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Ski Tips: Strategy and tactics trump technique

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Extreme skiing pioneer Dan Egan skis a steep chute off the Headwaters ridge at Big Sky Resort. PHOTO BY JEN BENNETT/RUMBLE PRODUCTIONS

By Dan Egan EBS Columnist 

Many skiers are focused on their technique, they want to improve and firmly believe that if the technique is mastered, they can then tackle more difficult terrain. But these skiers are missing two key elements of the sport: strategy and tactics. 

What do I mean by strategy and tactics? Well, to simplify the statement, what is your plan? When looking down a mogul field, glades, powder slope or chute I would argue an intermediate skier can enjoy these types of runs with a strong strategy and focused tactics on where to go and why to go there. In other words, having a purpose and moving in the direction of that purpose is more powerful than technique.

At my camps and clinics, I’ve been able to take skiers of all abilities into incredible terrain, incredible powder runs, through breath-taking scenery and often their technique is far from perfect. This is always accomplished through planning, having a strategy for where and how to enter a slope and having the tactics of building confidence in simple skills of traversing, stopping and safely changing direction. 

Let’s start at the top as it can often be the most intimidating. Rather than staring off the top thinking you must make perfect turns from the get-go, find a way in, stop, take a couple of deep breaths, look around and develop a plan for the next few turns. 

Egan skis through moguls demonstrating his advice to find a rhythmic line with rounder shaped moguls. PHOTO BY JEN BENNETT/RUMBLE PRODUCTIONS

If it’s a mogul trail, search out the side of the trail where there are apt to be more rhythmic lines and rounder shaped moguls. Rather than the middle of the mogul trail which tends to be chaotic with choppy bumps and deep ruts. In this case the strategy would be don’t ski the middle of the trail.

Now consider dropping into a steep chute, entering onto the slope tactically could determine the entire run. Often the lower entrance will avoid cornices, or maybe a rut that is formed. Or there might be an option of skiing along the ridge prior to dropping in and finding untracked snow then maybe a traverse into the middle of the chute and through the gut. Here the strategy would be finding the smoothest entrance, get to the middle of the chute and chill for a bit, then have a clear plan on how many turns you want to make and where you will stop. 

Or how about glades. Rather than dropping right off the top and accelerating around a clump of trees maybe there is a traverse to take into a small clearing. From there you can decide your line by looking for alleyways down the fall line that provide the best options and locations for stopping where needed.  

In all these examples the key is to provide yourself the best chance for success by easing your way onto a slope or run, shaking off any tension and developing a plan that works for you.  

One of the most important tactics I teach is having a starting and stopping point and breaking the mogul run, steep slope, or glades into sections. It is important not to be overly aggressive on the distance you ski. Remember, if you feel comfortable making three or four good solid turns and stopping then do that. Most skiers get into trouble making too many turns and have no idea what a good stopping point is. Mainly because they haven’t thought about it. 

By breaking the run into sections, you gain confidence in having a beginning and end to each section. Over time as you get comfortable on a certain run you can lengthen the distance you ski. It is always better to make four great turns, stop, and continue than to blow the fifth turn lose your balance and fall on the sixth one.  

Now consider the most important strategy of all: imperfection. Even the best of the best skiers can’t make 100 percent perfect turns. I once asked a World Cup racer after they won a race how many perfect turns they made that day, they answered, “maybe 50 percent.” Imagine if one of the best skiers in the world won a World Cup race with 50 percent perfect turns, us mere mortals are having the run of our lives if we are making 20 percent to 30 percent perfect turns. 

In other words, lighten up on yourself, if you make a bad turn, don’t let it contaminate the next good one. By adopting the strategy of imperfection and being less critical of your technique over time you might start to enjoy the journey. 

Extreme Skiing Pioneer, Dan Egan coaches and teaches at Big Sky Resort during the winter. His 2022 steeps camps at Big Sky Resort run Feb. 24-26, March 10-12 and March 17-19. His newest book, “Thirty Years in a White Haze” was released in March 2021 and is available at

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