But when skiers——pro or otherwise——think they can treat sloughs as an afterthought, danger awaits..
In Alaska, getting nailed by a full-speed slough is like having a pack of 400-pound guys gang-tackle you. Even in areas more mellow than Alaska, a slough can dislodge you from the mountain and send you tumbling. Although sloughs aren’t as powerful as full-blown slides, anytime snow is moving with you on steep terrain, you need a plan..
“Rip it and outrun it is not a plan. No one knows exactly how fast a slough is going to go. The shape of the snow crystals, the snow depth, and the length of the run (the slough created on a 500- vertical-foot run is a lot slower than one on a 2,000-vertical-foot run) are all factors. Plus, the snowpack may be inconsistent. You can get ahead of the slough when the snow is good, but if it turns to breakable crust, you could get caught and taken out. Gullies that accelerate sloughs and sudden flat spots that slow your momentum (and cause slough to stack up on you) are two of the many terrain features that can cause trouble..
Better to go with the five and fade approach: Take five turns down the fall line, then fade over 10 or 20 feet and make another five as your slough rolls past. At the same time, find ridges, ramps, or chutes that can redirect the slough away from the line you want to ski. Nail your slough-management strategy, and powder slides can be downgraded to dramatic exclamation marks on your big mountain lines.
Age: 39 Height: 5 feet 11 inches Weight:175 pounds Home Area: Chugach Range, Alaska Accomplishments: 1995 World Extreme Ski Champion; ski film star; founder/operator of Dean Cummings H2O Heli Guides. Worst Learning Experience: “In 1998, a friend and I decided to ski a couloir in Chamonix with a Swiss guide we didn’t know. He rappelled in first and tumbled down a chute, disappearing into the clouds—and forcing us to ski it and find him. We didn’t know where he was or whether we’d find a dead body. He was OK, but the decision to ski a dangerous chute in bad conditions with a stranger could’ve been deadly. Now I never go into a big mountain environment without the patience to wait for the right conditions and people.