Almost all skiers will encounter icy snow conditions at some time or other. The snow
that falls in ski areas that are at low altitudes is normally very moist and this snow
easily turns icy when the temperature drops below freezing. The same is true of machine
made snow. In the springtime, high altitude slopes that catch the hot afternoon sun
thaw and then freeze during the cold nights. These western or southwestern facing slopes
(northwestern in the southern hemisphere) are usually still frozen the next morning.
Should there be rain followed by the temperature dropping below freezing, the entire
mountain may be icy. So it very useful to learn how to ski on these icy ski runs.
2 Key Points
The 2 key points for skiing ice in control are to have ‘very sharp ski edges’ so that the
skis will grip on the ice and not slip away and a good ‘ice’ body position.
I would recommend that if you think that you might encounter icy runs during your ski holiday
you have your edges sharpened. (It’s a good idea to always keep your ski edges sharp). Most ski
shops have excellent machines to do that. To have a good ‘ice’ body position, spread your skis apart,
lower your hips more than you would normally do when skiing good snow conditions and lean your
upper body down the fall-line, leaning over your downhill ski and slightly forward so that you have
just about all your weight over that lower ski. Hold your arms out in front of you and lower them – this
helps keep your weight forward. If you are in a good ‘ice’ body position you should be
able to lift the tail of your uphill ski off the snow.
When you are skiing on the icy runs roll your feet and ankles up the hill so that the
skis are firmly on their edges. As you complete your turns don’t ride the edges too
long; rather make quick, dynamic movements – not abrupt, but dynamic – as you push from
edge to edge. It’s important that you try to ski smoothly as you transfer your weight so
that the skis don’t slip away. At all times keep your chest facing towards the fall-
A common fault of skiers on ice is over-edging their skis, i.e., rolling their feet and
ankles too far uphill. This creates too sharp an edge angle which can result in the skis
losing their grip and slipping out from under the skier.
- The best body position for controlling your skis on ice depends on the type of skis
that you have (different skis have different sidecuts, widths and cambers), the length
of the skis and your height and body-weight distribution. I would recommend practicing
traversing and turning on an easy icy slope, angling your lower body and leaning your
upper body in various ways so that you are pressing down on different places along the
ski edges until you find which position gives you the best grip.
- If you encounter a small icy patch with good snow on the other side, immediately
assume the ice position and sideslip across the ice towards the good snow where you can
either turn or stop. The one thing NOT to do when you encounter ice is lean uphill!
- When you spread your skis apart to have better stability you have to be careful to
not spread them too far apart, making it difficult to keep your weight over your
downhill ski without resorting to using too much angling of your lower body and too much
upper body lean.
- I’ve found that the best type of turn to use for skiing on ice is the short-radius
turn. Medium and large-radius turns require holding the edge grip for longer periods,
which is more difficult to do on ice.