Get Schooled: Toss the Anchor


Most tracks head in the same direction, but you take the path less chosen and traverse down a narrowing gully.

Suddenly, the tracks are gone and the snow goes from fluff to Formica. You stop just before you ski off the edge of a bowling ball. Now you’re stuck on a steep incline—on rock-hard snow—with two choices: Blindly jump the cliff, or hike back out. You wisely choose option two: Now, how do you get your skis off without sliding over the cliff?

First, put your ski poles together and hammer the grips as far down as you can into one hole in the snow—making an anchor to hold onto for the next maneuver. As you hold the pole-anchor with one hand, rotate the tip of your downhill ski away from the snow until it’s at a 45-degree angle and jam it into the slope beneath your uphill ski. With your downhill ski anchored, stomp your uphill ski into the slope, making a solid shelf.

Holding onto your pole-anchor with your uphill hand, reach your other hand through your legs, and release your uphill ski. Step out of the ski and hold it with your downhill hand while you kick a step into the snow with your boot. Now jam that ski tail-first into the snow, and take off the downhill ski by depressing the binding with your hand.

Make a platform facing the slope, toes embedded into the snow, and strap your skis to your pack. If you’re on super-steep terrain, plunge a pole (grip first) into the snow with each step until you’re safely out of danger.

Mark Newcomb

Age: 37 Height: 5 feet 7 inches Weight: 140 pounds Home Area: Jackson Hole, WY Accomplishments: Valdez, Alaska, heli-ski guide, four first descents of the Grand Teton. Worst Learning Experience: “Coming down from the Grand Teton, I had to climb across a big swath of rock. So I tried the move I described above but didn’t get the tail jammed in well enough. I stuck it in the snow and got out of the ski. But when I took my foot off of it, the thing went zinging down into the rocks. I was standing there on one ski. Luckily I was able to down-climb slowly, find the ski, and get out. But there were some real bad moments in there.