How To Ski Steep Slopes: The Comprehensive Guide

Last Updated on March 20, 2021 by James

Skiing steeps is a skill that holds great importance.

If you really want to the use the mountain to its full potential, then the ability to effectively ski steep terrain is fundamental.

It’s common to see the technique of many skiers fall apart when they reach steeper sections of the slope. This can be due to many factors, the most notable of which are technical deficiencies and fear.

In this article, qualified Ski Instructor James gives all the advice you need to help you take your steep slope skiing to the next level.

If you want to be skiing steep terrain with freedom (instead of fear!), then let’s jump in!

How To Ski Steep Slopes
Learn From Us and You Will Be Skiing Steep Slopes Like This In No Time!

What Is A Steep Ski Slope?

The term ‘steep slope’ can be a very subjective term. The perspective of slope ‘steepness’ can be completely different, based on the ability level of each individual skier.

If it’s your first day skiing, even the beginner slope is going to look steep!

Beginner Ski Slope
Even This Slope Might Feel Steep For A Beginner!

However, within the skiing world, we do have some rough parameters of what is commonly defined as steep.

On average, black ski slopes are usually around 35 degrees. This is usually the starting point for anyone who is basing their technique around skiing steep terrain.

However, many ‘intermediately’ experienced skiers will usually start to feel ‘steep scared’ when reaching any slope above 30 degrees. This is around the gradient of the average red slope.

Red Ski Slope
The Average Red Slope Can Be Challenging For Many

If you are pushing into the highest levels of ski ability, anything above 40 degrees is going to start to pose a serious challenge to your steep skiing technique.

Whether you consider yourself intermediate, advanced or expert; improving the technical skills used in steep skiing can help you to enjoy the slopes you used to dread!

The Aim When Skiing Steep Slopes

When you are skiing anything steep, the aim is exactly the same as on any other slope on the mountain…

Control speed and line whilst maintaining posture and balance. Share on X

However, if the terrain gets steeper, producing these outcomes can become more challenging.

Skier Going Down A Steep Slope
Maintaining Good Technique Is Much More Challenging When It’s Steep

Posture And Balance

If you are looking to be able to produce effective steep slope skiing, correct posture and balance are the pre-requisites to controlling speed and line.

Put Simply: If you have poor posture and balance, you won’t have sufficient control of your skis.

Although posture and balance are closely linked, they can be viewed as two separate areas of improvement. Let’s take a look at both of these strands and discuss the required technique.

Posture

The importance of posture takes precedent in your first ski lesson and never loses its relevance. The correct skiing posture should not change from the one you learned during your first day skiing.

Keep Your Weight On The Balls Of Your Feet

The correct skiing posture requires you to remain balanced over the centre of the skis.

Your weight should remain on the ‘balls of your feet’, as this is where the centre of the ski is located.

Keeping your weight on the balls of your feet is crucial to remaining balanced on your skis. If your weight falls towards the back of your foot, you will be leaning back too far, making it exceptionally difficult to control your skis.

Ski Turn
Keep Your Weight Over The Middle Of The Skis

Balance With Your Whole Body

Additionally, it’s important to keep your body in a stable ‘ready position’ over the middle of the skis. This means all of your skiing joints (ankles, knees and hips) are ‘flexed’ (soft).

When you are at optimum posture, you should feel like you are maintaining a relaxed position. You should not feel stiffness in any of your muscles or joints.

Keeping your skiing joints flexed allows them to be used as ‘shock absorbers’. This also allows you to maintain an agile ski position.

Skiing Down A Steep Ski Slope
Allow Your Skiing Joints To Remain Loose

Lead With Your Hands

Another important (and sometimes overlooked) part of good posture is hand positioning.

When you’re skiing steep slopes, it’s important to keep your hands in front of you. This is a great aid in keeping your upper body moving down the hill, rather than falling behind the skis.

Keep your arms outstretched, but relaxed. There should still be a bend in your elbow.

If your hands are in the correct position, you will be able to pole plant using only your wrist. If you need to reach forwards with your arm or shoulder, your hands are too far back.

Look Where You’re Heading

When you’re skiing, it’s important to look where you’re going. Sounds simple, right?!?!

However, when skiing steep slopes, fear can often leave skiers staring down at their feet. This often leads to poor control of balance.

Keep yourself looking ahead and in the direction you are travelling.

Looking where you’re going is especially important if you don’t like crashing into other skiers!

Downhill Skiing
Look Where You Are Going!

Balance

Balance is something that is greatly affected by posture. However, it’s also not possible to achieve good posture if you are not maintaining balance.

When you are skiing steep slopes, there are adjustments you need to make to achieve good balance. Furthermore, you need to maintain balance in order to achieve the ski technique required for skiing steeps.

Skidding On Skis
Keeping Your Balance Is A Crucial Part Of Skiing Steep Slopes

Fore/Aft Balance

Forwards/Backwards balance is one of the most important elements of effective steep slope skiing.

When we talk about using fore/aft to balance, we are referring to keeping yourself balanced over both your skis and the slope.

This means that your body should remain at a 90-degree angle to the slope you’re skiing. You should be adjusting your balance to match the angle of the slope you’re skiing.

When skiing steep slopes, it’s important to focus on using your balance to remain positioned over the centre of the skis. If you don’t move forwards with the increasingly steep terrain, you will be leaning back.

Rotational Separation

When skiing steep slopes, you will be looking to complete ‘short, quick’ turns in order to control your speed. Keeping your upper body stable and facing down the hill is important when using short turns on a steep slope.

Keeping your upper body facing forward will allow the skis to turn faster. It also helps to keep your upper body balanced, which it won’t be if it’s twisting from side-to-side.

Steep Off-Piste Ski Slope
Keep Your Upper Body Facing Down The Slope

Weight On Your Outside Ski

Appropriate shifting of your weight across the skis is a vital part of skiing. The weight distribution techniques used in basic parallel skiing become even more important when you ski steep slopes.

It’s important to finish the turn with your weight balanced over the outside (or ‘working/downhill’) ski.

Remember: It’s the inside edge of the outside ski that will best grip to the snow.

Applying pressure to the outside ski will allow the ski to grip through the final stages of the turn to finish facing across the slope. This is especially important when speed control is the main goal.

Lifting The Inside Foot While Skiing
Lifting Your Inside Foot Is A Good Outside Ski Balancing Practice Exercise

Pole Planting Improves Balance

Using an effective pole plant is an important part of steep slope skiing.

When used correctly, a positive pole plant will aid you it remaining balanced over the centre of the skis. Keeping your upper body moving down the slope, pole planting is often an underrated tool when it comes to many aspects of skiing.

Furthermore, pole planting will help you to maintain rotational separation by keeping your upper body facing down the slope. This helps to improve upper body balance and stability.

Tactical Speed And Line Choice

Control of speed and line are essential to all elements of skiing. In fact, controlling speed and line is the most important part of skiing.

You want to be able to control where you go and how fast you get there…simple!

When you’re skiing, the line you choose will directly affect the speed at which you are travelling. In this instance, line refers to the type/size of the turn you will use.

 Additionally, there are also some speed control techniques you can use to maintain a consistent performance.

View From the Top Of A Steep Ski Slope
Be Tactical In Your Route Planning!

Turn Size And Shape

In skiing, turning is not only used to change direction, it’s also used to control your speed.

Skiing steep slopes requires a turn shape that best helps lower your speed. The type of turn required to control speed is a short turn.

If you keep your turns short, the skis will not be pointing down the slope for too long. This shortens the ‘middle’ portion of the turn, meaning the skis spend more time facing across the slope. This will keep your speed under control.

Skis Pointing Across A Slope
Get Your Skis To Point Across The Slope At The End Of The Turn

Initiating Your Steep Slope Short Turn

Due to the necessity for a short and quick turn, it’s likely that you will need to use rotation to best steer the skis through the first portion of the turn.

Rotating the skis allows you to turn the skis faster than relying on applying pressure to the ski edge (carving).

If the slope is especially steep, or the snow is particularly heavy/bumpy; many skiers choose to ‘hop’ between turns. This means that you will initiate the turn in the air.

Releasing the skis from the snow can allow for quicker rotation of the skis, making your turn initiation faster.

Remember: Rotating the skis faster through the beginning of the turn will make it easier to control your speed.

Skier Completing A Turn
Keep The First Half Of The Turn Quick In Order To Maintain Control

Finishing Your Steep Slope Short Turn

Through the second half of the turn, you should be looking to apply additional pressure to your outside ski (working ski). This pressure will allow the ski to grip the snow and push through the final portion of the turn.

The aim of speed control is to finish the turn with the skis pointing across the slope. You should balance your weight on the outside ski until you finish the turn.

When the edge of the ski grips to the snow, you can expect the ski to accelerate. This is especially true when it’s steep.

If the skis are accelerating too quickly, you can use more rotation (and therefore ‘skid’) to keep the skis under control.

It’s important to keep your posture and balance centred over the skis. If the skis accelerate too quickly through the turn, you’re likely to lean backwards.

Using Steep Slope Speed Control Techniques

If you are skiing a steep slope, you are always aiming for your turns to match the technical ability that you are capable of on shallower terrain.

However, sometimes it’s necessary to use extra methods of speed control.

Skiing steep slopes can often be challenging and requires a blend of speed control techniques.

Skier At The Top Of A Challenging Slope
Steep Slopes Can Be Very Challenging!

Speed Checking

Speed ‘checking’ is a technique you can use to quickly reduce speed in multiple different situations. Especially on steep slopes.

Speed checking involves quickly rotating your skis to face completely across the hill, whilst you are still travelling forwards. With the skis facing across the direction of travel, they will work to quickly reduce your speed.

When performing a speed check, your upper body should continue to face down the slope. This will help you to remain balanced, while also keeping you facing in the direction of travel.

Speed Checking On The Slope
Speed Checking Is One Option To Quickly Decrease Speed

Skidding

‘Skidding’ is a speed control technique that can be used at any point throughout your turn to lower speed. Skidding involves allowing the skis to slide ‘sideways’ throughout the turn, rather than maintain edge grip.

If you are using quick ski rotation to produce a short turn, it’s likely that you will naturally use some skid.

Usually, skidding will predominantly be used at the beginning of the turn. This is when ski rotation is at its peak, which often causes skid.

When your ability increases, you will find you rely less on skid to control speed. However, it’s certainly a good option to maintain control when skiing steep slopes.

Advancing Your Steep Skiing Performance

Usually, you will find that your skiing during the steep slope ‘learning phase’ involves a lot of skidding and quick rotation.

This is an effective way to gain control of your skis and ski steep slopes safely. However, it is not the best way to achieve maximum performance.

Getting Ski Grip Earlier In The Turn

Gaining performance relates to edging the skis around the turn to complete a ‘rounded’ and ‘gripping’ arc.

Let the ski edges cut through the snow to take you along a natural, rounded turn. Share on X

This is the same technique that is used during advanced parallel turning, dynamic parallel turns and carving. However, it’s more difficult to achieve when applying it to a short turn on steep terrain.

Skier Completing A Dynamic Parallel Turn
We Can Take Some Of The Skills Uses In Dynamic Parallel Skiing

When improving the performance of your steep slope turns, you should be aiming to make the ski grip earlier in the turn arc.

In order to achieve earlier edge grip, focus on balancing on the outside ski earlier in the turn. This will apply enough pressure to allow for the ski to cut a rounded turn shape.

When aiming for high performance, you should be aiming for a ‘C’ shaped turn (rather than a ‘Z’ shaped turn).

Managing The Increased Pressure

When we are increasing the performance, and therefore speed of the turn, the amount of pressure build up is also increased.

When skiing steep slopes, pressure build up is usually very high.

Essentially, you are accelerating and decelerating faster around each turn. In order to maintain balance, this pressure needs to be controlled.

The best way to manage pressure throughout the turn is through vertical movements. This means extending up into the turn, flexing downwards through the end of the turn.

Skier Completing A Turn
Flex And Absorb The Pressure
Vertical movements allow you to act like a ‘spring’, absorbing and releasing the forces acting upon you. Share on X

Vertical movements are an important part of ski performance, especially when you are skiing steep slopes.

How To Overcome Fear Of Steep Slopes

Many of the barriers you will face when trying to improve steep slope skiing are mental.

In fact, if you are new to skiing steep terrain, the most common performance issue is psychological – not technical.

If you are skiing steep slopes with fear, it can easily lead to a ‘vicious cycle’.

Vicious Cycle: Fear = Poor Technique = Mistake = More Fear…

Ski Resort Slope
If You Have Fear, It Will Affect Your Skiing!

Skiing steep slopes without confidence often leads to one of the most common technical mistakes; leaning back too much.

In order to achieve good technique, you first need to be confident in your ability to descend the terrain you’re skiing. Therefore, it’s important to increase the terrain difficulty gradually to maintain your confidence.

You should always make sure you have mastered the required technique on terrain you’re comfortable with before trying to increase the difficulty.

There is no ‘magic formula’ to take away fear. However, mastering in your technique on shallower terrain will go a long way to helping you ski steep slopes with confidence.

Shallow Ski Slope
Perfect Your Technique On Shallow Terrain First!

How To Ski Steep Icy Slopes

Many skiers find that steep slopes are one of the most daunting parts of the mountain. When coupled with ice, they can become a nightmare for many!

However, with the right technique, you can start to relish the challenge.

The main aim when skiing steep icy slopes is to keep your centre of mass over the skis. This means if your skis ‘slip’ on the ice, you will slide with them.

