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Summer Skiing

By Murray Selleck - March 18th, 2002

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Summer skiing in the big mountains is wonderful and exciting. It blends the skills of mountaineering, climbing, backpacking, camping and skiing.

When To Go
Skiing the high routes of summer snow is all based on good timing. There is a small window of opportunity when the snow is still firm, the top layer has loosened just enough to set your edges against it but the snow hasn't yet crossed into the wet zone. If you are late and the snow has become "wet," it can become punchy and may be prone to slide. The best way to take advantage of this critical timing is to be at the top of your selected route early. Summer skiing is not for those who like to sleep in...

Hazards
Will this be your first summer snow? Go with a trusted experienced friend. Short of that, check local guidebooks for your area.

  • Avalanches. Avalanches occur every month of the year. Take avalanche courses ever chance you get. Be able to recognize their potential, evaluate the risks, and never let your guard down!
  • Cornices. These overhanging blocks of snow should always be avoided no matter what time of year it is. Whether they are big or small, cornices are inherently weak and can be deadly.
  • Rockfall. As they day warms and the snowpack loosens, rocks seem to release from nowhere and gravity runs its course. I've seen rocks come shooting past like they were spinning blades of a saw. If you happen to be unlucky enough to be its path, well, let's just say rockfall is a hazard. Always be aware of what is above and below you.
  • Blind ski routes. Always scout the route you are about to ski. If you can't see what is below you don't ski it. You can resist the effects of gravity to a point, go beyond that point, and you will no longer be skiing. I believe the term is called freefall and the consequences are grim.

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