Steep skiing is maybe one of the most serious sport you can do in the mountains. If you ski steep enough the risk of getting avalanched is more or les reduced, just make shore to stay above 50° all the time! But then the risk factor if you fall is most of the times over average that it will end in a major injury or fatality
|Heading into one of the couloirs of Aravis|
To reduce the risks in steep terrain is, as always, to come well prepared. Strong mental training, the right equipment, well known and comfortable with your skis and boots. Sharp edges on the skis as well as familiar with the bindings, trusting them not to release at the wrong moment.
And, good physical training, training that should have been done on a safe spot, like jump turns and glissading.
|Sometimes it costs to steep ski, trashing the equipment and leaving gear behind|
|Practicing is always good|
A good way is to have a list, a list that gives you directions and a reminder of what might be needed and when.
On established routes there is many times good information in topos or on internet. Pages like skitour.fr and camptocamp are often very useful to find information about a specific route.
But, just because it was skied two weeks ago doesn’t mean its safe tomorrow.
Have a close look on the weather and get a historical reminder of the last avalanche forecasts, specially if you go on a low angel steep ski :-), and the last weeks weather. All this is pretty basic, but never wrong to be reminded.
Other things that might mess things up is the real equipment.
What kind of things is needed on this specific descent? Normally maybe its enough with a 30m rope for the first rappel, but this year the lack of snow or the numbers of snow-boarders has ruined the slope and made it rock hard. So, like in the Cosmiques Couloir of Midi in January 2019, it was needed 2x50m rappels. A route where you earlier could ski directly from the col!
Keep your skis and edges sharp at all time. The first things I do every day I come home from "the Office" I clean my equipment, dry all the things and give my skis the care they need.
|Is it the right day?! Exposed narrow couloir at Roches Franches|
Rules why you should not go steep
Here I have put up a list why you should stay away from this sport of Steep Skiing, just as a small mental reminder before you go:
1# If you even think of steep skiing as a pleasure of the next day, then you have already failed at this first step. Steep skiing is dangerous and committing. Far away from any pleasure skiing in the blue and red runs in the established slopes
2# Time. In worst case you need to wake up early to be able to be a the top of the run before it is hit by the sun, or ending up behind other skiers. All which will make it more dangerous and unpredicted
3# Time. In best case, you can take a ski lift up to the start of the descent, but then there will for sure be other ”steep skiers” lining up on the same descent, specially after a night of heavy snow. So, you will have to refuse even more beers the evening before, head to bed super early and be at the queue well before the staff at the lift station even are thinking of heading to the days work
4# There is already a queue! Just admit it, you had a few beers extra, stayed a little to long, both at the bar and in the bed. You are to late and the hot shots are already there. So, the only reasonable choice, is to find an other run. Maybe instead of Tour Ronde from aiguille du Midi, the best choice is the regular Valle Blanche for you this day.!? But this will be far away from the pre text you put on insta last night!
5# The conditions. Already a few weeks ago the plans was made, 1 week of skiing in the Swiss alps. The ski runs of the year, all of which you missed last year cause of the reasons above. Now your back in this pricy country to get the pay-back and show your friends. Realizing your by your self with your partner, there is only you that are heading for the couloir direction. Because this year its only ice, the last weeks föhn winds has destroyed it all. Again, head back or rappel the whole slope. But why couldn’t we, cause we didn’t we have 6#!?
6# The equipment. One thing with Steep skiing is, its about trashing the equipment! Boots are beaten up on the booting parts up steep slopes, trashing the buckles and plastic. Completely destroying the ski-pants with crampons! And then the skis!! With all the money spent they could be ruined in one run, rappelling over cliffs and sliding over the sharpest rocks, eat the best not in a hard turn. There is one way to keep the cost downs, stay in the blue line!
7# Skiing with a heavy back pack. Even in our modern world, everything takes space. You been at the Alpine store, bought the new stuff and has a few shiny carabiners and, what you thought, the latest and lightest harness…well there is a always a newer and lighter one. Like the one your parter has or even worse; the other guy in the telepherique, the same guy that also are heading for the same ski run!
However, you will have the avalanche equipment, then a pair of crampons and an ice-axe, a helmet with at least one GoPro, a harness with 4-5 carabiners, a rappel device (if you are novice and still use one) a couple of ice-screws, a few pitons and nuts. And some extra slings to back the rappels up. And then, a rope! Well, just think of it, it sound heavy. Because now you also realized you need a pair of extra gloves, 1 liter of water, some food for energy, a hat, an extra down jacket, a first aid kit, a head torch, skins…last time your bindings came undone so you missed the multi tool you left behind that time, because now its here as well…
8# Training. The breakfast was already to early, no appetite! And now after a rush from the telepherique, to be the first, suddenly the stomach starts to send reminders. Your throat is super dry from the lack of water and the un-lack of altitude. The last years frequent stops at the pizza hut and McDonalds on the way home from the office sends a reminder. Maybe a few days a week at the gym, under the barbell or any diffuse machine wasn’t enough. Maybe 2-3 time a week, or month at the local 100 vertical meter ski slope hasn’t paied back enough!? This is how it felt like, how it felt last year…
9# Training. Steep skiing is a lot of mental activity. The only way to be happy on a 50° slope is to be there, and to be there often. This also mean to be familiar with the use of ice-axe and crampons, coiling and un-coiling the rope. To practice and use belay systems. Be quick but calm. And then, be strong in the legs and safe on the edges. Judging the snow, the conditions and the weather. And to be brave. Are you wiling to take that calculated risk of falling, pre-considered in case of a fall. Once at the exit its to late. Practicing rope techniques, jump turns and self-arrest must be done way in advance.
|Nice and exposed above the rocks...|
10# Steep skiing. If you still, after this, feel the desire and longing, hankering, yearning to go and try that Whymper couloir from aig Vertes after all. Well, then I can only gratulate and say hurray! Because it is one of the most inspiring things you can do in the mountains!!
|Practice and get comfortable in all situations - thats the key|
"Steep skiing is a serious sport, timing and mental balance is, together with a lot of other things, very important. Not to be pushed by friends or social media. Keeping the equipment in a good shape and always stay sharp, in both physics and edges"