So you want to blow your friends’ minds on the slopes? Let’s start with some hard truths. Doing a backflip isn’t something you’re going to be able to pull right away. In fact, you probably won’t hit your first backflip on a pair of skis in the first place. World-class freeskier Tom Wallisch, a multi-time Dew Tour and X-Games gold medalist in slopestyle, certainly didn’t throw his first in the snow.
“When I was a kid and started backflipping I was doing it on trampolines, off of diving boards… pretty much anything I could find,” explains Wallisch, who’ll be competing this weekend at the Dew Tour’s Pantech Invitational at Killington Resort. “The backflip is one of the most basic inverts you can do. At the same time, it’s a pretty gnarly trick. When you’re upside down, you’re risking head and neck injuries. It’s definitely not one to mess around with.”
UPDATE: Wallisch won the Pantech slopestyle event with the highest Winter Dew Tour freeski score ever.
It’s not just backflipping experience you need, either. You need the skiing ability to rev up your speed approaching the jump. You need to be able to get enough air to flip. Finally, you need to be able to control your body in the air while you jump. In other words, it’ll take at least a couple years of dedication to reach a level where you can hit backflips.
“The worst you can ever do with any invert is to give up halfway. You’re never going to end up on your feet that way.”
Along with all those caveats, Wallisch recommends powder or the soft, slushy snow of springtime as a good landing spot off a low jump (about three or four feet) for anyone attempting a backflip on skis. Get comfortable with the jump by doing several straight airs first.
When you’re ready to go for the backflip, ski straight into the run-in with plenty of speed. You’ll want to pop off the jump a little bit, but as Wallisch says: “The jump has a bit of natural kick to it. It’s going to do a lot of the work for you.” It isn’t just the pop where the jump helps you. “The momentum naturally sends you back. Gravity pulls you down and your body naturally wants to go backwards.” Timing is key as well—you need to jump off at the very edge.
After you pop up: “Let your feet come up from under you and look with your head. Wherever your head goes, your body follows. It’s kind of a natural process. A lot of problems come from not looking with your head.” In addition to creating momentum, it lets you see where you’re going. “You want to commit to fully going over,” adds Wallisch. “The worst you can ever do with any invert is to give up halfway. You’re never going to end up on your feet that way.”
Do not try this at home. Unless you somehow have a ski jump in your backyard, of course.
When you come off the jump, throw your arms up toward the sky and begin craning your head, neck and shoulders behind you. More importantly, push your hips out, which truly drives the action. “Up with your legs, out with your hips forward and in front of you, your neck and head back and up. You’re kind of doing a lot of different things with a lot of different muscles all at once.”
Now to the most important part: landing. It’s all about timing, and that’s not something you’re going to get without a lot of practice. “Before I do a backflip on any jump, I’m mentally calculating how fast the backflip has to be for me to be able to do it with the time that I have. I’m not really thinking about it—it’s very subconscious.”
You need to be able to see where you’re landing. “You want your eyes to see the landing first, so you can mentally gauge if you’re about to land.” This helps you determine whether to tuck your legs in to make your rotation faster, or to stretch your body out and slow the spin down. It also helps you to complete the rotation. When your feet come around, put them under you but keep your weight forward, toward the toe of your boot. This will prevent you from continuing the momentum, which will throw you even further backward once you hit the ground.
Got it? Good. Time to ski off into the sunset, grab some hot chocolate and brag to all the snow bunnies about your backflipping prowess. Be ready, though. You may just have to prove it to them later…