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How To Ski In Bad Visibility? Skiing Guide

How To Ski In Bad Visibility Skiing Guide

A sunny day and fresh snow are what everybody wishes for when they embark on skiing tours but unfortunately, nature doesn’t always serve our desires.

Nature can sometimes be surprising; a sunny day followed by a sudden storm and dark clouds is not a new thing to cross country skiers, and it should not come as a shock to you either if you expect to thrive in this sport.

Every professional skier or anyone looking to build a career in this sport must learn to accept weather changes and adapt to nature’s will accordingly- you’ll not have good visibility everyday. You could be skiing out in the wild when suddenly the storm becomes too strong and now, your clear horizon gets blurry. What do you do? Do you unstrap your skis and walk home or what?

Most novice cross skiers may not be familiar with these ground conditions so we’ll get down to the big question.

How Do You Ski In Reduced Visibility?

How Do You Ski In Reduced Visibility

If a whiteout finds you out in the wild and you can’t see far enough, the safest option for you will be to reduce your speed, try to locate a possible landmark that can help you stay on track and stay close to your team- together you can look for shelter or call for help.

What Are Bad Visibility Weather Conditions?

What Are Bad Visibility Weather Conditions

No matter how lucky you are in life, skiing and bad weather are one. You can’t claim to enjoy skiing if you do not appreciate the weather’s diversity and its unpredictability- these are the aspects that we ardent skiers love about the sport.

The most common terms in the low visibility weather conversation are white-out and flat-light. Most bad visibility weather conditions are categorized under these two terms. So, what do they mean?

White-Out

A whiteout happens when snow and clouds blur visibility to near zero. The condition is characterized by strong blizzards and a blurred atmosphere which reduces your visibility to just past a few meters.

Whiteouts can come as a shock to first-timers; they create a feeling of isolation and loss of direction, if you are not as strong, it could take a toll on your nerves. As a skier, you should learn to adapt to such weather changes so you can enjoy your skiing even when nature has its own plans.

Flat-Light

A flat light is a situation where it gets too snowy and the snowflakes block sun rays from reaching your trail. With light partially blocked out, you are left to trace your trail in without visuals, this can be scary.

The falling snow will not harm you in any way, the only possible accident is when you hit a tree or colleague due to the impaired visibility.

Fortunately, there are special ski goggles that can help you navigate through flat outs. They are built with unique lenses that let in more light than normal, so you’ll not be totally blinded.

Whenever you go out into the wild on a skiing tour, make sure to carry your skiing goggles, you’ll never know.

Whiteouts and flat lights are in some way similar except that whiteouts are more severe and might last longer.

What Are The Best Skiing Techniques For Bad Visibility Weather?

What Are The Best Skiing Techniques For Bad Visibility Weather

Skiing in bad visibility weather is by far more challenging so a proper skill set is required to get through the winds and enjoy sliding over the freshly fallen snow that comes with this type of weather.

These skills include;

Adaptable Legs

With your visibility impaired, you can only see so far.

It will be in your best interest to be as flexible as possible so you’ll be able to adjust yourself to the changing terrains which will most of the time catch you by surprise.

The best approach is to ski with your feet slightly bent and ready to take any action be it rising or going lower, this way, you’ll get through bumps without tripping over.

You can do this by spreading your arms out front, tilting your waist a little, and stabilizing your torso for as long as you can.

When turning, try to keep your skis close together so neither sinks too deep into the snow. To stay safe when turning, maintain your skis above the snow at all times; when they get buried, you might not recover fast enough to avoid tripping over.

Learn Pole Planting

If you are not a pole planting fan, it’s high time you grew a liking for this technique because it is one of the most useful for when a whiteout strikes. With proper pole planting skills, you’ll have more confidence as you navigate corners even when you can barely see.

The best part about pole planting in reduced visibility is that you can use the poles to ascertain the depth of the snow and other terrain conditions.

The standard rule is; spread your arms out forward and pole plant every time you change direction.

Pole planting is also an excellent way to maintain balance as you glide through slopes- pole planting right before the slopes helps you set a rhythm that you can follow all the way down, this ensures, you won’t accidentally slide off the groomed trails.

Tips For Cross Country Skiing In Reduced Visibility Weather

Tips For Cross Country Skiing In Reduced Visibility Weather

All the talk about working around poor visibility weather when skiing can sometimes create the idea that whiteouts and flat lights are bad but we know that for every adversity, there’s always a silver lining.

So, what good can there be in taking a ski trip under such harsh conditions? Well, since we’ve already stated almost every bad aspect of this weather condition, it’s only fair that we now state a few advantages of skiing in bad visibility weather.

Skiing In Reduced Visibility Conditions Has The Following Advantages;

Not many skiers like this kind of weather so you’ll most of the time have the tracks to yourself. Fewer people mean more space for you, not only to ski and try out your best moves but to connect with nature as well. Instead of feeling lonely, treat solitude as an opportunity to reflect and think.

Poor visibility makes this already challenging sport even more demanding. You can choose to mourn the turn of events or capitalize on the situation.

Look at it this way; skiing under tougher-than-normal conditions calls for much higher levels of skill and endurance, these might be hard to avail but when you do, there’s no going back. When your body gets used to skiing in challenging terrains, normal sunny days will be a piece of cake as you’ll have faced worse situations and overcome them.

With that aside, let’s now look at a few top tips for skiing in a whiteout.

Take It Slow

Just as driving instructors advise you to reduce your speed when you can’t see clearly, a ski instructor will recommend a similar rule to skiing in low visibility or heavy snowfall. When you can barely see a few meters ahead, it would be wise to maintain a moderate and manageable pace at least until you have better visibility.

