How to get up in deep powder

I’m a Telemark skier. I started in university because the gear was cheap, and I was poor. Also, being poor, I did not have enough money for a ski pass, so I learned to ski in the backcountry. For me it was always about travelling in the backcountry – an obvious extension of hiking in the summer. Similarly, mountaineering for me has always been about just moving through the wilderness. When the wilderness gets rocky, icy or vertical, you learn the techniques for travelling there.

However, learning how to telemark, especially in the backcountry, is a trial by fire and ice. And it involves falling down. A lot.

After the first few years of falling down in deep powder (or various other deep, soft snow conditions) I came up with the following rules:

  • Don’t fall down.
  • Never try to stop a fall with your hands.
  • If you fall down, try to roll over so your skis are downhill. This is in fact easier than it sounds.

Here on the coast we get lots of snow. Meters of it. Since your heels are not connected to the skis when telemark skiing, a fall can sometimes leave you in the panicky situation of being head down in the snow with your pack on top, and your legs twisted around somewhere uphill.

Also because your heels are not connected, the skis tend to rotate in strange ways, sometimes driving the tails of the skis into the snow. This makes it even more difficult to get up (a discussion on why one would choose telemark given all these difficulties is left for another entry).

If the snow is not deep, you just struggle your way around until your skis are downhill. Make sure they are perpendicular to the fall line. Of course if the skis are well and truly stuck, you’ll have to take them off. At the first sign of trouble, take your pack off; thrashing with the pack on is exhausting and injury prone for your back.

You can’t use your hands to press on the snow because they will just sink in (it’s common to have 50cm or more of newish snow). So you take your poles, and use those to distribute the weight. Push down and work your centre of gravity over your skis, and stand up.

For deeper or lighter snow, even the poles don’t work. In this case, take off your skis and use them. If all else fails, use the pack as a platform.

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