If you think you have mastered beginner and intermediate ski slopes, it might be time to move on to something with a little more gradient. But once you give it a go, you might have realized that there is more to skiing on a steep slope than you originally thought.
To ski steep slopes, you’ll need to maintain a good athletic posture, have strong parallel turns, strong edge control, and be confident in choosing a route. You also need to overcome the fear of facing a slope with the same steepness as a set of stairs, which is the first big step for many skiers.
The process of learning how to ski a steep slope doesn’t have to be arduous. There are a number of little things you can learn to help you on your journey. Below, we discuss some tips, pitfalls, how to progress, and how you can overcome your fears for skiing on a steep slope.
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What Is A Steep Ski Slope?
A steep ski slope is any slope you yourself deem to be steep. Everyone has their own definition of what they think is steep. Beginners might think an easy blue is too much, while hardened veterans of the sport will probably scoff at anything under a double black diamond.
Looking at it technically, any slope between 30 and 40 degrees is classified as a steep slope, and anything above that falls into the very steep territory.If you want to give steep skiing a go, you will want to try it first on a groomed run. But be warned that steep slopes over 35 degreesare too much for grooming equipment to handle, so they’re rife with bumps, ice, and other hazards.
6 Tips For Skiing Steep Slopes
1. Find A Good Athletic Stance
In every aspect of skiing, it is very important to have the correct stance. For both beginners and experts, a wonky posture can be the difference between a fun day or an injury.
First, standing with your feet hip-width apart, make sure that there is even pressure across your feet and that your weight is sitting above them. Next, with your knees slightly bent, fully press your shins into the front of your boot. This action will help shift your weight forward.
Then, you are going to make sure that your hips are forward and your tailbone tucked to avoid giving yourself a back seat posture. The final thing you need to do is to have your hands up and to the front so that you will be able to plant them as you turn, keeping your upper body facing down the fall line.
2. Keep Your Upper Body Pointed Downhill
This was touched upon in the first point, but it is so important it has to be mentioned twice. You need to keep your upper body facing downhill rather than in the direction you might be traversing. This is important for several reasons.
First, it helps with your athletic stance. Secondly, it will help keep you from looking down at your skis rather than where you want to go next. Finally, it will help keep your hands up and out of the way.
3. Parallel Turn
If you still wedge while you turn, you are not quite ready to try skiing on a steep slope. You don’t need to be able to carve, but keeping your skis together thoughout the turn will make a world of difference between a comfortable season and a painful one.
If you’re not sure how to ski parallel or struggle to keep your skis together, you should try practicing some garlands or jump turns to get a feel for moving your feet together at the same time. You can even hire an instructor for a morning to get some tips on what you might be doing wrong and some exercises to correct it.
4. Shorten Your Turns
Unless you are skiing on slush or powder, you will want to use short turns to keep a handle on your speed on a steep run. Focus on turning your feet quicker and keeping your outside ski on its edge. If you find this difficult, try practicing jumping turns and braquage turns to get a feel for the burst of action.
5. Pole Plant As You Turn
With your hands nicely positioned up and ahead, they are in a perfect position to pole-plant your turn. Pole-planting will help you to drive your upper body into your turn and improve your balance.
If you are unsure how to pole-plant, go onto on a gentle hill and practice planting your pole into the snow downhill and toward the tip of your ski. With a pole in the snow, you will turn with your feet, release, and repeat.Using pole-plants is also great to help to get into a rhythm as you link turns.
6. Edge Control And Keeping Your Weight On Your Outside Ski.
Another key to keeping your balance on a steep slope is to be mindful of your edges and keep your weight on your downhill ski as you turn. Doing so will help keep you from unintentionally skidding out on both your turns and traversals. Try to be conscious of when your outside ski changes during your turns to help keep your balance.
7. Plan Your Route
At the start of a run, it is a good idea to look and think about where you want to go. Doing so will allow you to spot ice, bumps, and other hazards before you start.It is important that you stick to this plan, and if the slope has areas that you couldn’t see before, it is OK to head to the side of the run to stop and reassess.
How To Overcome The Fear Of Steep Slopes
Skiing can be a scary activity. The sensation of slipping while moving downhill can make most people anxious or out of control. Facing a steep slope and realizing how high up you are doesn’t help either, especially when you see how fast everyone else seems to be skiing. All is not lost, though. There are a few simple things you can do to help overcome the fear of skiing down a steep slope.
Try It In A Lesson
One of the best things to help you increase your confidence and reduce your fear is to try it in a lesson. An instructor will be able to tell if you have the skills required to safely ski on a steep slope and will be able to give guidance on how to tackle a run, what you might need to improve upon, and how to find a good route.
