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Lito's Tech Tip: Safety on the Steeps

Here are a few tips that should help already-strong skiers adapt their technique to the sort of steeper-than-usual slopes that can be found at places like Taos Ski Valley.

So few American ski resorts offer truly steep skiing that the skills involved are anything but widespread. Here are a few tips that should help already-strong skiers adapt their technique to the sort of steeper-than-usual slopes they’ll find at places like Taos Ski Valley.

First, get used to the angle before starting to turn. Do this by sideslipping in a very anticipated position, hips and shoulders turned straight down the mountain, downhill pole extended and ready, just as if you were about to turn. Sideslip straight down a few feet, then set your edges with a quick flick of your knees into the hill. Repeat this a couple of times on the very top of the steep slope you are about to ski. By doing so, your body, and your mind too, will adjust to the angle of the slope before the real action starts. When you do turn, you will have had a foretaste of the all-important control phase at the end of each turn.

Second, make your turns short, quick, and powerful. On very steep slopes, you want to bring your skis rapidly from one almost horizontal position to another one, facing the opposite way, without spending a lot of time in the middle or fall-line phase of the turn. Lingering in the fall-line on steep slopes, you’ll pick up too much speed too fast. Start your turns with a snappy, positive up motion (either bouncing up from quick edge set or actually projecting yourself upward with a strong extension of the legs), and then you’ll be able to turn your skis into the fall line very rapidly, virtually in the air. When you "land" from this rapid, initial pivoting, try to land softly; don’t jam your edges into the steep snow; instead let the skis skid or sideslip. (Over-edged skis tend to accelerate!) Then sink and steer your sideslipping skis (especially your outside ski) quickly around to the horizontal. Spend as little time as possible in the middle, or "belly," of the turn.

And finally, once you start turning, keep turning. Things get out of hand only when you freeze or hesitate between turns. Continuous short turns are the recipe for control on very steep slopes. To eliminate any hesitation, keep reaching your outside/downhill pole straight down the hill--even a little farther down than you usually do, to help balance your body over the downhill ski. Plant that pole without hesitation and you’ll find that this triggers the next turn without hesitation. Just as with super bumps, if your hand and pole are late, then you’ll be late.

One last piece of advice: Find a practice slope that is very steep but neither long nor dangerous (i.e., no obstacles to fall into), on which to practice these extra-quick, extra-short turns. The top of Stauffenberg is no place to start trying to shorten your turns. You don’t need much vertical to practice on: three or four turns will do. Take a deep breath, and go.