It’s also useful to keep in mind that, even on cloudy days, you’ll want to bring along a pair of winter sport sunglasses. Glare on snow and ice can destroy depth perception. This can be especially dangerous operating in hilly terrain, where flat light from an overcast sky can make terrain and snow mounds appear taller, shorter or wider than they really are. On bright days, glare can make it hard to see snowdrifts and other hazards.
Takeoff distances on skis are generally longer than on wheels, and they can be much longer in wet snow or powder. As you’d normally do, use headwinds and downhill slopes to help get you airborne more quickly. Many experienced skiplane pilots recommend following soft-field takeoff procedures, with a brisk acceleration during taxi onto the departure path to prevent the airplane from sinking into the snow.
In many ways, landing a skiplane is actually easier than setting down on wheels. First, you get the added benefit of feeling the skis’ trailing edges as they kiss the snow on touchdown. The snow can also cushion the landing, making even a slightly botched attempt feel like a greaser. If landing on a slope, uphill is the way to go. To avoid a hard landing, fly the airplane all the way to the surface and add some power just before touchdown. But remember to turn parallel to a steep slope before stopping — or you may find yourself sliding backward down the hill.
For more on skiplane flying, visit the enthusiasts website skiplane.org or download a copy of the FAA’s excellent Seaplane, Skiplane, and Float/Ski Equipped Helicopter Operations Handbook.
For more on braving the cold, check out Robert Goyer's recent feature on winter flying.
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