Bring A Friend
Sometimes, things can seem more daunting when you are by yourself, and some people find having an understanding friend at their side to be relaxing. It can help you get into a mindset of, “If they can do it, then I can at least give it a go!”
Start Skiing Mid-Slope
Sometimes, the most intimidating thing about a steep slope islooking down over a run from the top. A good way to prevent this is to try and start the run in the middle. Many resorts have spots where easy and hard runs intersect. They might even have separate lifts which will only take you part of the way. This can help remove the initial trepidation of dropping in from the top.
Practice Skills On Easier Runs
Being confident in your ability by perfecting skills on easy runs will help reduce yourfear. If you are confident in your skill, it will take away some of the unknowns when attempting a steep run for the first time. Try out some drills on greens and get yourself comfortable with what you will want your body to do once you hit that steep run.
Take It Slow
While the techniques should probably be performed at a normal speed, it is ok to make your way slowly down the run. Take a break if it feels a bit intimidating, catch your breath and plan out your route.
Skiing Steep Slopes – Common Mistakes
1. Sitting In The Backseat
On a steep slope, it is extremely tempting to let your weight sit toward the back of your skis and as close to uphill as possible. This is a recipe for disaster, as it will completely shift your weight and make everything more difficult. This in turn will make you 10 times more likely to fall. It may seem like it is more secure, but it is key that you keep that athletic stance and your weight downhill.
Sitting back will lead to small bumps knocking you around and make edge control and balance difficult. Practice your athletic posture on a gentle slope and build up to steeper runs to improve your muscle memory.
2. Making A Wedge As You Turn
The best results will come from short parallel turns. Although wedging to slow down can be comforting, holding it for prolonged periods of time will be very uncomfortable. If you find yourself on a slope that is so steep you don’t want to try it, try to slide-slip your way down at the edge of the slope. Your thighs will thank you later, and it will be safer for everyone.
3. Going Too Steep Too Soon
You might be confident that you don’t need to have the basics perfected before you hit a challenging steep run. After all, it can’t be that different from what you have done before. This is a big mistake and potentially dangerous. Like learning any other skill, it is better to build up to more difficult challenges gradually.
Make sure you are competent on the runs that are less than 30 degrees and that you can use the skills required to succeed at skiing on a steep run. If you are bored of gentle runs, mix things up by adding drills to your ski. Jump turns, garlands, and turning using one ski will all give you the skill needed to safely ski on a steep run while giving you something new to try.
Drills To Help You Improve Skiing On Steep Slopes
There are several drills you can perform on easy runs to help you to master the techniques required to safely and confidently ski on a steep slope. Make sure that you try them on a slope you are confident onbefore transferringwhat you learn onto a steeper slope.
Side-slipping is the perfect exercise to practice standing in your athletic stance while in motion without having to worry about turning. It is also great for getting you in the habit of keeping your skis together and moving in sync with each other.
To begin, stand motionless with your skis horizontal to the fall line and your edge engaged. Next, gradually flatten your ski so that you begin to slide downward, you want the action to be fluid. You’ll need to increase your edge as needed to keep your speed under control.
Try this on both sides, as it will probably feel different depending on which is dependent on your leg.This skill is also essential in case you bite off more than you can chew and find yourself not wanting to ski the whole way down. You can perform this at the edge of the run to descend in a safe, controlled manner.
Garlands are a nice activity to try on a gentle slope to help you stay parallel throughout the turn. What you need to do to perform this drill is similar to a side-slip, except you’re going to make the move while changing where your skis are pointing.
To start, you will traverse the hill with nice straight skis, hip-width apart. About halfway across, you are going to flatten your skis out, like in the side-slip activity, and point your skis and feet your tips down the fall line. The important part is that before you are fully pointing down the slope, you are going to then slide them so they point back up the hill.
Try to repeat this drill on both sides several times until you are confident enough to complete a turn with your feet moving in tandem while parallel. Don’t worry if you skid out and are not fully carving. The main goal is to help keep your skis out of a wedge.
Stepping And One-Ski Turns
Stepping and one-ski turns are nice, straightforward drills, because you will be doing exactly as the name suggests.Once again, it is important to be in your athletic stance as you are practicing this drill, because it will help center your balance as you lift a leg up.
Start with stepping. First, lift and put back down your inside ski as you turn. Think of it as stamping your foot on the ground while you are keeping your weight on the downhill ski. Aim for three times depending on the size of your turn. As you step, make sure that each time you put your foot back down, you are keeping the same amount of space between each ski.
