How to Ski Powder Like a Pro
Fresh snow in the forecast is what dreams are made of for many skiers. They chase the glorious feeling of gliding down a mountain, completely weightless, while walls of pure white fluff splash around beside them. The thought of a perfect powder day is what brings so many people back to the slopes season after season. Learning how to ski powder is essential to enjoy these magical days on the mountain.
For the new or uninitiated skier, powder skiing requires a different skill set than most skiers would need on a normal resort day. This article will help you understand the difference in technique and includes other useful powder skiing tips. We hope this information allows you to make the most out of those rare, but beautiful, days of deep snow.
Find Your Stance & Balance
First, you need to settle into a proper stance. You should have a narrower stance, with your skis closer together than they are on the groomed runs, which is shoulder width apart. This point is often debated in the ski world as the wider skis of today have created a better platform to ski powder. However, the traditional advice of a narrower stance still applies; it just doesn’t need to be as extreme as it was back in the 70’s when your ankles had to basically be touching each other at all times. A narrower stance makes turning smoother and decreases the likelihood that one of your legs will get pulled in a different direction.
A common tendency when skiing powder is to lean back on your skis, but this should be avoided. Always stay centered over your skis. Leaning back affects your balance and digs your tails into the snow, making it harder to turn. Aim to maintain a position in which your shoulders stay over your knees, while keeping your weight on the balls of your feet.
How to Move, Steer, and Turn in Powder
Think about how a surfer moves while riding a wave. You should apply that same overall movement in powder, bobbing up and down through the white “waves” of snow. While moving through powder, you should be focused on how you apply pressure to the snow. In powder, you are constantly flexing and extending, pushing and pulling, loading and unloading to maintain your momentum. In other words, you want to create “rebound” with the snow.
As you put pressure on the snow, the snow condenses. As the now compact snow pushes back on you, flex your legs upward, to rise to the top of the snow where you are lighter and can more easily rotate your legs and body to turn. Exaggerating these movements of weighting and unweighting creates a light bouncing rhythm. You can even utilize a small jump, or pop motion, to lift your skis out of the powder to easier initiate the turning of your skis. Make sure to steer your skis with your legs and not with your edges like you would on a groomed slope.
Turns in powder should be shallow and gradual. You want smooth, long ranging turns rather than sharp, quick turns. Your turns are important because overturning in deeper snow creates larger and more sudden levels of resistance on your downhill ski, which can throw you off balance and cause you to fall. Longer and more shallow turns help you carry momentum from one movement to the next and create a smooth and stable rhythm.
Pole Planting & Establishing Rhythm
Another key element in establishing a smooth and consistent rhythm is your pole planting. Pole planting forces you to keep your hands out in front of you and helps prevent your body from rotating backwards and getting spun around. Like in any other conditions, you should plant your pole downhill toward the end of each turn to commit your body weight to your downhill ski. By keeping your hands out in front and swinging your poles in a slow and consistent manner, you are maintaining an active, balanced movement.
Speed is essential to powder skiing, so do not be afraid of it! Deep snow creates considerably more resistance on your skis, and therefore slows you down more. Slowing down too much in powder can cause you to sink into the snow, which is no fun. It’s much harder to get your momentum going again than it normally would be on a groomed run. The key to graceful and effortless powder skiing is to avoid sinking too far underneath the snow, which means maintaining a fast enough speed to float. To ensure you’re able to maintain your speed, it may help to ski on slightly steeper terrain than you normally would, especially if you are a beginner or intermediate skier.
Stay in the Fall Line
In consistency with maintaining speed, you will want to stay in the fall line when skiing powder. The fall line is the most direct downhill line, or more scientifically speaking, the direction that gravity would naturally take any object. A crescent shaped turn down the fall line ensures you stay in rhythm. Too sharp of turns will slow you down and cause you to lose your momentum. Learning to trust yourself and your skis by maintaining speed and taking longer turns is one of the biggest mental hurdles for beginner powder skiers. Keep it going, don’t stop!
Have the Right Skis
Having the right skis is intentionally the last point here because a skier with the proper technique should be able to ski in any conditions with any ski. However, many of today’s skis are tailored specifically for beginners and are not the best for deep snow.
If you don’t ski powder often, try not to get caught with super narrow skis on a powder day. Rent some fatter, more rockered skis than you usually use to get the full experience. Fatter skis create a larger platform to float on and therefore make powder skiing much easier and effortless. On a true powder day, it’s best to have skis with waist widths of 100mm or greater, and more fully rockered than traditional skis. Also, cambered skis with decent rocker in the tips and tails tend to perform well in deep snow.
Video: How to Ski Powder
Learning how to ski powder is a mental shift from normal resort skiing. Steer with your legs and maintain momentum, rather than giving in to tendencies to constantly turn to control your speed. The deep snow will slow you down naturally without requiring sharp or sudden turns.
Stay balanced, find a rhythm, and feel the world around you disappear as you float effortlessly in a sea of white, fluffy snow. Or, if you haven’t nailed it yet, take solace in the fact that it is powder after all. Assuming you don’t take a nasty spill, it shouldn’t hurt as much to fall! It takes effort and experience to learn how to ski powder, so don’t give up and remember to most of all have fun out there.