Four Tips on how to Punch it in Steep Couloirs
by Weston Deutschlander
Telemark steep skiing is a blast. It’s challenging, exhilarating, dangerous, and nothing beats the feeling of accomplishment when looking back up a steep face that you have just conquered. Add to it tight quarters, variable conditions, and long approaches, and you have a sure fire way to get your heart pumping and the adrenaline flowing. Here are some basic steps to help you telemark ski steeper and tighter terrain.
Start on a small scale to gradually increase your comfort level. You can do this by creating a visual course at your local ski area that would mimic the size and potential obstacles of a backcountry couloir. Focus on doing as many turns as you can in a finite area, all while focusing your eyes down the fall line at least six turns ahead. This will help you anticipate changes in the terrain and snow.
Picking your line is one of the most critical steps of descending steep terrain. Good choices allow you to control the steepness of the slope, avoid avalanche danger and find the aspect with the best snow. Take the extra time to assess any major obstacles that you may encounter, like cornices and cliffs. A pair of binoculars or a monocular are great tools to carry in the backcountry for this reason. A digital camera will allow you to point out specific terrain challenges to your partners, or study a line before you attempt it. These tools will help you assess what type of snow conditions you can expect and any rocks or other obstacles that might be challenging to get around. Taking the time to choose a good line within your comfort and ability level will decrease serious consequences and let you enjoy the experience.
The approach is critical because you can get a first hand account of snow stability, slope angle and what the snow is really like. Generally speaking, the two most popular ways to ski couloirs is to either boot up what you are about to ski down, or to skin around a flanking ridge and access it that way. Booting up the route can be beneficial in identifying any unforeseen hazards not seen with the binoculars. An ice axe or a whippet are also great tools to carry along with you, as often times you will encounter steep, narrow and icy situations, anticipated or not.
Descending a slope in a high consequence area is when your reactions and all your hard work at your local hill really pay off. Be sure to plan ahead any escape routes in case of avalanching, as well as your plan for self-arrest. Falls do happen and it is imperative that you are prepared to react appropriately. Remember to look ahead, make quick turns and keep your body down the fall line. Before you know it, you will be looking back and laughing at what a great time you just had and planning your next adventure down
*This article originally appeared in TS #15