Skiing the Southern 80
Former World Champion Jason Walmsley (Zig) shares some hints and tips to help you improve your performance on the water.
This month, Zig’s Tips are specific to racing the Southern 80. As the outright record holder and five time outright winner of the event, his advice is sure worth reading!
With the Southern 80 just days away it’s the perfect time to touch on some different set up options for this unique skiing event. When you compare the Southern 80 to the other classic river races on our calendar the biggest difference is the number corners and turns in the race. These bends and winds have a big effect on how we ski and will affect how we prepare our gear for the race.
Have a good look over your ski, particularly the sides, bevel and fin, given the the number of turns in the 80 these parts of the ski will be used a lot more. In this race it is more important than ever to ensure that no part of your bindings are overhanging the sides of your ski. If this is the case, you should definitely make some corrections, grinding a few mm off the side of the boot may be necessary for skiers with a wide foot. It is a good move for all skiers to run some tape up the side of your bindings to be sure that the water will not grab any part of the boot during the tight, slow turns when your ski is banked over.
Your rope should be shortened to help you corner around the sharp turns. It’s important also to ensure that your rope is not too heavy for your size (skiers rope now comes in six sizes ranging from 4mm for skiers around 40kg up to 6mm for a skier over 95kgs). You risk your rope dipping on the corners if it is too heavy. Use one continuous line of rope for the Southern 80, any extensions will weigh your rope down and grab if they come into contact with the water.
While shortening your rope will help you during the corners, the side effect is that you will have to deal with the spray that comes off the back of the boat. A neoprene face mask worn around the lower half of your face protects the skin that is left exposed by your helmet and goggles. I will also be wearing a neoprene shin cover to protect the lower half of my front leg from the spray off the boat as we are cornering.
With the extra spray hitting you in this race it is worthwhile using a new pair of goggles and taping across the top of them to prevent water getting in and behind the lens. Apply a water dispersible cleaner such as Plexus to the lens of the goggles to improve your vision.
With much of this race made up of tight bends, the corners are where the Southern 80 is lost or won. Knowing the course is invaluable, which is proven by the drivers who have success year after year. For those who aren’t familiar with the course, it’s important then to take each corner as it comes and prepare yourself as best you can for the next. Much like riding a motorbike on the road, look up and through the corner as you are skiing, by looking as far through the corner as you can, you give yourself the most time possible to prepare for where the course is taking you next. There is no other race run on such a narrow, tight course, as you are looking through the corner you must at all times be looking out for obstructions hanging from the the bank. Given that most skiers will be outside the wash, there is no need to follow the path that the boat takes. Timing is important, you don’t want to start your corner too early or too late, ideally the skier will be making their turn as the boat is exiting it’s turn so that ideally as the boat straightens and accelerates, the skier has completed their turn and has straightened up again to prevent being drawn into the wash under acceleration.
The Southern 80 is by far the biggest and such an exciting event on the Ski Racing calendar. To keep yourself safe it is so important to ski within your limits. While the constant turns in this race mean it’s not as physically draining as other river races, it’s a very busy race mentally. Your concentration during turns is vital to your safety, one small slip up may see you come unstuck. Be on high alert for any slack rope and be ready to deal with it if you get it. Give your downs as you need them, you’ll be a lot further away from your partner in this race so you need to look after yourself.
Good luck everyone, I’m looking forward to the action!