Head and Shoulders are crucial in the steeps
When it comes to ripping the steeps, your head and shoulders are the key to maintaining proper body position, and there are a few important factors to remember.
Looking down the hill with your shoulders square to the slope will allow you to focus on the direction you want to go, and also keep your body in a solid athletic stance over your skis.
To keep your head in the game, focus your eyes down the hill. My favorite saying is, “You go where you look, so look where you want to go.” In other words, don’t look across the slope at the rocks or the trees because if you do, your skis will carry you in that direction.
It’s important to lose vertical distance, rather than traverse and find yourself in a situation that hinders your downhill progress—such as getting your ski tips stuck on a bump, rocks or a stump.
Squaring your shoulders to the hill will also cement your body position. When your shoulders are square to the hill you’ll be creating the lower body angles required for maintaining edge control on the steep pitch.
It’s critical to keep your uphill hand high and extended down the hill, because the common mistake here is letting your uphill hand touch the snow, which rotates your shoulders.
Proper pole planting technique is required to link turns on the steeps. When planting the downhill pole, extend your arm forward and down the hill so that your body does not ski by the pole. This motion is what keeps our shoulders square to the slope.
A picture says a thousand words, and last year I took these photos of Heather Doolittle skiing the steeps in France during one of my camps. The slope is extremely steep and the snow was inconsistent.
As you look at the sequence of these shots, notice how rock solid her upper body is and how her path is going downhill the entire time with little to no traversing in this very intimidating terrain.
To obtain this position it takes both mental and physical preparation. Start on low-angle slopes and ski deliberately down the hill making short radius turns; then progress to wide open tree runs and ski down the fall line using trees to mark the width of your turns; and then progress to wide open steeper slopes and maintain a corridor down the hill.
Next, start to ski in restricted terrain that has obstacles on the sides of the slope, and over time you’ll start to trust how your head and shoulders are the key to proper body position on steep terrain.
Extreme skiing pioneer Dan Egan has appeared in 12 Warren Miller Ski films and countless others. Today he teaches clinics and guides trips at locations around the world including Big Sky, where he’ll be teaching Feb. 23-25, March 2-4 and March 9-11, and throughout the season (contact Big Sky Mountain Sports for availability). Find more ski tips from Dan Egan at skiclinics.com/education/skitips.