9 Tips for Skiing in a Bowl
The first time skiing in a bowl is a noteworthy event for any ski enthusiast! Ski Expert Luke Hinz gives some helpful tips to have fun and stay safe!
For many skiers making their first trip out West to ski, the size and breadth of the ski resorts can be intimidating and daunting. Ski resorts in the Rockies and other large mountain ranges, such as the Alps, redefine what is possible to ski with two pieces of wood strapped to your feet. For a burgeoning new skier, the trails can look steeper, the powder is most certainly deeper, and the terrain can stretch endlessly into the horizon.
But one feature unique to larger resorts is that of the ski bowl. In this article, we examine just what, exactly, is a ski bowl, point out different examples of them, and then break down the best way to approach them for ambitious skiers. There is no doubt that a ski bowl, whether you be a beginner, an intermediate, or even a veteran expert skier, will test all your skiing skills. But at the end of the day, it's important to remember one thing—you got this!
What Is a Bowl?
At its simplest, a bowl is exactly that—a bowl-shaped depression in the mountain. A bowl is convex mainly in shape, meaning that the walls circle around a central lower point. Most bowls are an impressive result of geography and erosion, as glaciers carve out such shapes in the mountain over eons. They can also happen as a result of landslides. Bowls can range from small arenas only a few hundred feet across to much larger size bowls stretching a mile in length. Bowls lower in elevation can be full of trees, but many larger bowls reside above the treeline. When that landscape fills with snow in the winter season, it can result in a dreamy, powder-filled landscape for frothing skiers.
Types of Bowls
Much like the varying difference in ski slopes, there are endless numbers of different ski bowls, from mellow and comfortable bowls that you can happily lap all day to steep and menacing bowls that make you rethink your life decisions.
One of the best places in North America to experience everything that bowls have to offer is Vail, Colorado. In fact, Vail markets them as one of the prime reasons to visit Vail to ski, referring to them as the “Legendary Back Bowls.” Playfully named—from Sun Down and Sun Up Bowl to China Bowl to the Mongolia Bowls—the Vail Back Bowls are a prime example of a classic intermediate to advanced bowl. The slope never reaches an angle that would scare away intermediate skiers, what few trees there are remain well spaced out, and there are endless acres for skiers to lay tracks on any given day. And for skiers looking for a bit more of a challenge, Blue Sky Basin features a more heavily gladed bowl experience where you must navigate tighter trees in a more natural environment. Vail’s ski bowls are the perfect location for a skier looking to score their first bowl experience.
For more advanced skiers looking for a steeper and more exotic bowl experience, it’s hard to beat the bowls at Telluride Ski Resort. Telluride is an old mining town, and that same grit attitude is visible in Black Iron Bowl, which combines impressive steeps with glade skiing. It is geared strictly toward advanced and expert skiers, and a short hike to the top of the bowl can keep out some of the riffraff. For skiers looking for a bit easier bowl experience, check out Revelation Bowl for skiing hot pow laps.
Outside of Colorado, Alta and Snowbird in Utah offer various bowl skiing as well. Alta’s Wildcat Bowl is relatively small as far as bowls go, but it is known for collecting impressive amounts of snow on powder days and provides extremely fun tree skiing. Snowbird’s Mineral Basin is a giant bowl expanse with mostly natural features and few groomed options on the descent. Skiers descending into Mineral Basin face many decisions, from taking it easy on the groomed trail to going full Warren Miller on the steep and technical terrain located right under the lift.
And for skiers looking for the ultimate bowl skiing experience in North America, look no further than Big Sky Resort in Montana. Big Sky is situated near Yellowstone National Park, and Lone Mountain, the main face of the resort, pitches a striking contrast against the surrounding landscape. The bowls at Big Sky are steep, daunting, and riddled with cliffs. Many of them are only accessible by the Lone Peak Tram or via hiking from other lifts. They are the true test for the ski bowl connoisseur.
