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Skiing the Steeps: Pro Tips from Noah Howell

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The resort ski season may be winding down, but spring snowpack still clings to the upper heights of the Pfeifferhorn, Superior, Wolverine, and Coalpit. Spring can be prime time for hiking and booting up tall, steep lines with relatively low avalanche danger.

Steep season is the new spring season. And to commemorate, we caught up with notable local pro skier Noah Howell for a steep ski clinic. Howell has made quite a name for himself by billy-goating up dangerously high and remote mountains, then descending them with a level of grace unpossessed by most mortals. He’s skied darn near everywhere, adventures he documents on his blog, but he mainly calls the Wasatch home.

Over the course of a sunny afternoon on Mt. Millicent at Brighton, Howell shared a few of his go-to tips for sliding down things that scare you a little. Here are a few takeaways that just might help you up your game.

Lesson 1: Steep skiing is all in your head.

Howell advises starting where you're comfortable when it comes to skiing steeps.
Howell advises starting where you’re comfortable when it comes to skiing steeps.

Zach Dischner

“Steep skiing” can mean quite a few things, and it’s all relative. For some of us, it means staying in control on a narrow line inbounds. For other folks, it might mean a committed no-fall couloir in a faraway place where you have just your thoughts for company.

According to Howell, “Steep skiing is a mental game that you can push as far as you like. Most skiers have the ability to make the leap of faith into the air and finish the turn safely, but the mind will fight you.”

So how do you overcome those scary thoughts when you’re trying to push the limits a bit? “Start where you are comfortable and safely work out of that by choosing safe lines free of rocks and trees, with clean run-outs,” he says.

Lesson 2: Proper technique puts you in control.

Eli Littenberg demonstrates proper technique on the steeps.
Eli Littenberg demonstrates proper technique on the steeps.

Beth Lopez

At the top of a somewhat tight space between some small cliffs—not exposed, but good for practicing methodical, controlled hop turns—Noah demonstrated a helpful trick: shortening your ski poles a bit so they force you forward into an assertive stance, firmly in the driver’s seat.

He bounced in place a little before initiating his turn, then used his upward momentum to drive his ski pole downward and swivel around it. The result: a perfectly controlled turn within a narrow space, executed with near-McLeanean precision.

“Keep your hands out in front like you’re shooting pistols,” he explains. “The biggest mistake I make and see is letting the uphill hand trail behind. This will throw you into the back seat and take you off balance.”

After a couple of practice laps hop-turning down Milly, things started to gel. You can make a sloppy hop-turn (slop turn?) expending all your energy jumping upward and turning in the air, or you can make a tighter, more efficient turn in which you press down on your pole, unweight your skis, and simply swivel around.

“One of the best ways to learn, too, is to watch videos of people doing this well,” Howell says. “There are guys who just make it look effortless. Watch what they do, mimic what they do.”

That being said, he clarifies that steep skiing basically only looks pretty in movies, in which the best skiers’ best lines are edited together. “In real life, it’s survival and you just need to do what works to get down safely. Making it look good is just a bonus.”

Lesson 3: On high-stakes lines, everything matters more.

The author assesses the terrain.
The author assesses the terrain.

Beth Lopez

When you’re skiing steeps, every movement you make is more consequential, with less room for error. You’re often in mixed conditions where controlling each turn is critical and you’re forced to adapt as you go. And keeping your cool is critical.

“This is a huge aspect to steep skiing,” Howell says. “Breathing is key for me. It’s almost a meditation, telling the mind to settle down and letting the body do what it’s capable of. Confidence comes from lots of repetition and time spent working up to new levels. I also prepare mentally through visualization.”

But, speaking of scary, what’s the most gripped he’s ever been at the top of a line?

“When I was in Baffin Island, we climbed a 3,500-foot virgin couloir to ski,” he recalls. “We found six inches of snow on top of ice towards the top, but it felt like it would stick and we could descend it. I worked my way down first and al the snow peeled off the 50-degree slope. I was left with my edges barely gripping the ice. I sat there frozen, waiting to blow it at any minute and go hurtling down the chute to my death.

“For some reason, I was very calm and collected. My edges held, and I was able to slowly and cautiously side-step down 20 feet till I found good edge-able snow. My friend had to down-climb using crampons and ice tools. It wasn’t till afterward that I completely freaked out.”

A final lesson from that anecdote: Never be too proud to sidestep. (And always wear your helmet.) Study the moves of people who are better than you. And call your mom at the bottom of the run.

Written by Beth Lopez for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Zach Dischner

7 Excellent Spots for the Best Spring Skiing in North America

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With the arrival of warmer temperatures and a more laid-back atmosphere, spring skiing is a magical experience: costumed characters barreling down the slopes, sundeck moments toasting the fun at all-day après, and savoring that seasonal favorite of conditions, corn.

Whether you’re looking for family fun during a spring break with the kids or a spirited getaway with friends, here are seven spots in North America for the best spring skiing that deliver an experience to remember.

1. Best for Families: Park City Mountain, Utah

An easy drive from Salt Lake International Airport, Park City is a delightful resort that provides plenty of on- and off-slope fun for everyone in the family. Beginners and accomplished powder junkies will find options galore on the 7,300 skiable acres of terrain. Meanwhile, daycare and private and group lessons tiered to age and abilities (and starting at a wee three years old) help little ones and older kids build the confidence to develop skills, while giving mom and dad some time of their own on the slopes. When the lifts close, the village’s cozy restaurants keep the smiles going.

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One of the perks of spring skiing? Après that lasts all day, like the round-the-clock party at Mammoth.

Peter Morning/MMSA

2. Best for Foodies: Vail, Colorado

The magic doesn’t just happen on the slopes in this culinary savvy ski town: It’s also found in the 100-plus restaurants spanning all types of genres, from barbeque joints to international fusion. Longtime favorites like Sweet Basil are must-do spots, while newcomers including the Craftsman and Matsuhisa have kept up the city’s food scene on-trend and always relevant. For an even deeper dive into the town’s culinary roots, check out the annual Taste of Vail festival.

3. Best for Nightlife: Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia, Canada

Whistler Blackcomb is one of the world’s top resorts, as well as the largest in North America. But aside from its magnificent slopes, the village packs a punch when it comes to après-ski and nightlife. Its pedestrian-only alpine village is perfect for bar-hopping between classic watering holes like Merlin’s Bar and Grill, Garibaldi Lift Co. (known among locals as GLC), and Dubh Linn Gate Irish Pub, to the late-night club scene found at Maxx Fish, Tommy Africa’s, and in the underground at Garfunkel’s. And the Whistler World Ski & Snowboard Festival, which is scheduled from April 10 to 15 in 2018, all but guarantees as hard a party off the slopes as on.

4. Best for Breweries: Mount Bachelor, Oregon

This mighty peak and resort stands as a defining stratovolcano in the middle of Oregon, with a ton of fun skiable terrain and gorgeous views. And—a big plus for beer connoisseurs craving world-class pints for après refreshment—it’s a short drive from the brew mecca of Bend and its 19 breweries. From the iconic Deschutes Brewery to the hoppy creations of Boneyard Brewery, there’s something for everyone in this buzzy scene. Most breweries are open for tours, but Bend’s ale trail tours offer self-guided exploration of brewery stops—a justifiable reason for missing first chair the next day.

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Mammoth Mountain, California, is a favorite for springtime skiing and a prime spot to catch some rays while you hit the slopes.

Peter Morning/MMSA

5. Best for Park Riding: Mammoth Mountain, California

The Eastern Sierra Mountains in the spring are a delightful mix of snow, sun, and, at this SoCal favorite, an enticing array of terrain park features. The Unbound Terrain Parks of Mammoth have been built up on a ton of creativity and innovation that help to make them one of the best spots for terrain parks on the continent. Five parks, a 22-foot superpipe, and multiple jib and jump lines ensure you’ll discover something exciting to spice up your ski or snowboard chops. And you’ll have plenty of time to savor all this action, since Mammoth’s season stretches as far into the year as June.

6. Best for Hardcore Types: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Wyoming

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is infamous for Corbet’s Couloir—a double black diamond, 40-degree pitch that can be entered through tantalizing big air drops or through a steep, narrow slot. But if Corbet’s is a tad too ambitious, there are numerous other ways to test your mettle on the 54 black diamond runs and 21 double blacks that comprise about 50 percent of the resort’s terrain. From the Aerial Tram, you can witness many of these expert lines, from the couloirs off of Headwall to the classic side country off of Cody Peak.

