How to slow yourself down on a steep ski run

You’re out on the slopes for a day of skiing with your Venturers. Suddenly, you make a wrong turn and find yourself hurtling out of control down a steep expert run. And you’re no expert. You need to regain control — fast. What should you do?

Your first reaction should be to resist your first reaction, which will be to stick your arms out and grab at something — a tree, the ground, another unwitting skier — to slow you down.

When you’re racing at high speeds on skis, you risk breaking or dislocating an arm, a wrist or a collarbone if you attempt to slow your progress in that manner. Worse, your helmet (you are wearing one, of course) is not designed to effectively protect your head from collisions at high speeds. Thus, a sudden stop achieved by grabbing at something is dangerous.

But wait, there’s more. Assuming your bindings have been adjusted properly, your boots are designed to pop out of them when you make a sudden twisting motion with your foot. This is great for saving your knees and ankles from major trauma, but it also means that any sudden moves may have you tumbling down the hill with no skis — and, thus, no effective way of stopping. On steep terrain, this can lead to catastrophic injury.

The solution here can be summed up in three words: Use the mountain. The best way to slow down is to carve or “snow plow” long turns across the hill. That is, point your skis perpendicular to the base of the hill. (To slow yourself down even more, point the ski tips together in a snow plow or pizza-like stance.) As you ski across the width of the trail, keep your arms forward, your knees bent and your weight on the downhill ski, pressing its uphill edge into the mountain. You can also drag your poles to lose speed, but don’t plant them or you risk wrenching your thumb and/or wrist.

A “hockey stop” can also be helpful at slower speeds.

If you do fall down, try to fall in a way that will minimize injury. For instance, if you’re skiing perpendicular to the hill as suggested above, try to fall uphill to avoid injury. Of course, controlling your fall might not be an option. If you’re sliding, keep your knees bent and swing your legs around so they are below you as you fall. Make sure you’ve stopped completely before trying to stand up. Getting up too early can result in serious ACL injury.

To bust one myth: Statistically speaking, snowboarders are no more dangerous than skiers. In fact, it’s the opposite. Research conducted by Dr. Jasper Shealy, a professor emeritus at the Rochester Institute of Technology who has studied ski-related injuries for more than 30 years, found that skiers are three times more likely than snowboarders to be involved in a collision with other people. This is primarily because snowboarders tend to stop while skiers tend to slide down the mountain.

Of course, if you really want to play it safe, there’s always hot cocoa by the fire.

Stay on the Lookout
There’s nothing worse than an out-of-control skier, except an out-of-control skier hurtling down the mountain straight for you. So, always be aware of what’s happening on the trail above you. It’s much easier to maneuver away from a 30-mph-missile-on-skis than for that unfortunate soul to avoid you. And you’ll be able to alert the ski patrol and offer help, if needed.

Additionally, a few minutes in a ski shop before hitting the slopes can go a long way toward avoiding injury. A skilled technician will check your boots for proper fit and your bindings for the proper setting. Both can help you avoid injury.

Be sure to check out the Guide to Safe Scouting’s guidelines for winter sports safety:

JOSH PIVEN is co-author of the Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook series.


  1. Josh, this is a good article for its intent. However, I believe there is an oversight in the text. In paragraph 5, you state: “As you ski across the width of the trail, keep your arms forward, your knees bent, and your feet together as you shift your weight to the uphill ski, pressing its uphill edge into the mountain….” The DOWNHILL ski (not the uphill ski) is the weigh-bearing ski when traversing a slope. That is a fundamental that is taught in all ski schools from the beginning. Also, the slow traverse you describe is an intermediate maneuver. A beginner should just snow plow in the direction of a desired turn, with the ultimate purpose of getting under control, which is the subject of your article. Hope these comments are considered positively in the spirit of Scouting….

    • Have to agree with Josh here, traversing out is going to be the only hope, and should be a basic maneuver for anybody. Trying to snowplow down an expert run is flirting with death, I don’t care who you are. As for weighting the uphill ski, that is a good thought, as its easy to overload the downhill ski and have it wash out on an extreme steep. Best thing is to try to weight both skis equally, which indeed FEELS LIKE you are weighting the uphill ski.

  2. I disagree about skiers being more dangerous than boarders. I ski and every time I have been taken out its been from a snow boarder. I am not being biased here, I used to snowboard and have had snowboarders hit me even back them. Fortunately for most I am solid on my feet so crashing into me usually doesn’t take me out but I am weary of other boarders unless I see that they are in control and know what they are doing. I also know that there are bad apples in both disciplines. However, my experiences is skiers are generally more controlled and snowboarders, mainly the younger folk fly down the hill thinking they are all cool when in fact they are a reckless nightmare. This is just my experience but I think there tends to be more out of control boarders than skiers.

  3. ProTip. If you’re out of control on anything steep. DO NOT try and traverse the hill as suggested in this article. With any speed you can’t make a transition from straight down the hill to going sideways unless you’re a pretty advanced skier. A hockey stop is your best bet, most beginners should know this maneuver. If your scouts do not yet know the hockey stop, you should make sure to teach it to them as it is an essential skill to skiing.

    Also, if your skis are adjusted correctly they should NOT come off your feet then you make sudden movements. If that is happening you need to readjust your bindings. The only reason your skis should be popping off is if you’re taking falls or are a very new skier.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.