So how do you step up your game so that you, too, one day, can ski the legendary bowls of North America? Below, we share nine of our best tips:
1. Check the Visibility
Powder is that dreamy, ethereal experience that draws so many of us to the slopes of the ski resorts, but with powder also comes storms and usually bad visibility. As many bowls tend to be above treeline and vast expanses of nothingness, bad visibility can leave you grasping for your location in a bowl. Therefore, it's best to go on a clear day when you can see everything in front of you.
2. Don’t “Drop In,” Ski In
“Dropping in” is a ski term mainly used by advanced and expert skiers. And it's often used to explain how you enter a bowl. While there are plenty of bowls with steep and scary entrances that demand such a term, there are usually ways around it. A bowl doesn’t require you turning into Glen Plake just to enter it. Take your time and poke around; many bowls have established gates or mellow, broad openings that will allow you to enter based on your own skill.
3. Focus on Your Technique
Feel free to let your skis run for more mellow bowls and enjoy the ride. But for steeper type bowls and for more natural features, it is crucial to remember the fundamentals of your skiing—keep your knees bent, make sure your hands stay in front of you and stay centered on top of your skis. There is a natural tendency for more inexperienced skiers to lean back when encountering steep terrain, but that is exactly when it is most important to stay forward on your skis. By leaning into your boots, you will drive the front edges of your skis, giving you much more control over your speed and direction.
4. Keep Your Eyes Up
It can be very easy to want to look down and watch where your tips are going; after all, where your tips go is where you go! But if you can anticipate where you will be turning, you will be more prepared for what is ahead. So do your best to keep your head up and prepare yourself for three, four, or even five turns ahead.
5. Look Out for What’s Below!
Skiing in a bowl is very different from skiing on a cut run on the front side of a ski resort. One of the most important differences is that it is not a controlled environment but a natural one. While cut runs are groomed and maintained, ski bowls are often left in their natural state, whether that be powder, packed powder, crud, or ice. The steep terrain of many bowls makes it impossible for them to be groomed. The challenge of navigating the raw conditions of a bowl appeals to many advanced skiers. But along with those raw conditions come many unforeseen hazards, such as stumps, rocks, and boulders that can lurk under the surface of depressions—all the more reason to follow Tip #4.
6. Go at Your Own Pace
There can be a lot of egos flying around some of the top-rated ski resorts in North America, and it can be very easy to get caught up in it. But remember, skiing is what you make it. If you feel apprehensive, slow down, take your time, and go at your own pace. It doesn’t matter what anyone else on the mountain is doing.
7. Work Your Way Up
If it was your first time on a mountain bike, the last thing you would do is find the gnarliest downhill trail possible. The same holds true for skiing. If you’ve never skied in a bowl before, don’t start with the steepest one on the map. Instead, find a more mellow bowl or even one marked with a few blue runs to get acquainted and feel more at home. Once you’ve tackled those and feel confident, you can start making your way into more advanced bowls.
8. Be Wary of Those Around You
The best offense is a good defense. You may not be able to control what other skiers are doing around you, but you can control how you react to them. Keep yourself in control at all times, never extend beyond your abilities, and keep watch for other skiers around you who might not have the same self-control. Many skiers have tumbled down a steep slope, only to take out several other skiers with them. Likewise, the bottom of a bowl often tends to see much more skier traffic than the rest of the bowl. The natural shape of a bowl results in skiers being funneled into the same area at the bottom, leading to a lot of opportunities for collisions. So it’s best to be aware of your surroundings and remember that the downhill skier has the right of way.
9. Have Fun!
Skiers have a saying: “The best skier on the mountain is the skier having the most fun.” Cheesy? Most likely, but there’s a lot of truth in it. At the end of the day, we ski because it’s a blast, so when you tackle that first bowl, do it in your own style. And when you’re down at the bottom, pat yourself on the back.
Skiing in a bowl is an exciting and exhilarating experience, whether it's your first time in a bowl or your hundredth time. And if you are looking for the perfect ski to rip down a bowl, please reach out to me or my fellow Ski Experts on Curated to find the right gear for you!