Survival -- alternative non-ski techniques 

Sometimes you may encounter a downhill slope which is too risky for you to go down with skis on -- for various possible reasons: 

  • the snow is too hard or icy. 
  • the slope is too steep for you. 
  • there are trees or rocks or other obstacles which you could hit and be harmed by. 
  • there is a drop-off or cliff you might fall over. 

Usually there are several alternatives for handling a downhill slope -- without skiing down it.  

Here are some . . .  

Slide down on your butt 

Keep your feet below you as you slide.  

Sometimes there might be less risk of harm if you take your skis off -- especially if there are obstacles which you might slide into (since then there is the possibility that the skis could twist or lever on your ankle or knee joints).  But holding the skis may add the risk of dropping them or hitting yourself with them in other ways. 

Walk down on your ski boots 

Take your skis off your feet.  If the snow has a hard surface, try to stomp down the heel of each boot so that it breaks through the surface and deeper into the snow. 

If you cannot dig your boots deep enough into the surface of the snow to be sure that you will not slide down, you should probably not use this technique (see more alternatives below) -- because you might get hurt from the impact of your head or upper body or arms hitting the snow surface -- and because you might fall into a body position (e.g. head-first downhill) which is more risky if followed by a slide further down the slope, perhaps into an obstacle. 

Crawl down backwards 

Take your skis off and hold one in each hand.  Crouch down on the snow with your head uphill and your feet downhill.  Crawl backwards down the slope with your elbows and knees and boot toes touching the snow.  Each time you place the toe of your boot against the snow, kick it down into the snow so that it breaks through the hard surface and deeper into the snow.  If necessary kick harder and kick multiple times.   

The key advantage of this technique is that if you think that you could slide, then this position of head near the snow with feet down-slope from it often would result in less serious injury from hitting an obstacle (or even going over a little drop-off).  One disadvantage is that it's harder to see where you're going. 

Turn around and go back an easier way 

Sometimes there is no low-risk way to go down, so it is better to find a different route.  

But sometimes this strategy does not help, because the risk of the re-tracing the route going back is greater than going forward.  So another alternative to consider -- earlier -- is . . . 

Do not even start out on that trail or slope  

Sometimes the low-risk choice must be earlier and more radical:  Do not even start out into that trail or area that contains that potentially-risky downhill slope.  

Often the safest choice is not to get anywhere near a downhill slope which might be more risky than you can handle -- especially on a day when the surface of the snow is hard or icy. 

The difficulty ratings at a cross country ski center can help decide which trails are within your capabilities.  But use these with intelligence and care: 

  • Sometimes a trail whose difficulty you could handle in normal snow conditions turns out to be significantly risky for you if you try it in icy conditions. 
  • Sometimes the trail ratings at one cross country ski center are much harder or easier than those at another ski center. 

So before you start on a trail, check the condition of the snow on a flat or gentle slope -- both in the sun and in the shade -- to see how hard or icy it is.  For more on this, see Assessing Snow Conditions on the main Downhill techniques page

back to main Downhill techniques page 

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