Steep Skiing 101 – Part III

| March 4, 2009

Ninety-percent of steep skiing is in your head.  I’ve witnessed some absolutely crappy skiers make it down steep slopes and conversely, seen experienced skiers (including myself) totally freeze up.  It’s one of those things you just have to be psyched for and sometimes you are, and sometimes you aren’t.  A bitter divorce or break-up seems to help get people in the mood to ski like they just don’t care.

Pondering the likely outcome of the Kevorkian Kouloir - Baffin Island. Photo by Brad Barlage.

Good partners go a long ways towards successful steep descents.  On one hand, you want someone who is motivated and confidence inspiring, yet not over-bearing or pushy.  The last thing you need when faced with a potentially huge fall is peer pressure from a friend.  Aggressively nailing a steep line may be the ultimate goal, but if you didn’t have your Wheaties and don’t feel up for it, it is great to have an understanding partner who won’t give you shit for sideslipping the entire line.  What goes around comes around and it seems to happen to everyone.

Dylan Freed stepping lightly in the Great White Icicle, LCC.

A related aspect of mental warfare is the dreaded pre-psyche-out.  This often happens the night before when slopes grow teeth, sprout patches of glaze ice and steepen by 15 degrees.  By the time the sun comes up you’ve convinced yourself that you are about to die.  Reality is seldom this bad and a good mantra is “You never know until you go.”  If it really is horrible, turn around and ski another day.

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Category: 06 Downhill

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

Comments (4)

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  1. d3 says:

    Last night I had a dream I was looking at the Great White Icicle as the objective for the day.

    It was a dream, but that side-slipping looks sweeeet.

  2. dan says:

    In my limited years of steep skiing, I have found that going solo somtimes can help me to get in a focused mind state – which is very important for me – to be 100% focused. Sometimes when with friends, I have an almost instinctual urge to show off – to push the limits of saftey. An example of that might be to connect 15 turns on a steep slope somewhat faster than I might if I was alone – when I might be more inclined to take maybe only a few turns at slow speed before stopping breifly to scope the way ahead and breath, check for ice or snow condition change etc… (although sometimes a slow steady rythem is much better than stopping after just a few turns).
    However it is much easier to get out of bed, and get going when one is with a bunch of people, it’s also less stressful when confronted with a tricky navigational, or stability situation when with other people, but the point that I am getting at is that there is a certain clarity, focus – call it what you will , that is easier to achive (for me) when I am solo, rather than when with company.

  3. Great series! I think we have all had those moments of “what the f-word am i doing up here?” Then you ski down in survival mode only to look up and feel so embarrassed of how scared you were!

  4. Bob says:

    “A bitter divorce or break-up seems to help get people in the mood to ski like they just don’t care.”

    One of your better lines.

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