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Flat light and vertigo

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
I skied at A-Basin today and encountered a problem I have never had before. I was skiing moderate terrain (off the Lenawee lift, for those who know the area) in very flat light, snowing, but not too heavily. I would not call the conditions anything like a white out- you could easily see down the slope and into the distance, but there was absolutely a complete lack of perception as to any sense of depth, change in terrain, or even where the snow stopped and sky began. Although I did not feel at any time that I had difficulty skiing, or maintaining balance (even though the slope would sometimes suddenly drop away, or I would encounter bumps or uneven snow), I began to develop what I can only describe as motion sickness, and had to stop several times to settle my stomach and regain my equilibrium. It was very disconcerting. I've skied lots of times in flat light, but never anything like this before.

Any suggestions as to how to compensate for these conditions (aside from quitting early, which is what I did!)?
post #2 of 10
That happened to me a few times this year at A-Basin. I just skied the lower half/Pallavacinni where there are trees. The trees seemed to provide enough contrast to provide some orientation.
post #3 of 10
Yeah this has to me in the past. The only thing you can do are to duck in the trees for some more perception, slow down, relax, don't fight the terrain and take it easy.

What color lens did you have in your goggles? Yellow seems to work well for me and I've heard the Briko makes a killer lens for these situations.
post #4 of 10
I've experienced vertigo in heavy fog, but not in flat light. When the snow definition disappears is when I start playing with exercises and slow-speed maneuvers. If I can find something visible like the trees mentioned by others or a line of lift towers, it helps. Sometimes if you can go to slopes that face a slightly different direction from the ones that have become invisible, you can find a little better light. Mainly, however, bad light is just a good time to slow way, way down.
post #5 of 10
I've experienced the sensations described and I think it is due somehow to the lack of of reference. When items of familiar scale and orientation like trees are present I don't get this feeling. Fog and whiteout conditions are the worst because it gets to be a bit like the scuba diver's problem of having increasing difficulty knowing which is up or down but with the increased problem of having difficulty gauging speed or angle of descent. Above treeline is similar. I have found myself surprised to discover I was skiing extremely fast without realizing it. Occasionally I discovered this as my body grazed the slope, unaware I was so far over.
post #6 of 10
Hi DP--

It's an interesting condition, isn't it? And Arapahoe Basin, way above the treeline, is notorious for it when it's overcast and snowing. You can't tell uphill from downhill, can't tell how fast you're going, and without a horizon or any reference to vertical or horizontal, you have to rely on your inner ear and other kinesthetic senses for balance.

But you said you didn't experience any real difficulty skiing it, or keeping your balance, so you did well! I think the vertigo and motion sickness occur because your body doesn't experience the sensations you expect to feel. You think you're going one speed, and you're going faster or slower. You expect to be going downhill, speeding up, but in fact you're going uphill, slowing down. It's weird!

I don't know how to cure the motion sickness and vertigo, other than to get out of the condition and find something to give you some reference points, as others have said. At Arapahoe, stay on the lower mountain, in the trees. Skiing with a group of people can help--ANYTHING that provides an actual reference point can bring your perception back to normal. Kneale's advice to slow down--way down--is good. Make smooth, round turns and keep on turning until you almost stop. Even if you can't tell how fast you're going, and can't tell up from down, it's a sure bet that if you turn far enough around an arc, you'll end up going uphill and slowing down.

As always in less than optimal conditions, good, offensive ski technique is a must. This doesn't mean you need a high level of skill, necessarily. It means you let your skis glide forward, controlling your speed by gliding uphill, rather than with intentional skidding. When you don't know what the snow is going to do--could be smooth, or bumpy, or a big heavy chunk of ice could be lying in wait--you don't want your skis going sideways!

Don't be afraid to open your skis into a small wedge, though. The slight resistance, and the sound, can give you a much better feel for your speed, and if you open your stance a little, it can provide better lateral stability. (It's common to fall to the inside in these conditions, when you tip into what you think is a turn, only to discover that you've actually come to a stop!)

In many ways, skiing these conditions can be good for you--it forces you to tune into important senses that might be dormant when visibility is better. It reminds me all too much that I can be overly reliant on my vision. I was at Arapahoe yesterday with a group of strong intermediate skiers, and we encountered the exact same conditions on top, off the Lenawee lift. At first most people found it disorienting and frightening. But I told them to stay close together and follow me, as we skied slow, smooth, round, very complete turns all the way to the tree line. When we stopped, everyone agreed that it had actually been kind of fun!

As I often say, there are only two kinds of conditions: conditions that are good, and conditions that are good for you! Whiteouts and zero-contrast visibility can be very good for you. But of course, you don't want too much of a good thing. So we stayed on the lower mountain for the rest of the day!

Pretend that it's fun!

Best regards,
Bob Barnes

[ May 02, 2003, 08:51 PM: Message edited by: Bob Barnes/Colorado ]
post #7 of 10
[ May 02, 2003, 10:02 PM: Message edited by: Matteo ]
post #8 of 10
Thread Starter 
Thanks everyone, for your replies. The strategy of heading for the trees is one that I know, and what I did, staying on the lower mountain for my last few runs of the day. I did change the glacier glasses I was wearing in the morning for rose colored goggles; perhaps yellow would have been better. Bob Barnes' suggestions were (not unexpectedly!) very intruiging- I will have to try those strategies next time. What I found most perplexing was that I have skied in lots of white out-type conditions before- I recall several days in the back bowls at Vail this year and last in heavy snow when the visibility was terrible (and the skiing fantastic!!), but never had the same kind of reaction. I suppose that it was a peculier combination of light that made this so much more difficult.
post #9 of 10
dp - another thing to TRY (I can't vouch for it - I rarely suffer vertigo even in white outs... in fact I ski BETTER in poor visibility - & at least a couple of years ago I skied FASTER) - the vertigo IS motion sickness ... ie brought about by conflicting inputs... So take plain old motion sickness treatments... We have a GINGER motion sickness tablets - I'd try that - least side effects (ginger beer - if brewed stuff works well too - as it does for morning sickness).... Failing that - how about a belladona alkaloid based prep - hyoscine/atropine/hyoscyamine type stuff
post #10 of 10

Just a couple more belated thoughts. (I haven't been to the forum in quite a while.)

I also got vertigo at A-Basin this year, but it has happened to me a couple of other times; Targhee & Big White. I have yellow lens Cararra goggles, and still couldn't tell up from down.

On the difference between Vail back bowls and A-Basin: I'm certainly no expert, but perhaps being an occasional visitor to the area as opposed to a local, this may make some sense. The altitude difference between Vail and A-Basin makes a big difference to me. I can do the Back Bowls and Blue Sky all day without getting as tired as just a few runs at the Legend.

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