Winter Tips by Kaj Zakrisson

Posted on 05. Feb, 2008 by in 2000-2009, 9-5, Enthusiasts


Kaj Zakrisson, a professional skier sponsored by the Saab-Salomon partnership, who I interviewed recently at the 2008 North American International Auto Show has been included in a press release some years back that as far as I am concerned, is as applicable today as it was back then.

Please enjoy what he has to say on the topic of ski equipment to the right driving equipment:


Winter fun – on and off-piste

Picture someone racing down a snow-clad mountain in a swirl of powder, effortlessly carving his initials as he sweeps from side to side through the untouched snow off the prepared slopes. Suddenly a bare rocky crag looms up in front of him. He jumps clean over it and continues his journey down at breathtaking speed through the deep snow. That, basically, is freeskiing. Just as windsurfers ride the crest of the waves, so freeskiers ride the crest of the mountains as they carve their way through the powdery virgin snow.

One of the world’s top freeriders is the 31-year old Swede, Kaj Zackrisson. He skis, for example, in the Big Mountain races, which, with their trails bristling with craggy rocks and almost impossible mountain slopes, are regarded as the crème de la crème in freeskiing. Powder rather than prepared pistes, mega-fun rather than mass tourism, action rather than après-ski. With his eye-catching dreadlocks, Zackrisson is rather unconventional – just like his car, a Saab 9-5 Aero Wagon.

He drives about 50,000 kilometers in it every winter, and a roof box helps with stowing his skis and camera gear. Whenever he hears a report on the radio that a lot of fresh snow has fallen somewhere, you can bet that Zackrisson is already behind the wheel on his way there.

“Last March, I had a truly amazing week shooting photos,” says the Swede with a smile on his face. “We looked on the net to find the best snow, then loaded my 9-5 Aero Wagon and took off. We drove through some intense blizzards, but ended up at five different ski resorts in five days.”

Anyone who travels around in winter as much as Zackrisson does knows a lot about safe driving on ice and snow. There are, after all, a number of parallels between driving on a snow-covered road and skiing off-piste: “Choosing your line, control and technique – these are the three main aspects with freeskiing… and with driving.” On the next few pages, Zackrisson has put together some tips on the right equipment and driving technique in the winter months.

1. The right equipment

Modern skis have little in common with the simple wooden boards of the early days. With the “AK Rocket Lab” model from Saab’s partner Salomon, Zackrisson can really do his stuff in the deep snow. The 2.05-meter skis give him a relaxed surfing feeling thanks to the wide contact surface, the excellent stability at speed due to the torsional rigidity of the spaceframe construction, and the ability to turn quickly in deep snow through the dovetail geometry of the ski ends. Zackrisson: “They are designed like a speed surfboard for big waves. That means they are strong and give total control at high speeds and up in the air.”

The Saab 9-5 Aero Wagon offers similar characteristics. Its 185 kW/250 bhp turbo-charged engine provides an impressive experience of acceleration not unlike the excitement Zackrisson feels as he catapults on skis over a steep 40° mountainside. Front wheel drive, the sports chassis as standard, and modern dynamic driving systems like the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and Traction Control System (TCS) help to keep the car safely on track even in poor road conditions. And just as freeskiers always carry a personal avalanche-tracing unit for an emergency, drivers get that feeling of security from the Saab’s high level of standard safety equipment, including the Saab Active Head Restraint system (SAHR) which reduces the risk of serious neck injuries (for front-seat passengers) relating to whiplash in rear-end collisions by as much as 75 percent.

But you can only rely on the material – however good it is – if you check it regularly before use. Blunt edges and uneven surfaces, as we all know, greatly impair the enjoyment of skiing. A car check is also highly advisable as winter approaches. The following points should be checked:

· Winter tires:Four millimeters of tread are the minimum. Apart from that, the tires should not be older than four years, because the rubber compound hardens with time and adhesion suffers.

· Engine cooling fluid: The addition of anti-freeze guarantees that the cooling fluid doesn’t freeze at low temperatures and damages the engine.

· Battery: The battery has particular problems in the cold season because it takes a lot of power to start the cold engine with high-viscosity oil. When checking the voltage, also check the acid level.