By slowing down, you reduce your chances of skiing into a tree or hitting other skiers. The pace should be fast enough to keep up with your friends but also moderate so you’ll spot your colleagues before you accidentally ski into them.

This is a perfect time to bring your fellow skiers to the mountains- skiing in unknown areas alone under such conditions is not advisable. And also, remind your colleagues to maintain a steady pace too.

Slow skiing also allows you and your team to take frequent breaks along the way. You can use this time to talk about your next routes and alert each other of any possible changes. Planning your routes means that everyone knows where you are going and they are less likely to get lost.

Focus

When skiing in low visibility, the last thing you want is to lose touch with your surroundings. If you are to survive in the wild under such conditions, your mind and senses must be at their best- they are your only hope.

As you move, make sure to scan your immediate environment for potential hazards. Whenever you spot something you don’t like, tell your partners straightway, and together you can find a way to maneuver through.

Since you cannot count on your visibility so much, you might have to rely on your previous knowledge of the terrain to predict when you’ll hit the sloppy parts. If it’s your first time skiing on that route, take out your piste map or look out for piste markers.

The most important thing is to utilize the little visibility you have to navigate and find clues like piste markers.

Focusing or even seeing anything in whiteout might seem impossible but once you convince your mind to adjust, you’ll be surprised by the much you can pick up by looking a little harder.

Follow Trees And Buildings To Find Trails

Follow Trees And Buildings To Find Trails

When the atmosphere gets blurry and everything turns white, you’ll desperately need any form of contrast you can spot to get a clue of what lies ahead; the best contrasts in snowy conditions are trees and buildings.

Skiing in the woods is also a great idea; trees offer small bits of contrast, if you focus hard enough, that’s all you need to identify trails.

Almost every ski resort has forested tracks, these are the safest skiing locations for novices looking to dare the whiteouts and flat lights.

Avoid Tree Wells At All Costs

Trees are the perfect contrast for when you ski in reduced visibility but skiing in the woods comes with a risk; tree wells.

Tree wells form when a tree collects the snowflakes falling around it by the branches, thus preventing them from reaching the root area.

Tree wells are hard to spot from a distance because of the fresh snow that covers the hole underneath. You’ll only learn of its existence when gravity and your body weight lower you in- this is why we recommend skiing in groups.

The best way to avoid tree wells is to follow the trees but never go near them. Even in good visibility, trees are sometimes hard to spot, how about when a whiteout sets in? Things can only get more blurry, for this reason, we recommend using the trees as a guide through the mountain terrain but without getting too close.

Tree well accidents are common; always keep an eye on your colleagues especially if they are children or inexperienced.

If you, unfortunately, fall into a tree well, hold still and grab the tree for support. If you have partners, call out to them for help but don’t throw your arms in the air, you need them to hold onto the branches.

The temptation to wiggle and climb out will be there but know this; the more you move around in the soft snow, the deeper you sink.

It is important that a team sticks together so that when one calls for help, the others will be close enough to hear.

Get poor visibility goggles

Photochromatic goggles are the first step to safer skiing in poor visibility weather. The normal dark lenses work by reducing the amount of sun light hitting your eyes when you ski in sunny weather while the low light version of the same works a little differently; it helps you see through a white atmosphere.

This type of ski goggles might be unheard of to you but not out of reach; they are in every ski gear shop. Just read the specifications on the branding to identify the perfect low light lens for you.

The prices for such goggles are a little on the higher side but the improved visibility in such a dangerous skiing environment is worth every dime. Investing in the correct lens not only gets you home safely but also makes your skiing experiences more fun.

We must mention that skiing goggles are prone to fogging on the lenses. There are different ways to get around this malady but we recommend having a backup pair- the issue is not very common but the possibility is still there.

Is It Safe To Ski In Reduced Visibility?

Is It Safe To Ski In Reduced Visibility

Yes, with the right skill and knowledge, you can safely ski in a flat light; you’re sure to enjoy the fresh powder. Caution is however paramount if you are to get home safe; the slightest mistake can have you freezing in a tree well or trapped in tree branches.

Even as we lay down these many tips for skiing in low visibility, we highly advise against it for novices or relatively new sportspeople. For the ardent skiers, go ahead but watch out for weather shifts; if the blizzard gets too strong, follow your sixth sense –it’ll most of the time tell you to go home, trust it.

Another thing, if you are new to this form of skiing, know that the temperatures are way lower than normal during heavy blizzard conditions so a few extra layers of clothing and waterproofing will come in handy. Don’t get paranoid about keeping warm though, you don’t want to be sweating like a pig.

Bottom Line

Bottom Line

There’s nothing we cross country skiers would love more than for the snow to fall at night followed by a sunny day so we can ski on the fresh snow and a clear sky- if we had the power, we would keep things this way.

Unfortunately, we don’t and things don’t always go our way; sometimes nature goes rogue on us and we are left to wonder in unpredictable weather conditions.

Weather conditions like whiteouts and flat lights might not be the best conditions for every skier but with the right skills, you can easily turn these bad weather periods into your best skiing days.

Reduced visibility is caused by weather shifts, something we cannot control but this should not be a reason for you to stay indoors with a hot cup of coffee and TV; you’d rather grab your gear, head out and experience nature’s goodness.

Aside from having the mountains to yourself, the tough conditions will sharpen your skills much better than normal conditions; you can then flex your newly acquired tricks and confidence to wow everyone at community skiing events or competitive races.

It doesn’t take much to glide in a whiteout or flat light, just follow the tips above and take extra caution.

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Picture of Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.
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