Powder. To skiers the word means many things. Some associate it
with cold, wet, floundering. Others perhaps see it as a good shoveling chore
for the kids! However to many skier’s powder represents the ultimate in
skiing pleasure. The Western U.S. is known worldwide for its amazing
powder skiing. However anyone who has spent much time at various Western
resorts knows you have to actually be pretty lucky to ski much powder. A
few resorts in the U.S. get the same quantity of snow we do, but also have thousands
of skiers tracking it all up before lunch. At OUR SECRET PLACE (sorry, don’t
want to spoil our fun – getting enough publicity as is) we get very spoiled, you
can almost always find powder if you go looking! And sometimes you have
no choice but to ski deep snow! If you have ever gone out into the powder
and regretted it, this article is for you!
off, realize that if you don’t learn to ski powder you are missing out on a
great thing. There’s a reason people are willing to pay $6,000+ for a
week of Helicopter Skiing! Powder is not actually tougher to ski than
packed snow, its simply different in some ways. On hard packed snow, your
bases and edges are the only part of the ski in contact with the snow.
However, we don’t ski on top of powder, we ski in the powder. Your entire
ski is interacting with the snow, like an airplane wing slicing through the
Most basic skiing techniques are equally important in all snow conditions.
On hard pack we strive to stand in a natural and functional stance, balanced
in the center of our skis. The best hardpack skiers also let their skis
and gravity pick up as much of the workload as possible, not forcing their skis
around. In the powder this all remains true, in fact the powder acts as
an amplifier – rewarding you more for doing things correctly, and punishing
you for mistakes. A fundamental difference between skiing hard pack and
powder lies in the weighting of the skis. On hard pack most experts strive
to commit one hundred percent of their weight to their outside ski for part
of the turn. If you have ever tried turning on just one ski in the powder
you probably found out the hard way that it usually does not work! In
the powder you need more surface area underneath you. Here we skiers can learn
a lesson from Monoskis and Snowboards, both of these tools excel in the deep
stuff. The reason is that the users of these snow tools naturally have
a single platform underneath them. We can imitate this by keeping our
skis equally weighted underneath us when skiing the powder. Actually the
weight distribution tends to change according to the depth and density of the
snow. In extremely light “bottomless” powder experts often use 50/50 weighting.
Such powder is fairly rare however (even at SECRET!) so usually there is some
change of weight. The necessary weight distribution generally varies from
80/20 to 60/40. You cannot predict the required weighting just by looking
at the snow, you have to get out in it! As you get better in the powder
you will learn to automatically adjust your weight as needed.
While we are on the subject of weight…keep it centered! Modern
equipment is designed to be skied from the center in ALL snow conditions.
One of the most damaging misconceptions about powder skiing is that one should
lean back. It is of course true that you don’t want to lean forward in
the powder, that will cause your tips to dig in. But don’t go to the opposite
extreme, it will exhaust you and really inhibit quick reactions.
Another technique for learning powder is a powerful unweighting.
Unweighting is a sort of bouncing motion on ones skis. We are not talking
about jumping, just a bouncing. This is not just a powder technique, it
can be useful on many types of terrain and snow conditions. You can practice
this on a groomed run, the idea is to stand up very tall to start your turn
and then relax into the turn. It is mostly a matter of rhythm, sometimes counting
or singing to yourself can help if you are among the rhythm impaired!
You don’t need to jump up and twist your skis all the way around, it is simply
a slight steering motion. Once you have moved your skis just an inch or two
into the turn you can relax. Gravity and the pressure of snow moving against
the skis will do the rest for you. At first you may be expending a bit
of energy, but gradually you will learn to throttle back the unweighting motion
until it is very subtle. The art of powder skiing is the art of allowing
your skis to turn rather than forcing them to turn.
There is a book called Nine Ways to Ski Powder, which illustrates the
point that there is no single method for skiing any terrain. However these
tips usually really help get my students confidence up in the powder.
Once you can get down it, you can begin to explore alternate methods of skiing
the powder. I hope that these tips will help you start you on your way
to the world “Powder 8” competition!