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Steamboat Magazine

Local Knowledge: Eric Deering

11/16/2014 11:34PM ● By Christina Freeman

Earning his turns: Backcountry ski guide Eric Deering makes the climb for another run.

Steamboat Powdercats operations director and course leader for the American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education, Eric Deering loves all things snow. Working with Colorado Mountain College, Outward Bound and the Wilderness Education Association, Deering has racked up guiding miles across much of Colorado’s remote terrain. For the last 14 years, he and his wife, Caroline, have called the Yampa Valley home, raising their equally outdoor-loving kids, Freja and Matteus.

Tips for skiing in powder?

One: get forward. For years there was a perception that skiers should lean back in deep powder. Not the case. Skis are made to be skied from the center; balance over the middle of them. If you’ve got your weight hanging out over the back, it will be harder to turn.

Two: speed, or at least momentum, is your friend. People are often intimidated by the powder, feeling reluctant to let their skis run down the fall-line. Try to keep your skis and body looking and moving down the hill. As soon as you sink into a turn, the snow will help slow you down.

What essentials should backcountry skiers have in their backpack?A beacon, shovel and probe. I often refer to these three as one item, because without any one of them, the other two become far less useful. Other equipment that’s vital is stuff to keep you comfy and help out in times of emergency. Accidents occur when people make bad decisions because they don’t have appropriate gear or supplies for the day. I think one of the most important “tools” is planning and prep. All that gear doesn’t do diddly if you haven’t practiced with it. Know who you’re going with and make a plan.

How should a skier handlepoor visibility?Always have a route plan with backup options in case the weather changes and make sure everyone is on the same page. Travel in thick trees oron ridge tops to avoid avalanche terrain. Make frequent stops and checks within the group; stay within sight and earshot.

Tree skiing is wonderful but what should a skier know about tree wells? (A tree well is an area of loose snow around the trunk of a tree.) Make a point not to ski too close to conifers and be careful where you pull up toa stop.

If you are falling face-first toward a tree, go for the full roll, instead of heading in superman style on your belly. Ideally land in a well feet-first. Move snow away from your face and try to pull yourself up by grabbing branches. It’s best to avoid struggling, save energy and wait for a buddy.

Would Steamboat Powdercats be a suitable option for kids to sample backcountry skiing?A powdercat trip is a great intro because you remove hiking from the equation. While there are some hard-charging kids around here, most don’t like the “earn” part of “earning your turns.”

If a skier is new to backcountry skiing, what would you advise?Hire a guide or find a mentor who can provide advice and experience. They set you up for success. After you get some tours under your belt, you can start ratcheting up your own tours/ goals, moving into bigger and more complex terrain. When you’re ready to take that next step, turn again to your guide or mentor to start you on that next step.