Self preservation is a natural reaction when nerves take hold. In an unfamiliar environment such as steep terrain with variable snow conditions it’s easy to become a defensive skier – relying on braking and skidding to control your descent. Heavy edge sets combined with rapidly turning your ski’s from side to side like a set of possessed window wipers is not only hugely energy sapping but it’s also not doing your skiing any long-term favours.
Before hitting the steeps practice rounded short and medium turns on intermediate terrain. Keep your head up with eyes focused forward and downhill. Introduce a strong pole plant with each turn. The pole plant aids with setting a rhythm. It also momentarily increases the base of support (the area in contact with the snow) improving stability and allowing the steering effort to come more easily from the lower body.
It is important to develop the ability and confidence to deal with anything the mountain throws at you. When it gets steep and choppy you need to use smart ass principles – Strongly Maintain Arc with Rhythmical Turns And Smooth Separation. A great tactic to help develop the skills necessary in dealing with steep and variable snow conditions is to set a corridor down a bump run or on a slope with a varied and unusual camber. The challenge is to maintain a smooth rounded symmetrical turn shape no matter what gets in your way. Be committed. Do not deviate from the path. Do not change your rhythm or turn shape. It can be quite a tough test depending on the terrain but is a great way to improve your all mountain skills.
The below CSIA (Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance) video illustrates some of the ideas raised in the above post. Round turns, strong pole plant, commitment and leading the turning effort with the lower body.
When confidence and skill grows it becomes clear that maintaining a round rhythmical turn shape with a strong pole plant and the turning effort coming from the lower body is a super efficient fun and controlled way to ride the steeps. Remember however that there will always be situations in which rapid braking and side slipping are the most sensible option, such as in a steep unfamiliar gully or of course when you want to give your ski buddy a snow shower!