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World renowned speed coach Bill Begg shares his vast knowledge of skating every week in his "Ask Bill Begg!" column on the Inline Planet.

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April 13, 2011

How Can I Control My Speed on Downhills?

QHey, Bill: I love skating with my son on the the trails near our home. But I’m not comfortable with the speed I develop going down hills. I don’t like using my heel brake, and I can't seem to get enough traction with the T-stop to control my speed. I’ve tried zig-zagging, but I’m still going too fast downhill. Do you have any other suggestions short of walking on the grass or giving up? - Leticia

Hi, Leticia: It’s great being somewhere where you can skate on trails. We used to have a beautiful trail in Perth, Australia. It followed along the Swan River for about 18 km. There were no hills, and you could watch the fish in the river.

As you’ve discovered, going downhill is tricky for skaters. If a downhill road or trail has no clear roll out at the bottom, you must be able to control your speed.

Experienced skaters will often roll down hills without braking. But this takes some skill and confidence and is impossible if the downhill ends in a cross street or a turn.

You can develop your skill and confidence on small hills and build up from there. But know your limits. If you are unsure about a hill, don’t risk it. Walk down on the side of the trail. Better to be safe than bloody.

As far as methods of controlling speed on downhills, there are several that work to some degree or another:

The heel stop.

This is performed by lifting up the toe of your skate (usually the right one) and forcing your heel brake against the pavement. Heel brakes are installed on all recreational and fitness skates. Mastering the heel brake will allow you to control your speed on hills, assuming you apply it before you’re going too fast.

The t-stop.

The t-stop is performed by dragging the wheels of one of your skates behind or to the side of your other skate. T-stops can be effective, but they work best on flat surfaces and may not slow you down at all on a steep grade. They also tend to destroy your wheels.

The inverted duckwalk.

You do this one by turning the toes of your skates inward and lifting your legs slightly up and down, as though you were walking. This inverted duckwalking absorbs your speed. But learn the duckwalk on flat ground before trying it on hills — and don't expect it to work if you are going too fast.

Slaloming.

You do this by making rapid turns —zig-zagging — from side to side. Slaloming brushes off some of your speed. Bend your knees deeply when you slalom and make your turns as wide as possible.

Jump brake.

This is like the slalom stop on skis. You jump up a little and land with your wheels at a 45 degrees to the direction of travel. It is an advanced skill! I’ve only seen top skaters attempt it. But it works well if you can pull it off.

Keep in mind that all of the above braking methods can be dangerous if you are going too fast!

A few years ago in Switzerland, we had a group of about 16 World Inline Cup skaters training on a 1 km downhill near St. Moritz. They reached speeds of 90 km per hour (55 mph), and at that point, Wouter Hebbrecht’s skates started to shimmy from the speed.

Fortunately, Wouter was able to maintain his control. If he hadn’t, he could have taken the whole pack down with him, which at that speed could have been a disaster.

Cheers, Bill

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