It’s easy to get into trouble at resorts in winter. Trouble usually comes without warning, especially if you’re on an unfamiliar trail or snowriding with less experienced skiers and snowboarders. Here are a few ways to get out of danger on the mountain, whether on a board or skis.
First, a true story: One early winter, I had an afternoon speaking engagement near a snow resort with which I was not familiar. It seemed like a great idea to grab a few morning runs. After taking one lift, I skied to another, only to find that it was closed. But behind that lift was what looked like a trail. I started down the “trail.’ After about five minutes of peaceful skiing, the “trail” faded away. It was just a cattle trail. Now I was in forest terrain, with no idea where to go.
My phone was in the car, yelling for help brought no response, and when I took off my skis to hike back up the miles to the lift, I sunk over my boot tops into unpacked snow. Walking back up the mountain would be impossible.
What saved me was the speaking engagement. Getting to it on time was the only thing on my mind, and it was that intense focus which kept panic at bay. Figuring that going downhill would eventually lead to a road, I kept moving with determination, so fear didn’t take control. Finally, I came to a road. Holding skis and poles, I hitched back up to the resort — eight miles away.
It was a learning experience. Among the things I learned: when hitting the lifts, never leave your cell phone in the car. Never assume anything about an unfamiliar trail; ask where it leads before taking it, especially if the snow is fresh and avalanche danger is high. If you end up lost and have no way to contact a rescuer, head downhill.
Most importantly: Panic will always, always make a bad situation worse. For example, if you stiffen up and lean back in panic because you’ve hit a patch of ice, you’ll crash. The solution to surviving ice is to relax and ride it out. Within a second or two, you’ll be back on softer snow, and can then use your edges to slow down.
Another common problem, especially for non-experts: You suddenly find yourself on frighteningly steep terrain. The solution is to ride ACROSS the trail, make a turn, then ride across again in the other direction, angling downward. Steepness is eliminated when a trail is used horizontally instead of vertically.
A potentially lethal situation happens when a snowrider is out of control and hurtling toward trees or rocks. If you’ve lost traction and are speeding toward something that can hurt you, instantly drop to one side, with your feet pointing toward the object of impact. Dig in your edges slightly to slow your speed and, ideally, you’ll come to a stop. It’s a good idea to practice this on a soft snow day, so you have the move wired if you ever need it.
Here is my best tip for skiers: Unlike snowboarders, skiers can lose their equipment. Spending a bluebird day searching for a lost ski is a bummer. Prevent it with a cheap roll of red ribbon from a fabric or craft store. Cut off two 12-foot lengths. At the lift, tie each length of ribbon to a ski brake and stuff the rest of the ribbon under your snow pants. If a ski comes off, the ribbon acts like a powder cord, allowing you to instantly locate it and resume your day without missing a beat.
Wina Sturgeon is the editor of the online magazine Adventure Sports Weekly (adventuresportsweekly.com), which offers the latest training, diet and athletic information.
@ 2013, Adventure Sports Weekly
Distributed by MCT Information Services