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I had to self-arrest yesterday.

Lori_K

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#1
For those not familiar, self-arrest is the technique used to stop yourself from an uncontrollable slide down a hill. It is a technique I have read about, and knew the basic principles for, but had never needed or practiced. Until yesterday.

Yesterday we were at Taos, as we are most weekends. I was with my husband and another couple with whom we ski frequently. It was about 2 in the afternoon, and we were having a riot skiing all over the mountain. There had been no new snow in several days, but we managed to find some good conditions back in the trees.

We were at the top of Lorelei Trees, a double black run. The top is very steeply pitched, with moderately spaced trees. We had found a chute with good snow in it (not freshies, but packed/tracked pow) and were making our way down.
I had just come across the hill in a left hand turn, and was preparing for my next turn. I'm not exactly sure what happened next. I think I hit a pillow of snow harder than expected, and the next thing I know the heel on my right ski released. I twisted forward, spun around, and felt the back of my head hit something. (It was J, the other woman skiing with us. She was several feet below me and we clunked helmets together!) I then fell onto the snow, and started sliding quickly down the hill, headfirst, on my back!

I knew I needed to do something to slow my descent. At the same time I heard my husband call from nearby, "Dagger IN! DAGGER IN!!". That call triggered something in my brain, and I was able to twist onto my stomach, and dig my pole handles into the snow. I felt myself pivot around so that my remaining ski was below me, and I slowed down and came to a controlled stop, some 25-30 yards downhill of where I started. A good thing I stopped where I did, because there was a tree about 25 feet below me. :fear:
It all happened so quickly, I still have a hard time putting the sequence of events together.

My other ski was recovered back from where it released, and I managed to work my way down the rest of the trail, albeit slowly. I have slid on my back before, but NOT like this. The whole incident shook me up quite a bit.

I was unhurt, (aside from a crick in my neck), and we talked about doing another run. I thought about calling it a day, but we ended up going to another steep bump run, this one without trees.
It was a run I had been on only once before, and I thought I could get down it again (considering the recent fall). However, the bumps had grown considerably since the last time I was on it. I stood at the top, and just about lost it. My husband was right there, and had to coach me through my first couple turns. The pitch is much less after that first headwall, and I was able to make my way slowly, very slowly, down the rest of the hill. I skied up to the group and was greeted with a round of applause. Skiing a tough run like that after a fall was a major psychological barrier, but I had to get back on the horse that threw me, so to speak.

So, some things I learned yesterday:

I'm going to increase my DIN settings. I have had them set for Skier Type II for several years, and yesterday's fall may not have happened had I been set for Type III. That is one situation where I can't afford a pre-release, I know that now.

Thank goodness for helmets! I felt the sharp rap on the back of my helmet from hitting the other skier, but it didn't knock me out.

Know how to self-arrest. Even if you don't think you ski fast enough or on steep enough terrain to use it, at least understand the principle.
I truly believe that just having a helmet and being able to keep my wits and do the self-arrest saved me from severe injury.

I am feeling a bit beat up and sore this morning, but nothing a little Ibuprofen won't fix! :p :injured:
 

Kimmyt

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#2
Lori_K, wow, and so glad your instincts kicked in and you're not hurt!

I think you definitely did the right thing by 'getting back on the horse'. Sometimes the most important step in beating fear after a fall (skiing or otherwise) is to just get over it as quick as possible and try again. Then the fear doesn't have time to fester!

K.
 

altagirl

Moderator
Staff member
#3
Glad you're okay!

I've had that happen once before too. It is reassuring to realize your brain reacts right and you can figure out how to self arrest with your poles even though it's something most of us have never practiced before.
 
#4
:eek: SO glad you are okay!! Feel better soon, and know that you well know the technique. Yeah, I'd crank the DIN's up if I were you. Please do a post-script on this when you next do this run w/o incident!!
 

ski diva

Administrator
Staff member
#5
Wow, what a story! Even though I knew you were okay, I felt my heart rate go up as I read it. Glad your instincts kicked in! I only hope I'd do as well, in the same situation.
 

tradygirl

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#7
Know how to self-arrest. Even if you don't think you ski fast enough or on steep enough terrain to use it, at least understand the principle.
Good story, and kudos for keeping your head and doing the right thing! This is a great skill to be aware of and talk about.

I think of self-arresting as a skill right up there with beacon-searching if you're an advanced skier (especially backcountry). It is a VITAL survival skill to know if you ski anything even remotely steep. Spring skiing is exceptionally dangerous, since the snow is usually boilerplate underneath a thin layer of melt-freeze. That's a slick sliding surface!

Just doing a few practice falls/arrests during the season can really help teach your body the "auto-pilot" affect of self-arresting. I personally think it's kind of fun to practice too. :D What's not fun about sliding around in the snow with semi-sharp objects? Speaking of, I'm due for a few practice runs.

This is a little advanced, and probably not useful to most skiers, but my husband and I have Whippets - ski poles with built-in mini ice axes on the grip. I actually used one for touring on Saturday and there were a few situations that I was glad I had it. Maybe a little overkill, but it's nice to be able to slam that thing in on a sketchy bootpack or when you slip on an icy ridge.

FYI....Check out the book Freedom of the Hills for a comprehensive explanation of self-arresting.
 

Lori_K

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#8
Thanks for the well-wished everyone!

It was scary while it happened, but it did have a good ending. And I thought it was worthwhile to share, so that others might learn from my mistakes as well as my success.

..I felt my heart rate go up as I read it.
Believe me, my heart was pounding just from writing it!
 

num

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#9
Scary! So glad you're okay, Lori K!

