January 2001
     Coping 1
Narrow trails

Have you ever noticed that success or failure, delight or frustration on the slope is not always a matter of pure technique? Sometimes what counts is not how well you ski, but where you chose to ski, which of several techniques you opt to use, or what time of day you ski a certain run. It's a question of strategy vs. technique on skis. But there's another even more basic level of confidence-building, frustration-avoiding, problem-solving tricks on skis that I want to share with you in this mini series. Hot tips for coping with everyday frustrations on skis. Let's start with something that bugs almost all skiers - narrow trails.

A hesitant intermediate's narrow catwalk may be an expert's four-lane highway. But I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. Whatever your level of skiing, there comes a moment when you find yourself stuck on a tiny narrow trail through the woods, where there just isn't enough room to maneuver comfortably, to brake and turn with ease. What then? Since this state of affairs plagues skiers of all levels, I'm going to offer three different coping tips at three different levels of skiing:

Are you a lower level skier, a novice, scarcely more than a beginner? Normally you won't have any trouble with narrow trails and catwalks, because you're so close to your beginner's habits that you'll just tend to wedge your way straight through the narrow spots and the heck with turning. But yes, there are little slots from time to time that seem too narrow for a real wedge, or else you want to hug the uphill side of th traversing trail and give better skier's room to dart by beneath you. Simple, use a half wedge. Stem or wedge only the downhill ski. Let your uphill ski slide straight along in the direction you're moving and do all your braking/controlling with one ski. Surprise. It works just as well as a full wedge in half the space.

Perhaps you're a stronger skier, but no expert. And there you are on a narrow bit of connecting trail between two open slopes, or narrow catwalk that's been hollowed out by the passage of too many skiers into a dish-shaped cross-section where your fledgling short turns don't seem to work. (In a narrow, hollowed out catwalk the tails can catch and it seems particularly awkward to start new turns.) Extreme cases are the ledge-like, "goat trails" that often lead out onto steep moguled runs. You want to follow this ledge-like trail from here to there, but not at high speed. Yet if you turn into the hill to slow down, your ski tips will dig into the steep bank and over you go. Sound familiar? The answer - far more graceful than stemming or wedging - is to sideslip along the upper side of the trail (or the downhill edge of the ledge-like lip). Or you can simply throw in short momentary sideslips from time to time, without actually turning. And here's the secret of sideslipping straight in a confined space. Keep all your weight on your heels. If you get onto the balls of your feet, ski design will take over and your skis will curve right into the wall beside the trail. Ride the heels of your boots and skis and you can sideslip dead straight for hundreds of yards if you need to. Of course, it's a good idea to practice this on an open slope before you need it in a narrow slot.

Finally, the third case. You really are a strong skier. Most of the time you look hot, you can make short turns no sweat - if you have enough room, that is. But you just can't wiggle down those narrow catwalks the way the best skiers do. So you pick up a lot of speed in between areas that are wide enough to turn comfortably. The secret of quick linked turns along a narrow road or catwalk is a curious one: Ski with relaxed, flat feet and no edging whatever. You'll wind up swishing or smearing your skis back and forth in short linked S shapes, actually sideslipping a bit while you're turning. The feeling is something like shuffling along in bedroom slippers. Get rid of as much tightness and muscle tension as you can in the soles of your feet, stand “soft” in your boots. As a result your skis will lie very flat on the snow, and you'll find you can turn back and forth twice as fast, along those narrow snowy roads that take you from one side of the mountain to the other. Of course, I'm talking here of trails that are frustrating and pesky only because they're narrow, not because they're narrow and steep. (Like the narrow, steep slots and couloirs on big mountains out west where coping has another meaning altogether.)

As you can see, coping with narrow trails is not a question of skiing in a different way, or of learning some new technique - just applying the right trick at the right time. In short, coping.

   January 2001
photo above:
© Linde Waidhofer
All contents of this web site
© Lito Tejada-Flores unless otherwise credited.