Facing an icy slope can be intimidating, but not impossible. Here’s some helpful advice for how to ski on ice, and get to the bottom safely.
How to Ski on Ice
You are at the top of a double black diamond–your favorite trail after the groomers lay down fresh corduroy. But, it’s late afternoon, and all you see is an icy slope, with no convenient way to change your mind and head to another trail. Heart palpitations, weak knees, and shortness of breath ensue. Uh oh. You are in trouble.
Focus is a good thing, but not when you are focused on the opposite of what you want. But, when you are at the top of a steep slope, about ready to nose dive it down a sheet of ice, it’s hard to think about or see anything but the glaze.
Take a moment, though, and you may be surprised to see mounds of softer snow in between those slick patches. Some days the mounds will be minuscule. But, very often, if you look for it, you will realize that there is some softer snow hiding amongst the truly shiny areas. And, it’s a lot easier and more fun to control your speed on the fluffy stuff than it is on the icy stuff.
On any given afternoon when this icy snow phenomenon occurs, I would guess that about 90% of people are skiing in the slippery and icy troughs. But you don’t have to. You will need to change the pattern of your turns, but it’s worth it. You will be taking the line less traveled. Robert Frost would be very proud.
You can completely ignore the icy patches and just ski the mounds of fresh snow, but you will need to change the pattern of your turns. (If you are skiing on a true sheet of ice, you’ll need to refine your movements. You should be extra subtle with your pressure control and edging–probably the opposite of what your natural reaction is. Just like driving, when you hit a patch of ice, you might react by slamming on your brakes. This does not end well while you are in a car. It does not end well if you are skiing either. But this is another topic for another day.) Your direction of travel will be more diagonal across the trail following the mounds of soft snow while making short radius turns rather than heading straight down in a fixed corridor. You can also make wide long radius turns following the same diagonal pattern of the softer snow, but you will need to absorb the mounds by flexing and extending your ankles and knees. In either case, this will be much more enjoyable than scraping your way through the icy path.
Sometimes I forget that not everyone knows this trick. I’ll get to the end of a run and the person I am skiing with will make a comment about the ice and I will reply: “Ice? There was ice?”
Do you have any advice about how to ski on ice? Let us know below!
This post was first published in 2011 and has been updated.