The Path Less Taken

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(SKI Magazine)-- Skiers tend to have tunnel vision. We ski favorite runs over and over again. Once on them, the trees on either side seem to form tunnel walls. Visually and mentally we are locked in, for better or worse, to one particular downhill pathway.

On big mountains especially, temperatures and conditions vary enormously even during a single run. As the slope twists and turns in and out of the sun, narrows, widens, steepens and flattens, we're sure to come upon snow or terrain we don't like so much. Maybe there are rocks or bare spots. Nasty bumps. Poor grooming, or no grooming at all.

Broaden your perspective. Better conditions may lie nearby-through the trees on the next run over. If you stop and look, you can even study what's going on over there. It might be less crowded. Better lit. Less icy. It might offer a more mellow descent.

But plan carefully before you start tramping off through the woods, and heed this advice:

* Avoid crossing more than 40-50 yards, so that if you fall or get stuck you can be seen and heard from either side.
* Observe other skiers' crossover lines for obstacles.
* Make sure you can ski downhill all the way to the opposite slope. Don't leave yourself with an uphill hike.
* Look for a route that isn't too steep. You don't want to build up excess speed if you aren't at ease in trees.
* Choose a traverse that is wide and straight enough that you aren't forced to turn much in difficult snow.
* Make sure there's adequate snow to fill in dips and cover logs, stumps, snags, underbrush and rocks.
* Only trailblaze with a buddy.
* And never cross (or even venture into) an area that's been roped off or marked "Out of Bounds" by ski patrol.

In many states, it could land you in jail, and it almost guarantees that you get your lift ticket pulled.