· Windscreen washers: Anti-freeze additives prevent the water freezing on the cold windscreen and also stop the windscreen washer nozzles and pipes from freezing up.

2. The right driving technique

As Kaj Zackrisson races down the steep mountain on his skis, it looks almost playful: The skis lift effortlessly off the ground, and the snow flies up in the air with every turn and breaks over the skier’s head. It looks so easy, but, of course, skiing in deep snow is a question of technique. Upright body position, legs bent ready for movement, weight spread evenly on both skis and a rhythmic style are the main elements. “Don’t travel too slowly,” says the Swedish freeskier. “Above a certain speed, the skis ‘skim’ over the snow which makes turning much easier.”

Traveling at the right speed applies not only to two skis, but also to four wheels. Like skiers who change from prepared slopes to deep snow, car drivers also have to change their driving style when winter comes. Some tips:

· Keep your distance: Because the braking distance on snowy, icy or leaf-covered roads is much longer, in winter it is more important than ever to keep your distance from the vehicle in front. When safe to do so, test the brakes to get an idea of the road conditions.

· Drive off carefully: On icy or snow-covered roads, don’t accelerate too hard to prevent the wheels from spinning. It is sometimes better to move off in second gear.

· Avoid abrupt steering movements

· Brake carefully: When driving downhill, brake if possible only with the engine. On icy roads, release the clutch to brake.

· Keep to main roads: They tend to be cleared or gritted first.

3. Keeping fit

It is not only newcomers to the art of skiing in fresh powder snow who experience that feeling of utter exhaustion after a long day in the mountains. It is then, when your energy and concentration begin to wane, that the risk of an accident is particularly high. Kaj Zackrisson goes out of his way to make sure he prepares himself thoroughly in the summer for the next skiing season – sometimes on two wheels: “Of all the sports I’ve tried, motocross is the one that comes closest to skiing, so it’s good preparation for me in the summer months. That’s why I have a dirt bike.” Golf (he has a handicap of 3!) and skateboarding are also included among Zackrisson’s summer activities.

On the road, too, fitness and alertness are vital. The “feel-well” atmosphere in Saab cars makes it easier for the driver to keep fit and attentive over longer distances. Among the many convenient details the Swedish car manufacturer has incorporated in its Saab 9-5 series to increase alertness are the standard automatic air-conditioner, ventilated and heated seats, windscreen wipers with rain sensor, navigation system, hands-free system for a phone, automatic anti-glare interior and exterior mirrors, and the so-called “night panel”. This enables you, when driving through long winter nights, to fade out all the instruments apart from the speed indicator – a further help for the concentration.

There are also a few things the drivers can do to enhance their physical and mental well-being in winter:

· Listen to the weather reports and road news in good time: If you know what conditions await you on the road and at your destination, you won’t be surprised by bad weather and long traffic jams. That reduces stress.

· Take a rest: Regular breaks avoid overtiredness, which is a particularly important aspect in difficult driving conditions and poor visibility.

· Eat right: Light meals, plenty of fruit and vegetables and frequent drinks help keep you alert.

· Wear comfortable clothing: Take off thick jackets and coats before taking the wheel. It’s not only more comfortable, it’s also safer because the seat belts have less slack, and it also gives you room to move in an emergency.

· Have a blanket and emergency rations on board: In case you get stuck in a long traffic jam.

Kaj Zackrisson

Kaj Zackrisson, born on November 3, 1973, in the Swedish town of Uppsala, is nicknamed the “Flying squirrel”. He first got on skis at the age of five and was trained by his mother at the local ski club. He later attended a ski boarding school for four years and, up to the age of 22, competed in races organized by the international ski federation, FIS (Fédération Internationale de Ski).

His first Big Mountain competition in 1998 kindled his enthusiasm for freeride skiing. Among his biggest successes were winning the Swedish Big Mountain Championship and his first place at the X Games Ultracross, both in 2003.

Apart from his sporting career, the 31-year old makes films and markets trendy, self-knitted “Beanie” hats. He spends the summer months in the Swedish town of Rättvik and in the winter, travels from his base in Chamonix to the various competitions.

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