Can You Self-Arrest If Sliding Out of Control on Ice?

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by Kivi

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05.04.2024


GETTING A GRIP

If you fall. lose your skis and slide downhill out of control on an icy hardpack run, can you self-arrest? Or should you just hope for a strong safety net?

The YouTube video, below, recently caught my attention. It’s titled, ‘1100 metre piste slide with no skis (82Km/h)’. The description under the video contained a cautionary note from the free faller, who warned: ‘Be very careful on steep, icy slopes and learn how to self arrest!’.

This winter, I also found myself hurtling downhill on my butt, similar to this guy but not nearly as far. It was the first run in the morning, following rain the previous day with overnight freeze. Higher up the pistes were in great condition but then sheet ice on the last leg of a black run. I lost both skis ending up sliding at ever increasing speed and unable to stop.

THE SLIPPERY SLOPE

So I’m really keen to discover any tips on self-arresting for future icy incidents. Admittedly the only danger I really faced was ending up on Jerry of the Day, but it was scary to have absolutely no control on the slippery slope. I tried sliding to the side of the piste but that was as rock hard as an iceberg.

Braced 50m below me, was an ESF instructor crouching like a goalie preparing for the last penalty kick in the World Cup final, ready to try and arrest my fall but, fortunately, I came to a natural stop, where the piste levelled slightly.

FATAL FALLS

Although I laugh about my undignified descent, it’s an insight into the potential risks of skiing on icy terrain. For the more extreme mountain adventurers, there are too many tragic tales of fatalities because of frozen conditions. Only recently an experienced ski mountaineer, Monica Reginato from Castelfranco, slipped and fell 300m to her death in Northern Italy.

And embedded in my mind whenever I’ve skied La Grave, is how the legendary American skier Doug Coombes died  He was side-stepping down a steep couloir as his friend had slid over the edge on icy rocks, only for his skis to also slip, taking him over the fatal drop.

SO HOW DO YOU SELF-ARREST?

We can thank the super-slider in the video for not only having a GoPro on his helmet but also a GPS app on his watch to record his terrifyingly fast descent and inability to get a grip. Fortunately it had a relatively happy ending when he landed in the netting but it could have been so much worse.

His video has had nearly 7m views but it is entertaining rather than enlightening as there is no actual advice on how to self arrest. So I researched to find any useful tips on the internet and came across a few that suggested using your ice axe, digging it in to stop, which is all very well if you happen to be skiing with your ice axe in your hand. There is, also, the obvious advice to wear crampons when ski mountaineering but it’s not very helpful for when you’re descending.

SKI POLE TIP

There’s a useful tip from the video, below. The presenter shows how to stop by digging in the end of your ski pole. He explains how it’s necessary to place both hands around the pole near the basket and turn onto your front to dig it in, which is a great tip but when you’re careering down at over 50mph, it’s not going to be as easy as it sounds. He does admit that ‘there are limitations’.

There are more top tips on ski websites such to make sure you slide front side rather than on your back and never use your feet to try to stop (broken ankle alert). If possible dig in your knees and elbows to arrest your descent.

Good luck with that on sheet ice.

You might as well just cross your fingers that there is strong netting if there’s a bend with a drop. Better still, hope for in a burly ESF instructor to stop you in your icy tracks.





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