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How to Ski: Catching Air

No one ever got hurt in the air, right? And with practice and planning, the landings will go just fine.

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Remember when ski areas knocked down or roped off anything that got us a little light? Thankfully that mindset has changed. Not everyone is ready for the biggest booter in the park, but these days resorts are building features for all abilities, and we can all experience the feeling of flight.

Dave Petch, shown here charging with confidence through airspace near Lake Louise, Alberta, might look as if he were born to fly, but like any accomplished hucker, he started small and worked his way up. He’s got something else going for him here: deep snow on a steep pitch—the ideal landing zone.

Every jump consists of three
parts: takeoff, airtime, and landing. Depending on the complexity of your jump, you can put a little or a lot of thought into each part. Planning keeps you and everyone around you safe.

» Takeoff: The goal here is to make sure you are prepared for what you are about to do. Pay attention to your speed, expected trajectory, takeoff angle, and expected flight distance. Make a mistake in your calculations here and it’s “Jerry of the Day” time. Takeoffs that look smooth, balanced, and controlled usually meet with success. Remember the P’s: Prior planning prevents poor performance.

» Airtime: Petch’s composure here is a result of his smooth takeoff. By keeping his hands in front of him and matching his skis to the angle
of the slope, he ensures a controlled flight. Airtime comes with a feeling
of freedom, but don’t slack on your focus. Engage your core muscles to maintain balance as the ground drops away.

» Landing: Don’t drop the ball before you cross the goal line. Spot your landing well before you get there. Judge the snow so that if you decelerate you are prepared. If you can think about landing precisely on your feet and not randomly somewhere on the length of your
skis you should ski away with grace and style. Landing too far forward on your ski tips is never good. Landing too far back on your tails can test the resolve of your knees.

Very few people get hurt in the air, so logic would say that we should spend more time there. It’s the takeoffs and landings that get us in trouble. Get them wrong and snow never felt so hard. Get them right and you can experience the miracle of flight, if just for a moment.

SKI’s director of instruction, Michael Rogan, is a PSIA Alpine Team captain, USSA Team Academy coach, and Heavenly, Calif., instructor. He spends his summers enjoying more winter at Portillo, Chile, where he’s resident manager.

Dave Petch, assistant avalanche forecaster at Lake Louise, Alberta, stars in Kokanee beer commercials when he’s not busy blowing sh*t up.