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Self Arrest Skiing (Explained)

Self Arrest Skiing

Anybody who has been skiing for a while knows the importance of knowing how to stop on a downhill run. It is one of the fundamental ski maneuvers every beginner skier has to learn. 

What is equally as important but overlooked by many is what a skier to do if they fall off their skis on a steep downhill run and are sliding down the hill fast, being at the risk of hitting some physical object or another skier, getting hurt, and possibly hurting someone else. 

This is even more important if it had rained the previous night and the trail is icy.

In this post, I’ll go over what is self arrest in skiing and how you can do it. I’ll also briefly talk about why you should practice self arrest skiing with an instructor.

What Is Self Arrest In Skiing?

Self-arresting is a technique skiers can use in case they fall off while tackling steep downhill runs, being dragged down the slope at a dangerous speed, possibly towards a trail sign, lift tower, tree, or another skier, to stop themselves in time. 

What Is Self Arrest In Skiing

A self-arrest involves changing body position in certain ways and using ski poles and boots to slow down and come to a stop with the skier’s head facing uphill.

Also read our guide on how ski moguls are made.

How To Self-Arrest While Skiing 

If you have fallen and are sliding down the slope at an alarming speed, here’s how to perform a self-arrest to save yourself and possibly others from getting hurt:

  • Roll onto your stomach as you slide. 
  • Hold onto the handle of one ski pole while holding onto the other near its basket with your other hand. 
  • Using that lower hand, slowly push the pole’s tip into the snow. 
  • Do not just thrust it into the snow at once since your hands can be yanked out from under you if the tip sticks in. Rather, gently apply more pressure to the snow. 
  • Your body will initially swing in such a way that your legs are facing downward as a result. You don’t want to hit anything head-on, therefore that is the intended result! 
  • Increase the pole’s pressure on the snow as soon as your legs begin to descend. 
  • You’ll first start to slow down, and then eventually come to a complete halt.

What If Your Skis Are Still On?

Well, this makes it difficult for you to roll onto your stomach. 

What you should do in this situation is turn to your side, use the hand nearest to the snow to grab its pole near the tip, and gently drive that into the snow. 

Your goal here is coming to a slow, gradual halt. There is no need to look graceful doing it. 

You must focus on getting the pole tip into the snow as soon as possible without waiting for an ideal body position. It is important to begin the arrest as soon as you realize you are about to slide accelerating down the run. 

What If You Lost The Skis And The Poles?

This is a scenario where it is even harder to make a self arrest while skiing, even more so if the trail is icy caused by rain on ski slopes the previous day.

Roll onto your stomach, and bring your elbows to your sides with your hands by your face, so that you are sliding on your forearms.

What If You Lost The Skis And The Poles

Your ski boots are the only things that can dig in the snow in this situation. To make that happen, push your upper body off the snow as much as possible. The more your torso lifts, the better your boot toes will dig into the snow. 

Special note: If you still have your skis on as you are sliding down, remember to lift your feet. If your skis dig into the snow, your ankles or knees can get twisted, or the skis can come off and hit you.

Practice Self-Arresting With A Ski Instructor

Learning how to self arrest skiing in theory and doing it to save yourself are two different things. 

So, your best bet is to do a lot of practicing with a certified ski instructor. Practice on slopes with varying gradients and snow conditions, from powder to icy. 

Also read our guide on how much to tip a ski instructor.

You must engage in enough practice sessions so that when there is an actual need, you will be able to self-arrest almost reflexively. Remember, you won’t have much time to think in such a situation.

Bottom Line

Self-arresting is a technique used by skiers to stop themselves from sliding down a steep, and/or icy slope at a dangerous speed in case they fall during a downhill run.

The technique involves driving a ski pole or boot toes gradually into the snow and positioning the body in a manner that helps the pole or boots to go into the snow. 

This will put the skier’s head towards the top of the hill and prevent it from banging against someone or thing on the way down. It also involves lifting the feet if the skis are still on to stop them from digging into the snow and twisting the skiers’ ankles and knees or coming off and hitting the skier.

If you are a ski enthusiast, you are encouraged to practice this safety move with a ski instructor until you can do it without thinking when the need arises.

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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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