How to 360 off a natural kicker

Want to jazz up your favourite freeride section with some trickery, à la Candide Thovex? Or just get comfy with spins before you take them into a busy park? Here are some tips

If you are spinning for the first time, the quickest and safest way to learn 360s, in my opinion, is not in the park.

Three reasons why:

  • You don’t need a big kicker to spin a 360. When first learning, the less airtime the better;
  • If you find a lip on the side of the piste, you will only need to complete three-quarters of the spin (i.e. 270° rotation) to be facing downhill, rather than the full 360 required when hitting fall-line-facing kickers in the park
  • There is unlikely to be a line of people queuing and watching, so there’s no pressure.

If, however, you are used to perfectly shaped park kickers for your spins, then natural features can present all sorts of challenges: off-camber take-offs, rutted run-ins, awkward/blind transfers – the list is as endless is the terrain is varied.

You won’t be able to see much during the spin, so to avoid any surprises I recommend you get comfortable with the jump you’ll be launching from. We’re assuming you can already do a 180 and are familiar with which direction you prefer to spin (it will probably be the same side which you use for braking the edges of your skis).

1. Prepare to launch

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The reason 360s can be daunting is that your view of the landing will momentarily disappear as you start spinning. This means you have to commit. Much of the work in a 360 is believing and trusting that you will come around. If you panic, you’ll stall the rotation. Set it and believe!

If you are already spinning 180s, then you essentially need to double the rotation speed, or double the airtime. If you double both then you’ll probably send a 7! Start picking up a little extra speed on the in-run to give you lift on take-off, so you aren’t left to do all the work with pop.

2. Set your spin

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Crouch slightly and don’t be afraid to ‘wind-up’ your arms and shoulders as you are cresting the take-off. Moderation is key – it is easy to wind up too much and throw your spin off-balance. The spin will drain some of the energy from the jump so you’ll need to pop more than you would for a straight air… but resist the urge to pop too early. Wait till the nose of your skis reach the lip, then it’s all systems go. Head leading, shoulders and arms generating spin for the legs and skis to follow all together. Your skis should be parallel throughout (unless you crossed them for a grab). Have them together to spin faster and wider apart to slow the rotation.

3. In the air

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I like to bend my knees, by bringing my skis up a little. It helps keep things tidy but has the added benefit of meaning you don’t land with straight legs (note: the more you tuck, the more you slow your rotation).

Your priority now is to make it around, so don’t chicken out. Your eyes should already be craning around, looking for that landing. On small jumps everything happens so fast you’ll find you are facing forwards before you’ve had time to think – you won’t believe how little airtime you need to complete a full rotation.

4. Nail the landing

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Upon landing, be prepared to absorb anything gravity can throw at you. You can still make last-second adjustments: for instance, are you afraid you will over-rotate? Spread those arms and legs and slow that rotation.

I always plant my poles when I land. When you are thinking about it in the air, it is a great way of getting your body and balance in-line. A classic error with 3s is to spin off-axis accidentally so that you land back-seat (on your tails). Aiming to plant your poles out in front of you means your balance stays more forward, so you land neutrally and can absorb the impact in the front of your boots.

5. Do it again!

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Keep practising. 360s are fun to do everywhere, from cliffs to near-vertical bowl take-offs. It’s all fair game. If you feel your balance is never perfect, then try adding a grab or moving up to 540s. Somehow it can make spins easier. 540s are a doddle once you have nailed 3s. You have done all the hard work; you only have to spin your skis the extra bit underneath you. Vive les Natural Features!  

Photos: James Geen,  Location: Avoriaz, France

Fall-Line Skiing Magazine
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