The Hourglass Approach –Lining up freestyle features with a meticulous TID perspective
Written By: Andrew Huang RMT
Any of us that have taken our students into the terrain park, have undoubtedly recited the phrase “make a plan,” but what goes into that plan? For some, it’s simply Trick X on Feature Y (i.e. backside 180 on first small jump). Others take it a step further through the lens of ATML (i.e. approach with two turns, takeoff from the toes, maneuver a backside 180, look back at the takeoff for a blind landing). This was the stage of planning that I found myself stuck on as my freestyle riding seemed to plateau at consistently “knuckling” medium jumps. The general feedback I got was to take more speed, less speed checks, and less turns. That feedback without details did not lead me to success. What finally helped break through my plateau was isolating and understanding the variables in my approach. If you find yourself with a plan that is not helping your progression, then join me on this deep dive into how we can approach a freestyle feature.
Visualizing the Hourglass Approach
With this approach we will make two carved turns, a setup turn and a takeoff turn. Our goal is to initiate our setup turn from a trajectory that is perpendicular to the lip of the feature, and to conclude our takeoff turn perpendicular to the lip of the feature and at the lip. We can also visualize this as a subsection of an open carved turn, where we take the control and finish of our first turn and the initiation and control of a second turn.
Timing in this case is less of a question of when, and more of a focus on where. As we ride towards the takeoff, where should I start my setup turn? Where should I transition from setup turn to takeoff turn? Let us first focus on the transition to the setup turn. The transition should happen where the slope of the terrain is flat.
What happens if our timing is off?
If we transition to our takeoff turn too early, we may take off with a trajectory towards our active edge instead of the desired trajectory perpendicular to the lip of the feature. A rider that transitions to their takeoff turn too early might also try to force their board into a perpendicular trajectory relative to the lip, but since their momentum will follow the shape of their turn, this will lead to an unbalanced takeoff. If a rider transitions to their takeoff too late, the opposite effects may result.
How sharp of a turn should we be making? How much edge angle are we aiming for with this carved approach? Ideally, we want enough curvature on our takeoff turn to result in a trajectory at the lip that is perpendicular to that lip.
What happens if our intensity is off?
If the takeoff turn is too intense (too high of an edge angle, resulting in a smaller radius carve), then we will takeoff with a trajectory towards our active edge instead of the desired trajectory perpendicular to the lip of the feature. This is a similar result to if we initiate our takeoff turn too early (as discussed in the timing section). Likewise, if our takeoff turn is not intense enough to bring our trajectory perpendicular to the lip, then again, the opposite effect may result.
We want the duration of our setup turn to mimic the duration of our takeoff turn. This in turn answers our first question in the timing section about where we should start our setup turn. We can take the distance from the lip to where we transition (the flat-slope), and copy that distance uphill to determine where we should start our setup turn. For instance, if there is 15 feet between the flat-slope and the lip of a feature, then we should start our setup turn 15 feet uphill from the flat-slope section.
What happens if our duration is not symmetrical from our setup turn to our takeoff turn?
Assuming we entered our setup turn in a balanced stance, if our takeoff turn is not symmetrical to our setup turn, we likely will have overcompensated or undercompensated, thus resulting in an unbalanced takeoff. The duration of the two turns is an effective parameter to use when gauging symmetry in this case.
Adjusting speed for the feature
Once the hourglass approach is dialed in, the last variable to adjust for is the desired speed for the jump. To do this, we take a straight glide approach prior to rolling onto the edge for our setup turn. The length of our straight glide will determine our final speed at takeoff. We can base our first attempt taking into consideration where other riders are dropping in from, though keep in mind they may not be utilizing a similar hourglass approach. Once we have a baseline to compare to, we can either shorten or lengthen our starting straight glide, so that our takeoff speed lands us in the “sweet spot.”
If we can dial in the timing of our turns and achieve symmetry through the intensity and duration, then it should result in a balanced takeoff with a downhill (perpendicular to lip) trajectory. Being balanced allows us to effectively takeoff from the feature. Having a downhill trajectory eliminates lateral “travel” as we maneuver through our trick, which also makes landing and continuing onto a next feature easier. Using this hourglass approach with a straight air, we should feel the kinesthetic feedback of an effortless floating sensation midair (no need to “roll up the windows”). When that effortless float feels dialed in, then you are ready to take this approach into larger features and/or more complex maneuvers (grabs, shifties, spins, etc.)
By no means is this some “end-all-be-all” solution to freestyle progression. However, if the current plan you make as you approach features in the terrain park is not working for you, then analyzing the timing, intensity, and duration of your approach may bring about better results.