Anyone have recommendations on learning/practicing self arrest? I think I've got the basic principles, I'm just wondering if there's like a step by step kind of thing I should keep in mind.
 

Sheena

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#10
Lori.. glad to hear that you are OK!

Reading this makes me realize how much I have to learn. I probably have not been on anything that steep, and in the past have just tried to turn my self around and dig my skis in to stop myself.

I too would be curious to hear of tips for self arrest. Have any other divas taken classes?
 

altagirl

Moderator
Staff member
#11
I've never had any formal training, but personally, what works for me is using my ski poles. Obviously, it has to not only be something you can visualize and realistically do, but you have to react to the particulars of the situation and that's not always going to be the same.

I think the first key is to get your fall under control - try to quit cartwheeling/flipping and orient yourself with your feet downhill.

If the snow has a surface you can dig into much, using the handle of your ski pole or even your fingertips clawing into the snow can be effective. What's worked for me when I couldn't stop with my hands is to grab one pole, slide my hand down to the tip and stab the tip into the snow to stop. I remember saying that elsewhere and getting a bunch of reactions from people who thought that would not be physically possible. All I can say is that the one time I needed it, it worked really well for me.
 

tradygirl

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#12
Anyone have recommendations on learning/practicing self arrest? I think I've got the basic principles, I'm just wondering if there's like a step by step kind of thing I should keep in mind.
**Edit: Looks like AG had a pretty good explaination if what's worked for her. I think the idea is that you find what works for you - it has to be a natural movement and have as much stopping power as possible.**

I don't think you need to take a class. It's pretty straight-forward once you do it a couple of times. An icy sledding hill or steep groomed run is a good place to practice - just find something steep enough that you can slide on and also has a good open runout so you won't hit anything if you don't stop.

I've mostly practiced with an ice axe without skis, but I assume you could practice with a ski pole too. Start by sliding feet-first (on your back or stomach). While sliding, maneuver your body so you are face down. Start digging your knees and elbows in while simultaneously bringing your ski pole up to your shoulder (whichever hand is more natural or available). The other hand should stabilize the pole beneath your body. You want to dig the pole (I would say the grip since that's where your hand is) hard into the snow by using your bodyweight as leverage. Some people argue to dig in and use your feet as well, but to me that just seems like a really easy way to get flipped end over end. It depends on the situation, I guess. Practice different situations, like falling and sliding head-first, since this can be a lot more difficult to get into the right arrest position, and also falling with and without skis.

Like I said, I've never tried it with a ski pole so I'm not sure if that's exactly how it would work, but try it a couple of times to see what gives you the best stopping power.

From my previous post, Freedom of the Hills is an excellent reference for all things mountaineering. It is definitely a well-read book in our house.
 

Pequenita

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#13
What I think is a wonderful illustration of how things turned out well in this incident (other than the obvious, that you're okay) is how quickly everyone thought, from your husband shouting out a trigger phrase to your quick reaction to it. It goes to show that acronyms (like ABC for CPR) and trigger words work, even if while reading about them or learning them in a classroom setting, they seem stupid.

Lori - I'm glad you're well and recuperating from this!
 

SkiNurse

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#14
All I have to say is "wow".
 

SkiMave

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#15
What a great post. Thanks Lori K!

I didn't know about this technique but I have been caught sliding down a hill on my back after losing a ski or two on a black diamond run. Luckily in the east, the hills aren't that long so you don't go too far. Having said that, I've always wondered how the heck to stop.

I found this helpful video on Ski Net to explain and demonstrate the technique.

Thanks again.

http://www.skinet.com/skinet/videos/article/0,26958,1156886,00.html
 

climber.girl1

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#16
Thanks for the post, Lori! I'm so glad you're okay, and what a great happy-ending story to bring things like self-arrest techniques to the attention of some who may not have known about it!

I second Freedom of the Hills, by the way. Great mountaineering book! (And often available from a local library, but maybe this is just in the Rockies... :smile: )
 

Robyn

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#17
So, while coaching this weekend I had one of my little ones go down and start sliding. We were on a fairly steep section of the run and in my head I'm thinking "self-arrest, self-arrest". It wouldn't have helped him, and thankfully he did finally come to a stop but oh boy, I was nervous there for a minute!
 

Lori_K

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#18
Please do a post-script on this when you next do this run w/o incident!!
Update: Went back into Lorelei Trees on Saturday with my Auras, and skied the whole run top to bottom without incident. (That little gremlin was in the back of my head, and I got rid of him for good!). Went back in on Sunday (today!) and skied it again on my new PEs with no doubts or hesitation. I think this is going to become one of my favorite runs.

What a great weekend of skiing! :ski2:
 

SuperMoe

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#19
you just never know what you'll find here

The other guy I take lessons with fell on the steep part of the slope today. But, because he was going fairly slowly, he cheated and just rode down on his back so he wouldn't have to ski down.

Anyway, teachable moment, the instructor told us some ways of stopping...but I'm glad I checked this out, good demo...just one more thing to add to my arsenal...which I think I'll need, considering the way I'm skiing so far.

I was watching my daughter and her friends come down through the trees as I was standing on my slope trying to find my courage. They come down all sorts of ways, on their belly, back of skis, etc. in general, messing around. I kind of yelled at her for doing that, but then I figured..."what the heck, they're probably figuring out so much by doing that stuff"
 

ritag

Certified Ski Diva
#20
Wow great thread! I wish someone had told me about self arresting a few years ago. I slid on claire's run (west side of hunter mt) and couldn't stop. Finally hit a snow fence about 2 ft high and it stopped me. I don't know if my pole would have stopped me on that boilerplate but it would have given me something to try. I'm going to practice and see how it feels. Maybe I will try that run again it the self arrest thing looks like it works.
 

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