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The Double-Black-Diamond Powder Skier
You can rip it up all over the mountain. You welcome and seek the challenge of skiing on the edge, and you can hold it together when the going gets tough. However, every now and then the complexity of the natural conditions in steep and wild terrain surprises you.
One problem you may en-counter in steep, powdery terrain is slough. This isn’t an avalanche-it’s surface snow that you send down the hill as a result of making turns. It will probably not bury you, but it can knock you over and carry you down the hill-possibly injuring you in the process. Like an avalanche, slough is most likely to occur on slopes steeper than 35 degrees. Most slopes capable of developing slough are also capable of producing avalanches. You must be comfortable with your ability to assess a slope for avalanche hazard. If you’re not experienced, ask someone who is-such as a ski patroller or backcountry guide. Call an avalanche hotline or look on the Web for a current report. And always ski with a partner.
First, as you enter the slope, cut a half-turn across it in the same direction you’re going. This should give you a feel for the snow and an idea of how much slough you’ll generate with each turn. Make a few turns until you feel the snow around you starting to cascade down the slope with you, then cut out to one side or the other and ski a different fall line (A) that’s out of the way of the slough’s path. Make a few more turns and do the same thing again. Don’t turn into the bottom of a draw or a gully. Always cut out to a more open part of the slope or to the top of a spine. The other alternative is to outski your slough-a popular technique seen in many ski films. Straightline the slope and stay ahead of your slough the whole way down, but make sure you know where you’re going so you don’t ski off a cliff or into a pile of rocks.
However you handle a steep slope in powder, make sure you plan your line before you ski it. This line (B) is a good example of proper slough- management technique.