Riding Steeps in BC

For advanced-expert skiers and snowboarders, steep skiing and riding is the ultimate adrenaline rush. The backcountry slopes of the Selkirk Mountains, in BC’s Kootenay region, are a premier destination for this adventure, with diverse terrain features and deep, dry, stable snowpacks that surpass those of the Rockies and coastal ranges.

Here, highly skilled ACMG and CSGA guides, ensure safety and an unparalleled skiing experience. One of these guides is Judson Wright, a professional ski guide for White Grizzly Cat Skiing, with over 20 years of experience. He defines ‘steep’ as slopes that are 40 degrees and above. “Generally, once you get into 40 degrees, it’s like, okay, this is steep right now,” he says.

But skiing skill is not the only consideration when tackling these slopes. “The prime slope angle for avalanches is 35 degrees,” says Judson. So this is all the more reason to ski these slopes under the watchful eye of a professional guide who can assess conditions and minimize the risk of avalanches. Judson also has some tips for those who wish to try skiing and riding steep slopes.

steep skiing in BC's Selkirk Mountains, with White Grizzly Cat Skiing
Steep skiing in BC’s Selkirk Mountains, with White Grizzly Cat Skiing.

Techniques for Steep Skiing

Steep skiing in BC’s backcountry demands specific techniques to ensure both fun and safety. Here’s a breakdown of essential skills:

Hop Turns

Hop turns are crucial when navigating steep, narrow runs, especially during steep tree skiing. This technique involves a rhythmic leap from one turn to another, enabling skiers to change direction swiftly while controlling speed. It’s about timing and precision, hopping at the right moment to pivot your skis in the deep powder.


A balanced stance is the foundation of steep skiing. Skiers should maintain a centered, athletic stance, with weight evenly distributed over both skis. This position allows for better weight transfer between turns and control, which is especially important in the backcountry.

Pole Use

Poles play a significant role in maintaining balance and rhythm. In steep skiing, use your poles for timing and stability. Planting the pole firmly before initiating a turn can help maintain balance and provide a pivot point for turns, particularly in deep powder.

Side Slip

The side slip technique is an essential skill for controlling descent on slopes that may be too steep to turn on, or have other hazards. It allows skiers to navigate down tight spots, like gulleys or chutes or to pause and assess the path ahead. This technique involves angling the skis sideways down the slope while controlling the speed through edge pressure. It’s a valuable tool in steep and uneven terrain, offering a safe way down.

Sluff Management

Sluffs are sliding patches of snow that a skier dislodges as they ski, and they can be dangerous on steep terrain if they cause you to fall. “Any time that you are on a slope over 35 degrees and you’re skiing powder, it’s highly likely that the snow is going to move with you in the form of a sluff,” explains Wright. “It’s essentially just like a mini avalanche.” It’s important to pay attention to a sluff that’s falling behind you and promptly move aside to let it pass you when you slow or stop. When you’re partner-skiing in steeps, you want to make sure you’re not skiing over top of one another and setting off sluff onto one another.

steep skiing in BC's Selkirk Mountains, with White Grizzly Cat Skiing
Practicing steep skiing on frontcountry slopes can help build confidence before heading into the backcountry.

Steep Skiing Safety

Safety in steep skiing requires knowledge, skill, and the right gear. Awareness of avalanche risks, understanding the dangers of falls, and navigating cliffs are crucial. Equip yourself with essential avalanche safety equipment and consider additional protection like helmets and airbags. “The main thing in avalanche terrain is to pay attention to your guide. At White Grizzly, we’re going to have all the safety gear you need. The guides are responsible for safety in avalanches, and you will get trained on what to do in the unlikely event of an avalanche,” explains Judson. BC’s backcountry, with its pristine and untamed landscapes, demands respect and preparation.

steep skiing in BC's Selkirk Mountains, with White Grizzly Cat SkiingTrying the Steeps for the First Time

The best approach for beginners is to start within ski resort boundaries before venturing into the backcountry. Many ski resorts offer controlled areas ideal for practicing steep skiing. Skiers should focus on familiarizing themselves with the nuances of powder skiing and steep tree skiing in a front-country environment, if possible. In addition to practicing on easier runs, Wright recommends taking lessons, “Hire an instructor if you’re concerned. A lot of people don’t take advantage of lessons or look at them as something negative, but you can get a lot from a ski lesson.” Looking for a ski instructor, who helps you master your skills should be a part of planning your first steep skiing trip.

steep skiing in BC's Selkirk Mountains, with White Grizzly Cat SkiingPlanning Your Steep Ski Adventure

Since 1998, White Grizzly Cat Skiing has catered to advanced and expert skiers and snowboarders who come from around the world for the thrill of steep tree skiing in the Kootenays. Located in the town of Meadow Creek, just a 90-minute drive from Nelson, BC, White Grizzly sits at the epicenter of BC’s best snowbelt and the spectacular terrain of the Selkirk Mountains. The all-inclusive, ski lodge is easily accessible and many guests combine a BC cat skiing trip with a few days at nearby Whitewater Resort in Nelson en route. Check availability, contact us today, or call us at +1(250) 366-4306 to plan your next steep skiing adventure.