Skiing in Flat Light

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(Ski Magazine by Stu Campbell)One of the toughest conditions to ski has nothing to do with bad snow but with the lack of light. When light is "flat," the slope looks like a white, empty canvas, and it's impossible to read the snow surface clearly. Ruts, bumps, ice, even rocks and thin patches disappear. And if you're out in an open expanse, it's hard to determine the pitch of the slope as your depth perception shrinks to nil. Flat light typically descends on overcast days, but can also happen late in the afternoon when the sun disappears behind a ridge.

Next time you ski into flat light, dart toward the woods where darker objects, such as trees and rocks, lend contrast to the white surface near them. Tiny shrubs or sprigs of vegetation poking through the snow help, too. Even evergreen needles on the snow sharpen your vision, which is why race workers put pine boughs on downhill courses.

Just as Norwegian Ski Team members used to ski with tape covering most of their goggles to improve feel, you can use flat light to improve your sense for snow. It forces you to "see" with your feet to react to changes in terrain.