Skiing confidently in a slough
It is not uncommon for a new layer of fresh snow or an excessive amount of loose snow to begin tumbling along with you as you ski down steep terrain. The challenge is to avoid tensing up as your skis get covered with snow. Success in this situation requires a visual adjustment because all the snow around you is moving, and the feeling of vertigo can hugely affect your balance and performance.
Skiing confidently while in a slough is one of the most exhilarating sensations in skiing and in a safe environment can be a highlight of a ski outing.
On the other hand, this can also be one of the most dangerous situations a skier can encounter. Skiers have been carried over cliffs and rock bands by fairly benign snow sloughs. Sloughs can also trigger bigger slides resulting in full-scale avalanches. If you are outside the ski area boundaries, be alert that the small slough could be a wake-up call to a bigger and more serious slide. When riding out a slough, there are a number of steps to follow.
Refocus your vision to a point ahead of the slough. You may also focus on areas around you that are not covered by the moving snow. This new focus point will stabilize you and allow you to keep your rhythm and flow through the sloughing snow.
Try to keep your feet in contact with the stable snow that lies underneath the rolling conveyer belt of snow above and around your skis. This will require a solid upper body position facing down hill. The moment your momentum is lost, the cascading snow will entrain your skis and trip you up. Keep the upper body, hands and feet moving down the fall line for success in this shaky and unstable situation.
If you find that the sloughing snow becomes more powerful than you can handle, slightly diverge from the fall line while keeping your speed. If the turn is too abrupt, you will slow down relative to the moving snow and the skis will be knocked from under you.
Finally, when checking out the line you want to ski, always look for an escape route that will take you away from the path of a slough if one occurs. If you choose to ski a chute, first decide if your exit out will be stage right or left. This will give you a pre-rehearsed game plan if you are caught in a heavy slough. Having a mental picture of where you will bail out is a powerful tactical tool.
Having a big bag of tricks for off-piste will give you the options to deal with the many challenges that can arise in all-terrain skiing.
Chris Fellows and his wife Jenny are the directors of Truckee’s North American
Ski Training Center (NASTC) and Chris is a member of the PSIA
National Demonstration Team. Chris will be writing a weekly column
all winter. He can be reached at ski@skiNASTC.com or 582-4772.
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