Stay Compacted in the Steep and Narrow
Ski conditions and terrain vary, and you need to be quick on your edges to adjust to these changes.
In steep and narrow terrain, such as chutes and couloirs, stay compact so you can react from turn to turn. By staying low and centered over your skis you’ll be in a better position to respond to the puzzle of tight, narrow spaces and explore more of the mountain.
Lets start from the top – have a plan before you drop in and ski these spots in sections. Tell yourself how many turns it will take to get to the next narrow zone and pick out locations to stop and evaluate your situation.
Remember, you don’t want to arc or carve on the steeps because this will create acceleration and usually that speed will take you across the slope, rather than down the mountain.
When you drop in, don’t try to turn – just traverse in and stop. To do this, keep your shoulders slightly countered to the slope and reach forward with your hands to keep your body over your feet, while setting your edges into the snow.
Next, keep your eyes focused down the fall line. Remember, you go where you look, so look where you want to go. If you want to go downhill, don’t look across the slope in the direction of your skis, instead look down and through the really tight areas.
Once you’re settled and comfortable on the steep slope, make your first turn with confidence. Pole plants are an important part of the stance and are the foundation of steep skiing. Plant your pole down the fall line and reach out from your body as far as you can – this will keep your center of gravity over your feet and place you in a position to make a short, quick turn.
As you plant your pole, unweight your skis by slightly popping up and retract your feet under your butt, swing them around, and land on the new downhill edges. Keep your eyes looking down the fall line and make sure your shoulders and hands remain counter to the slope and facing down the mountain. Once you’ve made the first turn, repeat. The rest will come more easily.
A common mistake in steep skiing is to allow your uphill hand to touch the slope. If you do this, you’ll bend at the waist and lose the advantage of skiing with a strong core. Your skis will also accelerate and travel across, rather than down, the fall line.
Practice these techniques on a steep, open slope before attempting the narrows. Traverse into an imaginary alleyway, get settled on the slope, make a turn and stop. See if you can do this without additional traversing or drifting across the fall line.
Progress by making one turn then add more as your confidence grows.
Steep and narrow places add to the adventure of skiing, and if you remain compact you’ll have an easier time side slipping over ice and side stepping over exposed rocks.
Keep in mind that part of big mountain skiing is unlocking the puzzle of steep and narrow places, so forget about flawless technique.
Drop in safely, have fun and explore your own personal limits.
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, Killington, Val D Isere France, Japan and Chile. Find more ski tips from Dan Egan at skiclinics.com/education/skitips.