Icy, fast downhills can be dangerous

We’re all excited and anxious to go skiing, but it’s important to have good conditions and trails which are safe. Right now the weather is not co-operating, so be very careful about the trails on which you ski. If you’re determined to ski in marginal conditions, there is no shame in removing your skis and walking over a sketchy section of trail.

Thanks to Peter Haase for this report, and let it be a cautionary tale to everyone…

“On Tuesday my wife and I skied Elk Pass and she skied out Trywhitt and Whiskey Jack.  Conditions were rather icy and the trail could use more snow and some grooming.  Earlier in the day we meet a group of older skiers (like us) on the trail. 

Later in the day my wife encountered the same group with one skier having fallen on one of the steeper downhills of Whiskey Jack and having suffered what appears to be a severe break of one of his legs. 

The trail was very icy and fast.  The group had moved the skier off the trail, had him wrapped in a space blanket and one member was sent off to summon the SAR team as there was no cell phone coverage in the area.  We met the SAR team heading off with Ski-doos at the Boulton Parking area about an hour after the incident. 

The lesson here is that conditions are quite icy and accidents can happen at any time.  The group seemed well equipped with warm clothing and some safety gear.  They did not have a way of communicating and as I was coming down a shorter route from the pass, I was carrying the InReach, so I could not help.  But would have this been faster that someone did by skiing out and driving to find the Rangers. 

I often see skiers who have nothing more than a little bum bag with a water bottle and Powerbar and no extra clothing or safety gear.  Luckily it was not to cold on Tuesday, but having to wait an hour or several hours for rescue could be very uncomfortable or dangerous.  Carry some extra clothing, some safety gear and a way of communicating such as an InReach or a Spot if possible.  PS, when my wife asked if they needed any more help, the skier asked her for Whisky, which she could not provide at the time.”

Be sure not to overestimate your ability when planning your trip: Humility can be a life saver. 

On the main menu, under the Resources tab, there is a heading entitled “What’s in your pack.” The comments on this article offer many good suggestions for what you should carry with you. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Ah sorry I read your comment too quckly. Agreed it’s great for aging joints and chronic injuries and I’d use it in a pinch for an acute injury if I had no acetominophen.
    Thanks for clarifying.

  2. Interesting as I was coming down whiskey jack alone this afternoon and was thinking I should get a pair of metal edge touring skis for situations like this. Also I do have an inreach but didn’t bring it with me as I tend to have it for backcountry trips, but that also crossed my mind. It was a great day and the trails are holding up but more snow is required.

  3. You do not need metal edges (this accident proved that). You need focus, determination and sheer fuc… sorry, and braking. Lots of braking. Lower your speed to safe value every time when going downhill first time of the day in every potentially dangerous location, try it first. It’s never the same it was yesterday.
    Edges may not help in some situations and make you dangerously overconfident (hello mr. democracy) but low speed always works.


      Hi Igor,

      From my 50 plus years of skiing experience, I have never found metal edges not to help in any snow or ice condition- provided the edges are sharp. It is just common sense that metal edges are superior to plastic edges on steep downhills. After all you can not sharpen plastic edges so they cut your fingers or ice. I would be happy to a ski challenge to prove that. I have never met anyone that can keep up to me on steep winding downhills with plastic ski edges.

      I do agree with you that skiers need absolute focus going down hills and to lower their speed to a safe “value”. It all comes down to skiing according to your ability, your equipment capabilities and skiing in absolute control. This is a part of the skiers responsibility code.

      Chit happens and thankfully Ed was prepared for such an accident, other than maybe lacking whiskey to kill the pain.

      • “..use those metal edges on the snow. As an advanced xc skier..”
        “..I’m an experienced skier with quality gear, including metal edges..”
        “..keep up to me …Chit happens..”

        Mkay 🙂
        I wrote for someone, who may learn from others mistakes, sorry for mentioning, it was just for an example.

  4. As MaSid says Vitamin I, along with a first aide kit.
    We carry that and down jackets, extra gloves and mitts, toque, buff, Warmup pants or wind pants. when out of Cell phone range (K Country ),I carry an InReach and a VHF radio.
    Most of this sits all season long in my pack.