7. Best for a Great Local Vibe: Arapahoe Basin, Colorado

Known as A-Basin among locals, this Rocky Mountain resort has some of the highest-elevation skiing in North America at 13,050 feet, as well as one of the longest seasons, from October through June. But beyond that, Arapahoe Basin has earned fame for its memorable tailgate experience. From March until closing day, the parking spots that line the resort transform into spirited shindigs, with resort goers sporting funky gear, onesies, and sometimes no shirts at all. BBQ’s, music, and ski-in ski-out service mean prime time for socializing and fun, both before and after hitting the slopes.

Written by Trevor Husted for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Peter Morning/MMSA

Spring Skiing Checklist: Are You Ready?

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For some skiers, spring is a tragic emergence of tulips and aspen leaf buds. In a fairer version of the universe, as they may see it, winter powder days would still be going strong. But other skiers embrace spring skiing as the last on-snow hurrah before summer sets in.

Spring skiing is its own particular art to master and enjoy. Go in with rookie moves, and you’ll trip all over yourself on the sticky snow and get a flashy red raccoon-eye sunburn. But approach the event with a few tricks up your sleeve, and you’ll be primed to give the last days of the ski season the respect the sport deserves. Here, a checklist to get you perfectly primed for spring skiing, in Salt Lake City and beyond.

1. Do you have a fresh coat of wax on your sticks? (And more in your bag?)

And if you don’t, do you like the awkward start’n’stop of hitting warm slush pockets? Nobody likes that. So hit up your local ski shop and request a warm-weather wax job, and at the checkout counter, make like a smartypants and buy a little container of rub-on wax to keep in your pack or car.

2. Do you have sunscreen—the good stuff?

So here’s the scoop: If you live, work, and play among fellow ski bums, a goggle tan is totally unremarkable. If you have a day job or associate with more cleanly groomed, nine-to-five humans, you’ll be asked about your goggle tan about 27 times per day. So unless you want every coworker and bank clerk to say “Gee, been skiing?”, just keep your fair-skinned mug unburnt and un-racooned. Keep high-SPF sunscreen in your pocket and refresh regularly.

3. Are you dressed for the occasion?

Many folks seek attention (and get sunburns in unmentionable places) by skiing underdressed or even in their birthday suits. Great for funny photos, but horrible when you inevitably crash. (Someone inexperienced enough to ski in a bikini or shorts probably also doesn’t have spring wax on their skis.)

Spare yourself the indignity of grating all the skin off your backside when you fall, and choose an ensemble that covers your skin but perhaps has a dash of seasonally appropriate flair, like a funny shirt or tutu. Then trade your beanie for a ballcap, and you’re ready to go.

4. Have you adequately researched on-snow beer-toting methods?

‘Tis the season to swap your Thermos of hot toddy for a nice cold tall boy. A small backpack or oversized coat pockets will do just fine for carrying a PBR for yourself, plus one for the most attractive person you share a lift ride with during the day. With a little smidge of booze in your system, you can forget that powder and corn really aren’t quite the same thing.

5. Have you adjusted your ski schedule from mid-day to early-bird?

Spring snow is a fickle, shape-shifting temptress. First thing in the morning, you’ll carve pleasant, fast corduroy. Then you hit a brief window of consistent corn snow, now softened from its overnight freeze. Then, the fun ends abruptly when temps heat up just enough for the slushmonster to come out and stop everyone’s skis in their tracks. This is when everyone goes in for lunch … then never goes back out.

So don’t show up at the resort at your usual post-brunch hour. That’s a quick recipe for missing the fun boat. Show up for first chair and enjoy the corduroy and corn, then transition to tailgate mode.

6. Have you selected a suitable party posse?

Since spring days are a little light on quality skiing and heavier on the social and sunshine aspects, you’ll want to choose the right people to spend the day with. Your spring ski posse doesn’t have to shred hard as much as they need to be fun to giggle and throw slushballs with.

7. Is your vehicle prepped for parking lot shenanigans?

Spring calls for the two-hour ski day and four-hour tailgate program. At many resort parking lots and base areas, this means you’ll want to come ready with a portable barbecue, grillables, a cooler full of drinks, camp chairs, and snacks. Bonfire supplies would not be inappropriate.

It’s hard to top a premium winter powder day. But if winter insists on going away each year, you may as well give it a hell of a sendoff.

Written by Beth Lopez for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by flexrider