Steep Skiing 101 – Part IV

| March 6, 2009

One reason there isn’t more super steep skiing footage in ski films isn’t that it is so hard to shoot, but more that it is kind of boring to watch. Slip, slip… slip.  Pause.  Turn!  Slip, slip, slip. Pause. It is way more fun to do than to watch. 

Jared Inouye keeping it under control just before the rap on the NW Couloir of the Pfiefferhorn.

Steep skiing is like this because when the stakes are high, it is important to make every turn count. The best way of doing this is to get every turn under control before committing to the next one.  Unlike moderate slopes where you can easily recover from getting back or inside, steep slopes have a way of magnifying imbalances.  Starting a turn from the backseat means you’ll land even more in the backseat and within one more turn, you’ll be checkin’ out. 

In good conditions, like half-inch deep corn, it is much easier to stick a turn in a perfectly balanced position and roll it over into the next one with almost no delay.  But, in icy or funky conditions, getting a turn under control may take 20-30 feet of nervous skittering around before you are ready for the next one.

Bean Bowers moments before taking a 300' whipper of a lifetime off the top of Gorra Blanca, Patagonia.

As with most things related to steep skiing, patience is important.  Don’t rush the dicey turns, enjoy the exposure, take it one turn at a time, and before you know it, you’ll be linking some big fat sweepers on run-out apron.

Edited to add this afermath photo of Bean’s whipper:

Bean at the bottom of his long fall. It was pure luck that he landed on this steep, soft slope. In retrospect, the fall was probably more than the 300' I mentioned as this photo just shows the lower 1/4 of it. I don't think I've ever asked Bean what was going through his mind when he was falling - I should.

Help support and keep it under control with a pair of Scarpa Spirit 4 Alpine Touring Boots on sale now at Click on the photo below…


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 (10)

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  1. Lou Dawson says:

    Good tips Andrew. I did a ton of steep skiing for quite a few years, and the one thing I found critical was to be a fanatic about gear prep. Waxed and tuned skis, bindings/boots de-iced at the top and checked for proper attachment, pack tidy (nothing like catching a hand on a dangling rope loop while making the-turn-of-a-lifetime… I found that as an experienced skier I needed to think more about that kind of stuff than about technique, though the hands forward mantra used to save my rear over and over again. These days, you see a lot of photos of “steep” skiing with the skier dragging one hand to the side or even behind them. At the least that seems like a good way to work on needs a shoulder surgery some day. What’s up with that oh master of the steeps?

  2. Tyler says:


    Great series of posts on steep skiing. I especially enjoyed the last paragraph of your mid-week post … “slopes growing teeth, blue ice patches, 15 degrees steeper”. There is something about the night that does that. It all feels better when the sun starts to shine. Your advice to just go ahead and have a look is great. You can always decide that you are not up for it after having a closer look, but you’ll never know until you go. This advice dove tails with your “just say yes” mantra. I’ve been trying to remember that one! Thanks for the advice, it is real and encouraging.

  3. jared says:

    Conversation with an (ex)friend after he saw the picture above:

    Ex-friend: Ha, I knew you didn’t ski the NW Col of the Pfeif!

    Me: What?

    Ex-friend: Yeah, there’s evidence of it on StraightChuter.

    Me: What?

    Ex-friend: Of you SIDESLIPPING the col.

    Me: What? (pulling up Those are skis on my feet aren’t they?

    Ex-friend: But you’re side-slipping.

    Me: So. I was above a cliff. I was considering crawling on my belly.

    Ex-friend: Wuss. What, are you a ski mountaineer or a sideslipping mountaineer?

    Me: I didn’t know there was a distinction.

    Ex-friend: Sideslipper.

    Me: Ok. Whatever.

  4. Tyler says:

    “I was considering crawling on my belly” ! Made me laugh. See, this blog is great, what a relief to be able to say “I’m wearing womens underwear (cus I got it on the cheap)” or “I wanted to crawl on my belly”. My kind of stuff! Thanks guys.

  5. Andrew says:

    Jared, from what I remember, just as that photo was snapped, you were getting one turn under control and just about to launch the cliff in a spectacular blind mute grab. I’ve never seen anything like it before and it redefined big mountain extreme skiing.

  6. Andrew says:

    Hi Lou – I’m a big fan of pre-prepping as well. As Polly always says “Sharp skis mean a sharp mind.” Well, maybe she didn’t really say that. Having everything buttoned up, sharp and tucked away means you can fully concentrate on the skiing, not that annoying little drawcord that slaps you in the face with each turn.

  7. dan says:

    That Bean Bowers pic is scary!

  8. kim says:

    What happened to Bean after his little 300′ whipper and how do you get people back to base after they’ve had a little “incident”?

  9. Andrew says:

    Bean basically went into a low orbit over the Southern Patagonia Ice Cap and by pure luck landed on a soft 50 degree slope which was surrounded by ice cliffs, bergshrunds and crevasses. He bounced once…. and stuck. If it was anyone else but Bean (who really should be named “Meat” or “Brick”) they might have been hurt, but he climbed back up and we skied back to camp.

    I’ll stick the “after” photo in there.

  10. doubleA says:

    I remember skiing a 52 degree face down to a cliff in the early nineties- then traversing the cliff into another couloir. I was shaking like Elvis….and yes, side stepping. I guess I’m not an “extreme skier” afterall.

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