Steep Icy Slope
Steep Slopes In The Morning Can Be Hard Packed And Icy

In order to achieve improved balance on the ice, it’s important to bring your balance and weight firmly over the outside (downhill) ski. This is the ski that’s predominantly ‘working’ during the turn.

Balancing on the outside ski will not only maintain your balance, but also improve edge grip. The added pressure of your weight will help the edge of your ski to cut into the ice.

Working with this combination of pressure and balance will help to keep the skis underneath you, whilst also increasing the grip you can get from the skis.

How To Ski Steep Narrow Chutes

Steep and narrow chutes are a problem for many skiers. They require the ability to produce a very short turn in order to control your speed.

In order to ski steep narrow chutes with control, you need to make sure that your ski’s finish each turn facing across the slope. This means you are aiming for a ‘C’ shaped turn, not an ‘S’ shaped turn.

If you are unable to produce a rounded gripping short turn, increase the amount of rotation you use to make sure the skis are turned across the slope quickly. The longer your skis face down the slope, the faster you will go.

Often, steep narrow chutes are cut through forest and are lined with trees. This can prove to be an additional psychological challenge, with the fear of skiing into the trees affecting the path you choose.

Steep Narrow Chute, Lined With Trees
Steep Narrow Chutes Are Often Lined With Trees

Many people try to avoid the trees by choosing a very narrow line down the middle of the chute. This makes the required turn size even shorter (and therefore more challenging!).

Try to use the whole width of the chute, which will allow you more space to turn the skis across the slope and control your speed.

Before you attempt any steep narrow chutes, make sure you are able to complete short turns within a small corridor. Accomplishing the required turns on a less challenging slope will give you the skills required to tackle narrower terrain.

Steep Narrow Chute
Steep Narrow Chutes Require Turns In A Small ‘Corridor’

How To Ski Steep Powder

Once you have mastered skiing steep slopes, it might be time to head off-piste. If you are skiing powder, it’s likely that the slope will be steep.

Steep powder slopes require a completely different approach than hard packed snow.

One key difference is that the deep snow will naturally act as a buffer, working to slow you down. This means that instead of completing a ‘C’ shaped turn, you will be completing an ‘S’ shaped turn.

When skiing steep power; instead of trying to control speed, you are trying to maintain speed.

Skier Skiing Steep Powder Slope
On Steep Powder Slopes, You Need To Maintain Speed!

Another key difference is that you should be distributing your weight evenly across both skis (rather than on the outside ski). This allows the skis to act as a ‘platform’, stopping you from sinking too far into the snow.

Skiing steep powder slopes will also require you to use a lot of vertical movement. ‘Bouncing’ the skis out of the snow to release them is often the best way to rotate them around the turn.

Skiing steep powder slopes is a fantastic part of skiing that ultimately requires its own unique skill set. Click here to get our best advice on how to ski powder like a pro!

Steep Powder Slope
Click Here To Get Read Our Powder Skiing Tips!

How To Ski Steep Trees

If you are heading beyond the pistes, you will often find that many of the steep slopes contain tree lines.

If you’re an expert skier, this might be your dream. If you’re an up and coming intermediate, this could be your nightmare!

Skiing steep trees requires a blend of many different skills. The most notable of which is the ability to perform fast, short turns.

Skiing steep slopes with trees require you to focus on controlling speed and picking an appropriate line. Both of these require the ability to produce short turns.

Steep Tree Skiing Slope
Steep Trees Are Fun, Providing You Have The Ability!

Additionally, you will need to use a combination of speed control techniques within the trees.

Speed control is an important factor when skiing steep trees, as it’s common to have sections where you don’t have space to complete a turn. In these instances, speed checking and skidding can become vital techniques in order to achieve control.

Steep tree skiing requires a varied skill-set and is certainly one of the most challenging terrains on the mountain. It’s advisable to make sure you have mastered your steep skiing and off-piste skills before you head into the trees!

Summary

Steep slopes strike fear into so many skiers. However, they are a vital part of the mountain.

If you can improve your technique on the steeps, it can certainly take your skiing to the next level.

Once you have mastered the steeps, a whole mountain of opportunities awaits you.


What is your experience of skiing steeps? What’s your best advice for anyone wanting to improve on the steeps? Leave a comment and let us know!

2 thoughts on “How To Ski Steep Slopes: The Comprehensive Guide”

  1. Constant practice using pivot slips and getting to a flat ski helped me understand that I could always control my speed no matter how steep the terrain. Also falling leaf exercises help me understand how to move forward and aft and how to skid diagonally or straight down a pitch that slows motion for total mobility in trees and in getting around obstacles such as rocks. I learned at Big Sky Montana

Comments are closed.