Get Out! A terrifying adventure and skills to never forget
Throughout the years of skiing and biking in Colorado, I’ve discovered I am competitive with myself. I always want to go further and do more.
In some ways this competitive streak is good. It pushes me to try bigger obstacles and tougher runs. Sometimes, however, this need to “do more” can almost be too much.
In 2011, we were skiing a weekend at Snowmass and decided to check out a double black run called “Powderhorn.” According to our trail book, the run was originally created for World Cup downhill racing but had never been used for that. Some online research added it had a double fall line, meaning that, along with the normal downhill slope, the trail also sloped to one side. Little else was known.
Feeling adventurous, we hopped off the Village Express lift and followed the directions in our book to find the trail: Slide straight out toward the Wine Cabin and then look right. We found this obscure run and set off.
After a gentle but wind-scoured top section, we reached the double-fall-line portion. This section was tamer than I expected. The snow wasn’t great, but the double fall line wasn’t pushing me toward anything dangerous, so I wasn’t concerned.
Watching the skiers ahead of us, we realized we’d need to keep up a little speed to make it up and around a corner on a cat track. So far, this was the scariest part for me. The cat track had a drop-off on one side, and there were bits of gravel scattered here and there. I got nervous.
As I slowly rounded the corner I saw my boyfriend standing on the edge of the cat track looking down. I caught up and looked down on two of the steepest slope faces, with the largest moguls I had ever seen. And I was about to ski them. I had no choice. I couldn’t turn around.
I took a deep breath and planted my pole down the hill to help me make a turn around one of those monster bumps. Just keep going. Gravity is your friend, I told myself.
One turn, then another, then another, and soon I had made it down the first face. I was sweating, and my hands were shaking. My face was red, and I had every vent on my jacket and pants open.
Before me lay the last face, and the moguls, impossibly, looked even bigger than their predecessors.
My boyfriend was a few turns into the second face when I dropped in and attempted to traverse over to him. I was suddenly terrified to make a turn, so I looked like a tiny ship, rising up on top of each mogul wave and then dropping back down as I slid sideways across the hill. This ridiculous attempt soon failed, and I fell over.
I pushed myself up and tried again to traverse the bumps. I fell again. This time I knew I had to just point the pole downhill and turn around the bumps or I was going to be stuck on this hillside forever.
I pushed myself up and, with a crazed look in my eyes, just forced myself to stem turn around a bump and get some momentum. Turn! Turn! Turn! I linked five or six turns before stopping to rest.
My boyfriend skied down to me and offered water as sweat poured down my face. We skied the last few bumps and kept up as much speed as possible at the end in order to glide back to the Campground lift. Turning to look back one last time, I was proud that I’d conquered that slope and vowed never to ski it again.
Exploration of a ski hill can sometimes put skiers in tricky situations. In this situation, I used a few simple guidelines, pointing my pole down the hill and keeping up momentum, to gain control of my fear and make it safely down.
Here are a few other tricks to keep in mind if you find yourself in over your head on the slopes:
■ Traverse — Traversing a slope can be helpful when you need to reach a different run or at least an easier portion of the slope. It is also helpful if a slope is steep and you just need to zigzag back and forth across it to get down. When traversing, keep up a little speed, keep your eye on your destination and glide horizontally across the fall line.
■ Side Slip or Step Up — If you find yourself staring down at a slope that is way over your head, either because of cliff bands, trees or steepness, get horizontal to the slope, flatten your skis and slip sideways down the slope. To slow down, tip your skis up on their edges and also carefully use your downhill pole as a makeshift brake.
Sometimes side slipping will allow you to bypass a rough section of trail or to better position yourself to make a turn. Similarly, if you make a turn or two and realize you need to move higher, side stepping up the slope can help you find a better area to ski down.
A local example of this might be if you’re skiing Bear Claw at Powderhorn Mountain Resort and drop too low while traversing under the lift line. You can side step up to get back over to Second Thoughts.
■ Stem or Wedge Turns — There comes a time in the woods, in the bumps or on a steep slope when you have to force a turn. For me, this usually happens in the glades when I haven’t been looking far enough ahead to pick a good line. Now I’m stuck and I need to turn right here. This is when a good old-fashioned stem turn comes in handy.
Maybe I don’t have enough momentum to just tip my skis and turn, but I can wedge my skis in the direction I need to go. Using the wedge turn will often give me just enough power to continue turning and get back on track.
In the end, you’re skiing for yourself, and your job is to be where you need to be on the hill at any given moment. Sometimes you need something other than a carved turn to get there.
For more information and demonstrations of the moves mentioned here, visit http://www.abc-of-skiing.com/learn-skiing.