Ski a Spine with Seth Morrison

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Fitness
Ski a Spine

STEP 1: GO HUNTING

Flutes and spines are formed when sloughed-out snow builds up on rocky ridges or where the terrain naturally funnels into a V. They're most common on monster faces in Alaska and BC, but you can find them on any big backcountry peak.

STEP 2: LINE UP

As you drop onto the spine, make quick, controlled turns to get a feel for the snow. Your line will have two aspects, which means it could be sunbaked on one side and blower powder on the other. Stay light on your feet as you float from side to side.

STEP 3: MANAGE SLOUGH

Spines generate a lot of slough (loose snow avalanches), so keep your speed up-or risk getting taken out. Slough follows the fall line, and you've got two fall lines to deal with. Stay high and you give yourself the option to either stop and look around or hang tight while your slough blows past.

Quick Tip:

If you do punch through the slough spray, you'll be blinded for a second. Stick with it. Then, like in "Days of Thunder," out you some into full vision again. Nothing matches that.

STEP 4: WATCH FOR ROCKS

Because spines are created from snow building up on rocks, they tend to have thinner coverage than other parts of the mountain. Hitting rocks is common, but avy hazard is lower here since most of the snow sloughs off these high points during a storm.

STEP 5: DIAL YOUR EXIT

As you exit the spine, take another quick look and make sure you can outski your slough. If it's right on top of you, let it pass, but if it's way back there (or in front of you) point 'em hard and ski for glory.

FEBRUARY 2006