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Learning to Catch Air with Osprey Athlete Alison Gannett

alison flowers keoki - Version 2

One of the main reasons I started KEEN Rippin Chix Steep Skiing Camps was frustration. There was no information out there regarding catching air, let alone doing it well. In order to win freeskiing competitions, I had to up my game and my airs were just not consistent or confident. I even landed on my face jumping from a tramway in a ski movie. Embarrassing!

So I started asking the top male pros how they did each air, and why did they choose different ways to catch air off of different obstacles. Most responses consisted of “I just go”, “don’t hesitate” and “all air is just the same.” Needless to say, this didn’t help one bit. Clearly there must be certain muscles flexed and not flexed, focal points for the eyes that would increase success, better places to put my hands/arms/shoulders/knees/ankles/ass/etc.


Years of observation, success and failures have enabled me to develop my own special way to catch air, which ultimately led to my step-by-step process to teach ANYONE to be successful catching air if the desire is there. A memorable moment was teaching three 80-year old ladies and their 90-year old friend – I’ve never seen smiles so large.

So what are the keys to catching air? Firstly, there is the issue of confidence, and this is a chicken-n-egg thing that can only come from practice. Good air comes from being confident and going for it, but confidence comes from muscle and brain memory of being successful. To develop this, start with airs (little bumps really) that don’t freak you out, that also have a very clear visual of the downhill-sloping landing (up or flat landing increase knee injury potential). A small hit on the side of a trail is a good one – less than one foot or so. If you are scared of it just looking at it, find something else. If it has to be 1″ to build confidence, so be it!


Before you go, lets prep, starting from the bottom up. Starting with your feet, there should be pressure just in front of the instep of the foot or the ball of the food, not on the heel and not on your toes (wiggle and relax them). For some, it works to pretend that you are “squishing grapes to make wine” on the tongue of your boot or push your “knee to your ski”

Secondly squeeze your butt really hard (I call it “squeezing the thong”, “pushing the bush” or “free Willy”). This brings your weight out of the back seat and onto the right part of your foot. It also can prevent knee injury that results from airing while in the “sitting on the toilet seat” position – which almost always results in a blown ACL or meniscus injury. This also prevents the dreaded slap of the upper body coming forward upon landing. Then think of your hands – they should be in the position of serving a tray of martinis or driving a car (see below for good examples and my airs above for a not-so-good example).



After positioning my hands (if it feels awkward, then most likely it is perfect!), I pull my pinkie fingers slightly towards my elbows. This positions your pole baskets behind you, keeping the dreaded “grip in the eyeball” effect upon landing. This is very easy to see in my turquoise/green outfit above.

Then comes the key part before you push off for your air. EYES. EYES. EYES. Where you are looking before you go, when you go, and when you land will often be the most determining factor for success. If you look down at your landing, you will most likely “go down”. You must choose a focal point ideally about 30-50 feet ahead of your landing spot. Pick a slow sign, a snowball, a stopped person, a lodge, lift, etc. At no point will you look down at your skis or boots. If you can not pick a good focal point, or think that it can’t work, find another air that will meet these requirements and enable you to look ahead and not look down in fear.

Lastly, make sure your ski angle is matching the landing of the slope. Usually this involves engaging your hamstrings and comes along with practice. This really protects knees! Even after 8 knee surgeries, if my ski angle is parallel to the slope, I can land softly without my joints screaming.

These two airs are great examples – my air on the left has my skis pointing more downhill, as the landing is steeper. My students air on the right shows a flat landing off a cornice, so she is keeping her skis flat. Notice that my hands are too wide for a martini tray, and that she is looking down at her feet/landing instead of ahead.

Want some help learning? Join me at KEEN Rippin Chix Steep Skiing Camps. Free demos of Osprey Packs at select camps.

Mention this blog while registering in December, and win an Osprey Kode Backcountry pack or your choice of any KEEN Footwear. Camps that are not sold out currently include: Whitewater BC (my pick for most likely powder), Red Mountain BC (my pick for steeps/pillows), Silverton Mtn (my pick for adventure and learning backcountry), and Crystal Mtn (my pick for best mixed terrain+easy access)110213_RippinChix-649


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The Total Package: The TX Pro brings NTN Virtues to Life

Even at a glance it’s easy to notice the free heel TX Pro is not messing around. The four buckle NTN (New Telemark Norm) system boot is built for maximum power and finesse, boasting all of SCARPA’s tricks and materials, including tech fitting compatibility. By design, the system’s dual connection creates a stronger interface between [...]

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Hiking The John Muir Trail

Osprey Athlete Payge McMahon is an adventure athlete, ‘rockin’ yogi’ and journalist who travels the world inspiring others to get outdoors, try new things and start checking off that bucket list.


