Top To Bottom: Learn How To Ski Like A Boss
We’ve all scoped the perfect line from the chairlift here at Moonlight Basin, Montana, only to get to the top of the run and have no idea where the features you looked at went. Standing at the top of a run riddled with cliffs can be a horrifying experience if you haven’t learned know how to scout your line and find appropriate landmarks to guide yourself through. Learning how to ski top to bottom and knowing your line is the difference between awing the chairlift crowd with a clean line on your ski vaction, and utter embarrassment. Like any aspect of skiing, reading terrain and being able to navigate is a skill acquired through lots of practice. Here are some key elements to know.
Scoping a line starts at the bottom of the run. Look at your line as a whole, and identify the features that you will ideally be hitting or navigating. Visualize your turns through the entire run, and how you will be entering and exiting each feature. Now break the run down into individual features. Look above and below the feature for rocks, trees or other things you need to avoid. These items often make good landmarks for finding your way in, and often dictate how a feature can be hit. Sometimes the way you want to hit a cliff just isn’t feasible because of other obstacles.
Without a good mental image of what your entire run is going to look like from your point of view, it is easy to get lost, or cartwheel over a pile of rocks. Ski through your line and identify landmarks while inspecting the takeoffs and landings. Get a good mental image of what each section of your run will look like as you come into it with speed. Consider the direction you will be entering the feature, and the direction you want to go after you land. This will dictate how much speed you should carry. This is where doing your homework really pays off. Knowing where you are and what’s below you at all times will allow you to ski with
confidence and fluidity. It’ll give you the mental edge to commit to your line.
Good landmarks are ones that can be seen from a distance. When you are on top of a cliff, you won’t be able to see the landing until right before you are airborne. The larger the drop, the less you will be able see coming up to it. Pick a landmark in the far distance such as a clump of trees that you won’t lose sight of as you are skiing up to a feature.
After you have a good idea of what everything looks like, it’s time to give’r a go. Turn up your DINs a touch, give your line one last look from the bottom and head up the chair. Identify your landmarks at the top, and then visualize your run one last time. Take a deep breath, and push off. At this point it’s all a mental game. Go with the flow: stay calm and in control. Make sure you are looking far ahead at the upcoming feature, and make consistent turns throughout your run. Hit each feature with confidence, and be ready for a little more speed than you had anticipated.
Expert tip: A camera can be your best friend when scouting gnarly lines. Taking pictures from the top and bottom can help you get a better perspective on your line.
Viewing top and bottom photos side by side on a computer can be very helpful for navigating rocky exposed areas. I often take over 100 photos of a competition venue.
I review the photos on my computer and print enlarged versions that I bring with me for further scouting missions. Watching helmet camera footage can also be very helpful in learning your line.
About the author:
Logan Schaetzel-Hill is an experienced big mountain skier who has spent the past 5 years cutting his teeth on the vast terrain of Lone Peak, and developing his freeskiing skills. Logan skis for 4Front Skis, Bridger Cross Fit, Smith Optics, and is one of Big Sky’s local favorites to podium at the upcoming Freesking World Tour Qualifier at Moonlight Basin Resort March 22-25.