Steep is a matter of perspective. A slope that looks like a cliff to a beginning skier might not excite an expert at all. The key to skiing steeps successfully isn't entirely in our heads—but many problems skiers face are psychological. We're afraid to fall, worried we won't be able to control our speed. That apprehension is reflected in our bodies, where stiffness and tension make our fears self-fulfilling. As slopes angle ever-upward, we must adjust the way we tilt our legs, orient our hips and tip our bodies. Understanding classic mistakes on steep terrain—and how to avoid them—is the best way to reduce fear.[NEXT "Intermediate"]
leaning into the hill
Instinctively, people shrink from what scares them. On a steep face, you may try to hug the apparent security of the hill by leaning into the mountain with your upper body, stiffening your downhill leg or throwing your downhill hand upward. These instinctive reactions compromise balance and make edging more difficult.
Mike leads himself into the turn with his head and upper body. He keeps his outside hand down.
He lets his ankles and feet do the turning but stays ahead of them. As his knees and hips push into the hill, his upper body tilts out, away from the mountain. This createsstable angles.
Edge to control your speed, and remember that the more you complete each turn, the easier speed will be to manage.
Resist the tendency to let your feet get ahead of your upper body. Be aggressive with your head and torso. If your chin and shoulders lead, your feet will follow.
Lean Your Upper Body Away from the HillSkiing steeps demands edge. You can create some edge by driving your knees into the hill, and even more by pressing your hips toward the mountain. But as hard as you may edge, you're going to skid—you can't carve on truly steep surfaces. To maintain balance, your upper body must angle out as your lower body angles in.[NEXT "Advanced"]Problem
not facing the music
Again, as a human being, you naturally turn away from things you wish to avoid. But if you twist away from an intimidating fallline, you'll lose control and have trouble starting the next turn.
Let your upper and lower body operate independently
A In steeps, you need to work in two different directions at once. Your feet, ankles, knees and legs turn one way; your hips and torso face another. This separation is critical. Notice how Mike's legs complete one turn as his upper body faces downhill, anticipating the next one.
B As Mike plants his pole, his upper body is stabilized and facing the fall line.
C For a split second, Mike's body returns to its natural one-piece alignment. Starting a turn is effortless.
D As he finishes his turn, Mike's upper body and lower body again begin to operate independently. His lower body—feet, ankles, knees and legs—needs to steer his skis back across the slope while his upper body faces downhill. His pole swings forward to be ready for the next plant.
Divide Your Body into Two Parts. Notice the angles at Mike's knees and hips, and how his upper body and lower body face in different directions. Notice, too, how his skis point almost uphill, the sign of a completed turn, which helps him control speed. His pole is ready to hold his upper body facing downhill so he can unwind and easily begin the next turn.[NEXT "Expert"]Problem
When things get seriously steep—as in Heavenly's Mott Canyon, shown here—aspiring experts seekingto control their speed can become too eager to get through the fall line. This often leads to abrupt, twitchy turns.
anchor your center to your feet
A Complete every turn with sttrong body angles and your upper body facing the fall line.
B Mike changes edges early and commits to his turn by moving his body across his skis and into the fall line. Rather than flattening, then pivoting his skis, he edges them first so his upper body sits on a solid platform.
C When slopes are very steep, you don't want to linger in the fall line—and you have no chance ofcarving. But try to make a controlled, rounded passage through the fall line, not one that's so skidded you must jam your edgesto regain control. Your turns should resemble Cs, not Zs.
D Finish your turn in as smooth an arc as the terrain will allow.
Pull Your Feet and Skis into the Turn. If you lead with your upper body, you'll get the sense you're pulling your skis into the turn behind you. But to start a smooth, round turn on steeps, your lower body needs to support your center (and torso) as it moves downhill. In other words, your skis must already be tipped —providing an anchor—as your body commits. Otherwise you'll twist.