2015 U.S.A. Adventure Recommendation

…and which Osprey Pack you should take!

Payge Osprey Packs John Muir Trail

I’ve backpacked all over the world and the JMT is my all time favorite!

Located in Northern California, this breathtaking trek takes you 221-miles, up and over 11 mountain passes, ranging from 9,703 ft. (Cathedral) to 14,496 (Mt. Whitney), for a total of 84,000 feet of elevation gains and losses.

If you’ve ever wanted to trek the Pacific Crest Trail, but thought the 2,650 miles was just a bit much, do the John Muir Trail instead! A 170 of the 221 miles are on the PCT and you will trek through the most beautiful national parks in the United States. From Yosemite Valley, the John Muir and Ansel Adams Wildernesses, Kings Canyon, Sequoia National Parks and up and over Mt. Whitney to Lone Pine, CA. Enjoy remote the wilderness from; rivers, blue lakes, waterfalls, forests, mountains, deer, marmots to the occasional bear – you will see it all.

The best time to go is from June – August.   The trek is traditionally done in 14-21 days, and if preferred, can also be section hiked.  Most start in Yosemite and go south, but if you want to get the hard elevation out of the way first, start in Lone Pine/Mt. Whitney and go north.  Get your permits early, pack clothes for hot to freezing weather and plan your food wisely.

Payge Osprey John Muir Trail Ariel 65

My hiking partner and I packed food for 10 days and each of our packs weighed about 45 lbs. we when started.

There are a few places along the trail to resupply. You can buy food and mail provisions ahead of time to the general stores. Or you can opt to ‘scavenge,’ like we did. Many hikers mail themselves too much food and ‘donate’ what they don’t want to carry, in big barrels outside the resupply locations.  These barrels are great! ‘Scavenge’ through the donated dehydrated meals, peanut butter, beef jerky etc., take what you want for free and save yourself money!

Best guidebook:The John Muir Trail: Through the Californian Sierra Nevada (Cicerone Guide),” by Alan Castle.

Best place for stop and resupply: Vermillion Valley Resort

While the term, ‘resort’ is being used loosely; this place is a backpackers’ oasis, located in the forest, on the west end of Lake Edison, at about the half-way point on the JMT.  The VVR has a general store and rustic restaurant, where you have got to try the barbeque bacon cheeseburger.  You’ll swear it is the best thing you’ve ever eaten!

Jim, the owner is helpful, friendly and so are the folks who work there.   Showers and a washer are available to do laundry, and you can camp on the grounds or splurge a little and stay in one of the basic hotel rooms or even more nostalgic, one of the musty, trailers on-site.  Cell phone reception is unlikely and electricity comes from a generator.  At 9pm its lights out until 7 am the next day.

Best pack: Osprey Aura 65 or Ariel 65

What I packed: The following supplies were divided between 2 backpacks

1 – Bear Vault

2 – Sleeping Bag +15F

2 – Silk Sleep Liner

2- Thermarest Neo-Air Sleeping Pad

1 – Tent

2 – Poncho

2 – Sarong (towel)

1 – Camera & Cell Phone with chargers

1 – SteriPEN

1 – Esbit Stove (+12 Fuel Cells)

1 – BHK Knife & Ferro Rod

1 – Lighter

2 – Spork

1 – Titanium Cup w/ Tin Foil

2 – Wet wipes

1 – Paracord

2 – 1.5L Camelback Hydration Bladder

2 – Liter Bottle

2 – Sets of Trekking Poles

1 – Journal

1 – JMT Trail Book w/ Maps

2- Convertible pants, tank or short sleeve top, long-sleeve shirt & fleece

2 – Base layer (top/bottoms)

6 – Pairs of socks & Handkerchiefs

1- Sports Bra

2 – Soft Shell Jacket, Fleece Gloves, Hat & Visor

2 – Flip Flops

2 – Hiking shoes

10 – Mountain House Dehydrated Meals

2 – Packs of Tortillas

1 – Jar of Goobers (Peanut butter/Jelly mix)

20 – Clif Bars & Granola Bars

20 – Fruit Wraps

1 – Bag of Trail Mix

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Going Deeper: A Free-Heel History

It used to be for stability – dropping one knee provided better fore and aft stability than the parallel position, especially when wearing soft, leather lace-up boots. With good telemark technique, the backcountry became a ski playground long before AT gear became as reliable and lightweight as it is today. Only recently, with the invention [...]

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Behind the Scenes: A SCARPA Ski Boot is Born

Over the last 35 years, SCARPA has contributed immensely to the development of alpine touring equipment. In that time, SCARPA has designed boots that meet the needs of skiers heading into the snowy mountains with their eye on untracked powder. SCARPA’s alpine touring boots are designed for skiers, by skiers. It all began with the [...]

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