Your guide to mastering icy ski hills

December 17, 2014

Whether you are just learning to ski or a double black diamond fanatic, it is important to know how to safely handle icy ski hill conditions.

Your guide to mastering icy ski hills

Every skier, at some point, will encounter ice on the ski hill. Icy slopes are most commonly found in the northeastern regions of Canada and the United States. But if it is late fall and the rain is starting to freeze, or early spring and snow is melting and refreezing, it doesn’t matter where you are — there is probably ice on the ski hill.

Whether you are just learning to ski or a double black diamond fanatic, it is important to know how to safely handle icy conditions.

Stay cool

The first step is not to panic. When you are at the top of a steep slope, about to ski down a sheet of ice, it can be hard to think or see anything other than the ice. So stop and take a moment to relax. Then look around you and see if there is any way to ski safely around the ice. It’s a lot easier to control your speed on the fluffy stuff than on the icy stuff.

But maybe you can’t avoid the ice. Or maybe, you want to try it for fun. Whatever the case may be, skiing on ice requires an extra level of focus and a different skill set of skiing tricks and techniques.

Master the brakes

When you first hit a patch of ice your first reaction might be to slam on the brakes. But much like driving, this could cause you to spin out of control. Ice is difficult because skis can’t easily hold their edges, which allow you to turn. To find your edge again, you will need to lower your centre of gravity. So bend your knees lower than you usually do and keep your body centered over your skis. Every ski has a sweet spot where it can find its edge. If you can safely lean up the hill and press your skis into the slope, you should be able to hold your edge and find a controlled path across the ice.

You might be tempted to skid down the hill. It might feel safer but in reality, you are more likely to have your skis slide out from under you. Instead, try to find your edge and slowly make your way down the hill. If you want more stability, separate your skis a little more than usual but not so far that it's difficult to position your weight over the skis.

Don’t try to come to a sudden stop on ice. Instead, apply gentle pressure to your ski edges so you can slide gradually into a controlled stop.

Come prepared

If you know that a mountain or hill has ice, prepare your skis in advance. If you don’t have sharp edges, it will be virtually impossible to stop and turn on the hill. If you don’t know how to sharpen your own skis, take your skis into the shop and get them sharpened professionally. Another good thing to do is to choose the easier runs. They might be less fun, but if there is less of a slope you, will be able to control your speed and direction easier.

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