When you are happy that your outside ski is doing most of the work in your turn, it is time to practice turning with your inside ski lifted. You will want to try and keep it up for the whole turn andonly put it back down again when you are starting your next turn. For safety, you will want to try this on either a green or easy blue run.
Braquage turns, also known as no-speed turns, are great practice to get the feel for short turns on steeps. They can even help you out if you accidentally end up on bumps or a narrow chute. Start with your skis horizontal to the fall line with your hips facing down. Then, plant your pole toward the tail of your ski. Try making a triangle from your tail to pole to binding.
Your pole will help support your weight and balance you as you need to lead your upper body with your hips.After the pole-plant, you will let your hips fall over your feet, flatten and steer your ski in the direction you want to face. The turn will be complete once you are facing in the other direction.
You should practice this slowly, taking one turn at a time, to get a feel for the motion. Once you are confident with the mechanics, you can start to link the turns. Try to get into a good rhythm planting your poles as you turn side to side to help your flow.
If you are unable to perform a hockey stop, then it is probably not the best idea to go on a steep slope. There is a drill that you can practice, however, to help you learn this great way to stop while keeping your skis parallel.
Like all the other drills, it is better to start this on an easier run than on the one that you plan to ski. What you will want to do isstart as a straight run down the fall line. Then, when you are ready to stop, rotate both of your legs, starting with the femurs rather than your feet. Once you start to turn, begin to engage the edge of your ski to reduce slipping and come to a stop.
You are going to want to make sure you are confident performing this on both sides. Don’t worry if you find one side easier than the other. It is important to remember when you are performing these steps to keep your poles up high, because an accidental pole-plant will lead to you losing your balance and maybe trip over.
Jump turns are a drill to help you increase the speed in your turn, which can be very beneficial on steep, narrow slopes. To make this easier, you should practice on a moderate to intermediate slopes, because they can be hard to perform on gentle slopes.
The aim of the jump turn is to have both skis up off the ground as you turn. To accomplish this, begin your turn as normal, flattening and shifting to your outside ski. Then,before pointing down the fall line, jump, pointing your feet in the direction you want to go. You want to keep your skis parallel as much as possible and your upper body neutral.
If you backseat while trying this activity, you will more than likely lose your balance as you land and fall. So just remember to get into your good athletic stance with your weight evenly distributed under your feet and your shins pressed against your boot.
Skiing Steep Powder vs Trees vs Narrow Chutes
Once you feel like you have mastered the art of skiing down a steep groomed run, it may be time to progress onto challenging terrains like powder, trees, and narrow chutes. Here are some basics to help you try them out.
Skiing Steep Powder
Skiing in powder is very different from skiing on a groomed run, so before you even think about tackling a steep powder run, you might want to get a feel of it somewhere a little gentler. That said, if the powder is fresh and you are able to make your own lines rather than following old ones, you may actually find it a little easier than a groomed run.
There are a couple of things that you need to be wary of though. You need to turn more with your feet rather than relying on your edges. Keep your stance a little narrower and try increasing your speed to give you some flow to your turns. Changing to a wider ski will help this a lot.
Another issue some people new to powder have is sitting back with their tips out of the snow. This will mess with the perfect posture you practiced for regular steep runs. Make sure that you have your legs pressing the front of your boot and your ankles flexed to give you a solid amount of tip control.
Skiing Steep Trees
Skiing in trees is not for the faint of heart and can be a scary experience the first couple of times. It is also something that you definitely want to do with someone that has experience, because it is one of the most dangerous types of skiing. Most resorts will have guides you can hire to take you out. Alternatively, you can go with a friend that is more practiced at skiing trees.
To make sure that you are ready for the challenge, you will want to be comfortable skiing on steeps and off-piste areas, since the skills will benefit you. To succeed, you will need to be a master at controlling your speed and short turns. You will also need to be able to pick your lines well and be aware of dangers such as tree wells and other concealed dangers.
Skiing Steep Narrow Chutes
Narrow chutes may seem intimidating at first, but compared to skiing in trees, it is relatively easy. As the run will be narrow, you will have to alter how you make turns, because the limited space will make large S-shaped turns impossible. Try to add more curve to your turn by making a C-shape instead.
Being able to confidently perform short turns is essential in order to succeed, but once you have that skill, it will be a little different from a steeped groom run or power run, depending on snowconditions. Build up to chutes by shortening your turns on a “normal” steep run.
Skiing steep slopes isn’t as hard as you may think, and confidence is just as important as technique. You’re doing the same things you did on gentle slopes but with less wedging. Practice on easy runs first and keep your athletic stance. Soon, you might move on to trees, powder, and narrow chutes.