My friends convinced me to try clipless pedals, that I never trusted too much (BMX background). Now while I'm getting used to them and experience very funny falls, I try to figure out, can a used-to-cleats rider drop his foot in a sandy corner, or the only thing he can do is to get used to proper race style cornering?
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Yes it is possible and some times necessary. It's best though if you already know the trail you are riding so you can prepare yourself at the right moment. For a classic example see inhow the rider unclips at 1:10 in order to save himself at 1:12.
This of course will work well as long as you've set a moderate tension so you can unclip pretty easily (but not very very easily).
As your pedals age and cleats wear it will get much easier to unclip at a moments notice.
Until then, you can try adjusting the tension of your pedals or do as I did and just ride at slower speeds until more comfortable with cornering while being locked in.
Even with looser clips and experiance I still fall, but that wasn't any different then when I was using flats :)