  5. Hi Bob:
    Have enjoyed your site for years. Good work
    I’m the skier referred to in that post, waiting for surgery in Foothills to repair a fractured ankle.
    My group was well prepared and did a fabulous job. I’m proud of them all. I was kept cosy until the toboggan arrived.
    I’m an experienced skier with quality gear, including metal edges. This was a moment of inattention on a hill that I usually do easily, icy or not.
    Just thought you might want to know.

    • Hi Ed, thanks for the update. I’m sad to hear about your injury and I hope you get your ankle surgery in a timely manner along with a speedy recovery. It sounds like your group was well-prepared and did everything right. All the best!

    • Sorry to hear about the accident. Hopefully you’ll heal quickly and be back out on skis again before the end of the season.

  6. While I would usually prefer to be on my regular light and fast xc ski setup- also having a pair of metal edged light touring skis for those conditions can be invaluable. Even better is pairing those metal edged skis with the more supportive NNN-BC boot and binding, if you can afford to run two systems. A bonus is that this sets you up for off the groomed trail exploration as well.
    And- ditto to Peter’s comments about being prepared- it sounds like this group was.


    I really urge people to ski on safer, better controllable, metal edge cross country (xc) skis and know how to use those metal edges on the snow. As an advanced xc skier, that is all I ski on although with my ability level I could ski on faster plastic skis. Being an expert downhill skier, I just hate the feeling of unsafe plastic ski edges. Metal edges allow for more safe hardcore ski fun.

    As I do not wish to have hundreds of dollars in skiing assets sitting around doing nothing for most of the year, I find metal edge xc skis to be the best all around alternative if you just want one pair of good xc skis. Metal edges allow you to carve up the icy slopes at a superior level as compared to dangerous plastic edged skis that can not carve into hard or icy snow.

    If you want a faster pair of metal edge xc skis, buy the most narrow pair available with a high camber, like the Madshus Fjelltech M44 skis available at Norseman or Life Sport. If you can find even more narrow metal edge xc skis, buy them for the speed and let the Skier Bob nation know where you got them from.

    With metal edge skis I do not have to worry about what kind of snow conditions exist on the ski trails if I happened to forget to check out the ski conditions on Skier Bob. That is a big bonus which allows for overall better and safer skiing days.

    Metal edge skis allow me to travel at any speed I wish. If I want to go 100 kilometers per hour down a hill in a tuck position, I will knowing I can stop quickly with metal edge skis, pretty much similar to my downhill skis. On groomed trails or hard smooth spring snow conditions, I can also cut turns similar to slalom downhill skiers.

    Also metal edge skis extend your ski season. When people pack in the XC skiing in spring because of hard spring snow conditions, metal edge skiers can keep on skiing with safety. This is the time of year when metal edges really shine. Just look for smooth hard spring snow conditions, which are often best off trails in the higher country.

    If you are not a good XC skier, it is a good idea to take lessons on how to become a better skier. Also, you can take your cross country skis to downhill ski hills to practice turns, snowplowing and stopping. You will need safety straps on your skis to meet the ski hill standards for run away skis though. Good ski shops can help you with that.

    It would be a good idea for a section on this website to promote XC ski lessons to encourage more safety on the slopes. There seems to be a few too many accidents occurring out there as the above story suggests.

    Ski or die (- an old hard core extreme skier saying- if you crash then their is potential for death from smashing your head into a rock or tree or getting taken out by an avalanche).

    Keep your ski bases on the snow and your ski tips up.

    • Other ski suggestions along these lines are the Åsnes Mountain Race and the Fischer E89, both of which are available with built-in skins which will give better grip on icy snow than scales.

      I don’t know what’s available in Alberta as I’m lurking here from Québec while waiting for the snow to show up after a dry November and a catastrophic rainstorm last week 🙁 but La Cordée can ship to you…

  8. Ouch! (((Shudder))). Another useful item to have is some anti inflammatories, not so much help for severe injuries of course, but can get you home safely sometimes. Good value for weight.

    • MacSid,
      With an accident causing injury such as an acute ankle fracture like the one described or even a sprain you’d want to avoid anti-inflammatories for the first 48-72 hours as it may interfere with initial healing. Best is to use an alternative for pain.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *