The first rule of skiing steeps: Don’t take off your skis. I was 11 years old and I still remember the name of the trail at Big Sky, Montana: Snake Pit. My family was on its first Western ski trip. I wanted to outperform my brothers, so I suggested this steep, rocky glade. Two turns in, panic struck. I inexplicably took off my skis, stacked them across my arms like firewood, stepped downhill, and slipped. I tumbled down hundreds of vertical feet, somersaulted, slammed my knee into a stump, and screamed like a dying rabbit. My parents consoled me by buying me a black-diamond Snake Pit pin from a Big Sky gift shop that I promptly stuck on my school backpack.
The second rule of skiing steeps: Know how to self-arrest. And know that self-arresting is difficult without your skis on. When you fall, you’ll most likely be on your side. If you’re not, twist yourself around so your skis are perpendicular to the fall line. If you fall headfirst, roll over so your skis end up downhill, below your body. Now dig your ski edges into the slope as hard as you can to stop. If you lose your skis midtumble, kick hard with the toes of your boots and claw with your hands until you create enough friction to stop.
The third rule of skiing steeps: In order to prevent a dangerous collision with trees or rocks, scope out your line carefully before you drop in. Note the locations of dangerous features such as cliff bands, trees, and lift towers so you have a clean run-out if you fall. Find your line and follow it to the bottom. And whatever you do, don’t panic the way I did. All you’ll end up with is a banged-up knee and a lousy pin.