February 2001
Coping 2
Disasters of the deep
     For many skiers, deep snow is problem enough without the added frustration of a losing a ski, or floundering around chin deep or deeper unable to get to one's feet while the rest of the gang skis off, or struggling in vain to get those bindings to snap shut again when there's no solid foundation of packed snow to stomp down on. Indeed, even once you've made your peace with deep powder, once you've tasted, or become addicted to the out-and-out joy of the deep, you'll still make occasional mistakes. You'll still tumble head-over-heels into the odd bottomless drift. And if you can't easily cope with the process of reuniting skier and equipment, of getting yourself back together in one powder-ready piece, even the greatest powder days can end in frustration.

So that's what we'll look at here in part two of our mini-series on coping with skiing's frustrations and crises. A few hot tips to simplify searching for lost skis under two feet of fluff. A couple of suggestions to get you easily back upright and on your boards:
First things first. In the middle of a dynamite descent a snow snake got you. After an explosion of white, that must have looked spectacular to any friends who were watching, there you are, floundering about in really deep, maybe bottomless snow. You're virtually unable to get to your feet because there's nothing to push on. Five minutes of struggle, you're soaked in sweat, mad as hell, and still not on your feet. Tip number one: take off both pole straps, cross your poles in a giant "X" on the surface of the snow, hold onto the spot where the two poles cross and push yourself back upright. These crossed ski poles act sort of like a giant ski-pole basket, and give you something firm to push against even in the lightest deepest powder.

What next? Anyone who's paid any dues in deep powder will tell you it's not always easy to get back into your ski bindings when there's no solid surface to push down against. And then too, as you push down, and ski and boot both sink deeper into the fluff, the binding and boot surfaces you just spent five minutes scraping clean are immediately packed with snow again,
One of the niftiest tricks I know is to pick up the ski you're trying to put on, and jam the ski tail downward at a steep angle into the solid snow beneath the powder. This works in up to two or two and a half feet of new snow. The result is a ski tip sticking crazily up into the air - and a cocked binding exposed above the snow level. Lift your ski boot up and "step" into the binding in the air in front of you. It works perfectly, and besides your friends will want to know what you're doing.

But trying to put your ski back on in the fluff assumes that you've already found it. Which isn't, alas, always the case. In the bad old days before we got rid of our runaway straps - and the very real danger of windmilling skis that they represented - losing a ski in powder was a very rare occurence. Now it's embarassingly common. Ski patrols at major western resorts keep a stock of odd spare skis handy to get skiers down the mountain after they spent hours searching in vain, pawing at the snow with their poles, looking for a ski that has vanished under the powder. Ski brakes, we quickly learned, only stop a ski on hardpack snow. . . .

Two tips: First, look farther down the hill than you think is reasonable. Most skiers who lose a ski under the powder seldom search more than ten feet or so from the spot where they fell. But your ski is a lot more streamlined than you are, and it tends to keep right on travelling under the snow, in the direction you were heading, downhill. Often you'll find your ski 20, 25, 30 or 35 feet further down the slope. Surprising but true.

Second, and even better than looking in the right place, is not losing your ski period. There are a number of ski-finding devices, mostly long brightly colored ribbons or cords, that you can clip onto your bindings (and then tuck the excess tail up under your ski pants). They work. Even simpler is a clip-on runaway strap that you snap between boot and binding only on powder days! The main objection to such straps, that the ski can windmill around and injure you, simply doesn't apply in deep powder, since the ski is "held" in the grip of the deep snow and can't flip about. This is what I do when I'm skiing in more than a foot of new snow. It's safe and foolproof.

It's almost an article of faith that deep powder is the ultimate ski experience. It's more than a skier's myth, it's true. But you're a lot more likely to experience this "ultimate" if you can avoid the little deep-snow frustrations along the way. And now you know how.

   February 2001
photo above:
playing with powder snow at Diavolezza, above the Engadine Valley of eastern Switzerland.
photo © Linde Waidhofer
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© Lito Tejada-Flores unless otherwise credited.