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 you’ll ski and will affect how you will prepare your 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.
As with any river race, the risk of hitting debris in the water is increased. By using a stainless steel fin you increase your chance of skiing away from any debris you may hit, rather than it causing you to fall.
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 (skier’s rope comes in five sizes ranging from 4mm for skiers under 45kg 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.
As you will be skiing within the wash with your partner through each turn, it is more important in this race than any other to get your rope lengths exactly the same. This is not as simple as running your ropes out together on dry land. To get them perfect you need to have a run together at race pace so that the ropes are stretched together. You don’t want to end up a few inches behind your partner as your negotiating your way through each of the turns.
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 have also worn 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. 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 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 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, with your partner skiing with you in the wash you need to be aware of them at all times to keep each other safe.
Good luck everyone, I’m looking forward to the action and the outcome this year!