A Pro Freeskier's Advice For Skiing Better And Bigger This Year
Watching Rachael Burks dropping into a big mountain line, you’d never guess she’s afraid. You might even think she must be immune to the types of butterflies most of us feel when we’re at the top of a ski run that’s steep enough to make us pause. But she’s the first one to clear that up—to remind us she’s still mortal. “I usually get farty when I'm scared,” she says. “So, if you see me skiing something cool, just know that I passed gas just before I dropped in.”
Flatulence aside, we’re willing to take Rachael’s word on things, since she’s charging harder than most of us will ever dream of. So we asked her for advice that might help the rest of us ski better, and bigger, this year.
Push your comfort zone.
“This is huge,” she says. “Whether it be speed, or steep terrain, or getting a bit off-piste, or hitting a little jump, or even just fully trusting your ski edge—push your comfort zone.”
If you want to get air, take a few steps back.
“With cliffs and jumps, the best bit of advice I ever received was from Julian Carr,” Rachael says. “I was on top of a fairly big cliff at Brighton with him. He really helped me gauge and push my comfort zones. He said, ‘Always take five to 10 steps further than you feel comfortable. Speed is your friend with airs. There are very few occasions when you say, I went too big. Usually you hit it and think, Man, I wish I had gone faster.’ This has been so true with so many of my airs. I hit them and think, man, I should have gone a little faster. Those five to 10 steps make a huge difference.”
Repetition is your friend.
“Ski or snowboard that run again,” she urges. “Hit that little jump this time, connect your turns more fluidly, stay fall-line longer, don't stop-gap that mogul instead of slowing on it, go three more turns than where you took a break the last time. Grease the line and you start skiing better. Don't be afraid to ski that run over and over.”
Don’t listen to people who belittle your skills.
“I really never liked the advice [I got] during comps back in the day to ‘just stay on your feet, you don't have to jump or hit cliffs as long as you go fast and fluid.’ Bleh—girls can jump off cliffs, too.”
Never stop trying to improve.
“I'm always working on technique,” she says. “I try to mimic the radical racer friends I have every day I shred—trying to improve the turn, trying to bend the ski like they do, practicing putting it on edge and playing with the radius. Honestly, technique is one of the things I work hardest on because I never had lessons or raced or had anyone helping me with that. I've always felt insecure in my actual skiing technique.”
Even the pros have their hang-ups—so don’t be too hard on yourself.
“It's going to sound funny, but I really suck at getting my bindings on in weird situations. I'm always trying to make that whole thing—both backcountry and resort bindings alik—a little more smooth.”
Ski as much as you possibly can.
“If you think, ‘Nah, not the greatest day today, I think I’ll do some errands’ ... GO SKIING. Even if it's just for a few turns. If you have that luxury, SKI SKI SKI! Every day you'll learn a little more.”
Photos by Doug Marshall, Joey Schusler and Thomas Woodson.