Tomahawk-makers. Knee-tweakers. Core-shot gougers. Sidewall blowers. We’re taught to fear the rocks.
Bad things can definitely happen. I once saw someone bleeding profusely from his face because he skied right into a hidden rock and tumbled into a scree field. Not good. Lots of stitches. Big Sky. Nasty stuff!
But there are good rocks, too! They don’t tell you about the good rocks. That was definitely not part of my ski school curriculum. No, it was a lesson I learned the hard way. It only took me 25 years of skiing to figure it out! Geez. Embarrassing. I’ll never forget the moment—like I was finally let in on a secret.
I was trying to keep up with the local bangers at Crested Butte. Not easy. The place is known for its legendary pepper-riddled steeps, and I was tip-toeing around, falling behind. Genuine all-around hero and ski legend Wendy Fisher was there.
I’ll never forget the look she gave me that day: pure disgust. “John,” she said as she skied by me, swiping the tails of her skis on stone. “You just got to embrace the rocks!”
I did what I was told. And you know what? I was just fine! Maybe my skis got some knicks here and there. They still went downhill. Tools not jewels, they say.
Eventually, I moved to the Southwest and really learned how to ski rocks.
Rule 1: Don’t fear the rock! Ski through it.
Rule 2: Anticipate the friction. There will be friction.
Rule 3: Try to ski the rock with your tip or tails, where you have the least amount of weight and therefore consequence.
Rule 4: If you do smoke an underfoot lurker, don’t overreact and get all freaked out. Just stay strong and forward.
Rule 5: Learn where the rocks are and which ones are skiable and which ones are definitely not (all the ones at Big Sky).
Rule 6: Don’t look at your bases in the lift line—it probably wasn’t that bad.
The thing about skiing rocks? You get to ski a lot of stuff that most people won’t ski because they still haven’t learned or they’re thinking more about their $2,000 Stöcklis than the beautiful lane below.
There’s a run at Taos Ski Valley, my home mountain, which looks like it’s all rocks from the top, even in deep snow. Nobody really skis it. Probably because it’s impossible to ski without embracing rocks. I ski it once every day I am up there. You start to get to know it—and the rocks—in a very intimate way.
The turns have to happen in extremely specific places. Hop-turn between two rocks on an exposed fin to face left. Slide over an outcropping (all rock) and then ease into the top of the chute, wedging your tips onto the rock on the opposite side. Then make a confident turn over the dull rock on the left and let ’em rip! (Just don’t forget the pointy rock on the right four turns down!)
Make a short left, then a big sweeping right directly at the big rock at the mouth, and take some air into a big open runout and woooooooooo!
Wendy was on to something.
John Clary Davies is a former editor of POWDER Magazine and now lives and works just outside Taos Ski Valley where he and his wife can best be reached on their landline telephone.