January 15, 2019
How to Throw a 360° on Skis: Approach the jump with a wide stance to give yourself a solid base (Photo: Stomp It Tutorials).
If you’re reading BCA’s Backcountry Ski Tricks 101, you’re probably a decent skier (or snowmobiler) with some basic backcountry knowledge. Hopefully, you’re constantly improving your backcountry safety skills by taking avalanche courses. But what about your riding? You might be great at riding powder, but it might be time to modernize your quiver of skills. In this Backcountry Ski Tricks 101 blog series, BCA ambassador Miles Clark gives some advice on how to learn a few new riding skills that you can take to the backcountry: 360’s, grabs, and dropping pillow lines. It’s a good idea to lock these down at the resort first (and/or on a trampoline) and only attempt them in the backcountry once you’re fully confident you won’t get injured. Time to take it to the next level!
THE BASICS – How to Throw a 360° on Skis
There are a few things you need to know to start out. A common mistake is to go flinging yourself off of something. While persistence may eventually pay off with that method, the simpler way is to nail the timing.
Be patient when initiating your spin. As you’re approaching the lip, increase the distance between your skis to wider than your shoulder width. This will give you the ability to bend your knees and really use your hips to initiate a pop off of the lip of the jump. It may feel awkward until you get the timing right and then you’ll see right away how a good setup makes for a much easier attempt.
Popping from the hips ensures a centered body position (so you aren’t leaning off-axis) and allows you to keep your upper body upright (so you can keep your head up and spot the landing with your eyes). If you’re leaning forward, it becomes difficult to initiate the jump or set yourself up for the spin. You want to pop first and then start your rotation.
How to Practice a 360: Keep your body centered to the fall line and your upper body upright (Photo: screenshot from Stomp It Tutorials).
To rotate, wind your arms across your body. If you want to spin to the left, cross your left arm over to your right with your right arm behind you, and then bring your arms back to neutral when you pop. Ideally, you’ll keep your arms below shoulder height. It’s important to keep your shoulders facing forward as you pop. Cranking your arms around as you pop will only throw you off axis. Wait until you’ve cleared the lip to start rotating your shoulders and arms past center.
What allows you to complete the spin is spotting your landing by leading with your gaze. You won’t be able to see your landing as you take off, but with a small initiation, you’ll quickly be able to see your landing over your shoulder. When you see your landing, you’ll be able to gauge how much time you need to complete your spin. The tighter you bring your arms into your body, the faster you’ll spin.
How to Practice a 360°: Spot the landing by leading the spin with your gaze (Photo: screenshot from Stomp It Tutorials).
It really doesn’t take much to initiate a 360° rotation. The most important thing is to remember the steps at the takeoff that will keep you on the preferred axis (straight up and down).
Watch this video from our friend, Jens Nystrom, at Stomp It Tutorials: How to Throw a 360 on Skis: 4 Common Mistakes & Corrections.
Once you’ve mastered your 360 in the ski area or in the park, it’s time to take it to the backcountry. The backcountry is a wonderful place to find untracked snow, but remember that that comes with increased risk and responsibility. Don’t expect others to pick up the pieces if you get injured; you and your partners need to be self-sufficient. Also, features that naturally create great jumps also can be susceptible to avalanches. Make sure you carry avalanche rescue and first aid gear and, most important, get some avalanche safety training.
- Avalanche Transceiver – Wear this to send and receive a signal to and from your friends in case anything happens and you need to find each other. If you end up under the snow, your transceiver is your lifeline and the fastest way to find each other.
- Probe – An avalanche probe helps you to pinpoint the exact location of objects under the snow. When focusing on tricks in the backcountry, a probe is also handy for ensuring there are no rocks or trees beneath the snow in your landing. BCA avalanche probes come in up to 3-meter lengths.
- Shovel – You’ll want to carry a collapsible shovel (so that it fits in your pack) with as large a blade as possible (for moving snow around). Shoveling technique in the backcountry is an extremely important skill to master. Luckily, since you are out there to do some tricks, you can practice shoveling by building yourself a backcountry booter.
- Skins – Before you head out, ensure your climbing skins are the appropriate fit for your skis. Skins work best when they cover the entire base of your skis. One thing to consider when choosing climbing skins is how the tip and tail clips attach to your skis. If you’re wearing twin tip skis, your climbing skins may require a differently shaped tail clip than more traditional, flat-tailed skis.
- Knowledge of how to use your gear – This is the most important thing to carry with you in the backcountry. Like any tools, backcountry gear is most effective when you are familiar with it and know how to use it in extreme circumstances. Make sure you have lots of practice and check out your local avalanche association for a list of camps and courses.
NATURAL TERRAIN & SNOW FEATURES – BEST PLACES TO THROW A 360° ON SKIS
Give yourself enough of an in-run so you get speed to pop at the lip. You may want to step out the snow above the feature so that you won’t be dragged down coming into your takeoff. Also, make sure that you have enough space to properly set your rotation. Natural backcountry features are going to feel a lot softer than park jumps, and you will likely break through the lip if it’s not stepped out. Otherwise, you’ll need to be light on your feet and create your own pop. Look for these natural terrain feature and snow features as locations for your 360°s.
- Convexities – Look for a place where the slope rolls over naturally. If you have enough speed, you can pop a 360° off the roller, but you are likely going to need to step out a takeoff. Convexities are the most obvious place to find natural transitions and wide open landings so they’re a great place to build a jump. However, convex slopes are also a common area for avalanches to start, since the snowpack is under tension. Make sure the convexity is isolated and not exposed to hazards above and below. Always check the avalanche bulletin to make sure the avalanche danger is not widespread.
- Wind lips – This is probably the easiest place to transition to natural backcountry features. Wind lips provide the natural wedge shape you’re used to from park jumps, and they come in all sizes. More often than not, they’re formed by cross-loading of the slope so they’re going to be off fall-line and the landing may feel a little sidehilled. Also, wind can change the consistency of the snow in the backcountry so be prepared for variable conditions where wind lips exist. Finally, wind lips are a sign of wind loading, a common avalanche problem. Areas of wind-loaded snow deposition are often where avalanches begin. Make sure your wind lip is isolated and is not going to “step down” and create an avalanche on exposed slopes above and below.
- Cornices – A cornice is a (big) step up from a wind lip. Overhanging cornices are a substantial risk in the backcountry and it’s best if you avoid them completely. Be very careful to choose an entrance that is supported. Sailing a 360° off a supported ridgeline into a wide-open bowl is a heck of a way to start off a run! But only when conditions are stable.
- Pillows – Pillows are tricky! On the one hand, you can often find features that’ll kick you up into the air; on the other hand, you’re going to need the speed and the pop to pull it off and accurately hit the next “stage” in the pillow line. Choose wisely and you’ll be rewarded. Luckily, it’s generally a fairly soft landing if you don’t pull it off. Since these are often blind, it’s a great idea to have BC Link radios, so you and your partners can talk to each other through the line.
- Cliff drops – These are the holy grail of backcountry features! Once you master your 3’s, this is the place to take ’em. Most cliffs have flat or even downhill takeoffs so you’re going to have to be comfortable enough to pop them without help from the lip. Make sure you’ve sussed out the landing ahead of time and you know it’s supportable, clear of obstacles, and away from any potential avalanche hazards.
One thing to keep in mind is that there’s no faking it in deep snow. If you didn’t nail it on the first try, everyone will see your bomb hole in the landing (and maybe even the imprint of those first few tomahawks). Practice up before you start filming!