Peter Bauer and Jean Nerva have developed their own way of carving smoothly,asymmetrically, but anybody who tries to imitate them only ends up slidingon icy conditions. But you’ll notice that Peter Bauer and Jean Nerva areonly slalom racers. That’s because their technique doesn’t work in a GS race.Sure, they are the masters of the “Euro-carve”, but that is no way to takeyourself down a GS race course. You will also notice that they don’t wastetime riding any sub-standard carving snow conditions!
Asym boards depend on you making the edge transfer from heel to toe and viceversa. This is what you do in slalom, because it’s quicker due to more leverage.That is why Bauer only stands at about 45 degrees to the board. Anythingmore than that, and you loose the asym advantage. When you ride symmetrically,you use the sides of your boots mmore, and the edge transition happens moreas a result of a rolling of the knees. Asyms are not any more turny thansymmetricals.
Efficient asymmetric riding can be achieved, but the difference in quicknessbetween it and efficient symmetric riding is the difference in lengths betweena diagonal and a perpendicular line across your board. If you were to ridewith square shoulders and hips, keeping body mass close to the edge on anasym, you have to move your body forward and back as well as side to side,at the same time to compensate for the offset. This can be tricky to coordinate.Therefore, symmetrical riding will always be more efficient and stable forGS or Super-G types of carving
Also, the concept of deeper heelside sidecuts is no longer necessary on thenew symmetrical boards. With the new symmetrical carving style, one can getthe board up on heelside just as high as you would want and crank the sameradius turns as on toeside. If you ride asym, and you are still doing thedeep knee bends on heelside (sitting on the toilet), then it is true thatyou can’t get the board up as high. Your butt would hit the snow before yougot the board up high enough. The symmetric racing style gets your butt outof the way, and you are in full control of your edge angle.
So try out a symmetrical Alpine board, maybe take an advanced lesson, andsee if you agree that you’ve been missing something. If you feel like yourcarving has reached a plateau, or that pesky heelside just keeps lettingyou down, symmetry could be your remedy. And if for no other reason, symmetricalsnowboards can give you one more excuse to go out and treat yourself to yetanother snowboard. After all, one can never have too many snowboards hangingaround, and you wouldn’t want to get left behind in the times, now wouldyou?