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Backpacker Magazine – Fall/Winter Gear Guide 2011

Ski Strong: Descend with Control

Stay safe with these six ski-down tips.

by: Evelyn Spence

>> Expect inconsistency.
Ungroomed wilderness snow can change with every turn. Look for clues to surface consistency (like glinting ice or swirling drift patterns) and continually adjust your technique (see Ski Any Conditions). Also, watch for bulges that indicate subsurface hazards such as logs and rocks; give them a wide berth.

>> Stay centered.
Use a neutral, athletic stance: shoulders square, hands up, legs flexed at the ankle and knee. Variable snow—especially if it’s deep and heavy—can throw you forward and back, so stay ready and light on your feet.

>> Bust the crust.
If you’re punching through a thin snow layer to softer stuff below, try to distribute your weight evenly on your skis and stay on top. If that’s not possible, use short jump turns to power through, and keep your shins pressed against your boot to get better purchase with your skis’ edges.

>> Drop your ego.
Stop often to evaluate terrain, descend slowly, and don’t be afraid to use beginner techniques like snowplowing or sidestepping. Groomed-hill skills don’t necessarily translate off-piste, and hazards aren’t marked. “Realize that you won’t be as gnarly or as fast a skier in the backcountry as you are at a resort,” says Mike Hattrup, a one-time U.S. Ski Team mogul champ turned backcountry king.

>> Know how to self-arrest.
Before going out, practice stopping techniques. With poles: Use your armpit as a fulcrum and gradually lever the pole’s tip into the snow. Without poles: Flip onto your stomach with your head uphill and dig your boot tips in.

>> Manage your pack.
You’ll be skiing with 10 to 50 pounds of weight, which shifts your center of gravity higher and makes turns more difficult. Counter the effects: Add a slight forward lean to your athletic stance and prep preseason with core- and balance- building moves like planks, crunches, squats, and lunges. Don’t like skiing with a load? Opt for a basecamp and day-tripping setup.

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