7 Top Tips To Powder Skiing

What is a dream to many is a nightmare to most! Ski Instructor Academy talks about powder skiing.

When learning to ski the powder for the first time, don’t be afraid to cheat!

Many experts are keen to sit on their thrones of ice and tell us that using fat boy, full rocker skis in less than 40cm of powder is simply not sportsmanlike. Of course they have the experience and knowhow to ski the pow on match sticks if they wish, but the masses struggle, and often do not understand the problem.

The ski can be turned in three ways; 1. By rotating it against the direction of travel, 2. By leaning the ski onto it’s edge and 3. By pressure. It is this third method of turning the ski that holds all the key when skiing in the deep snow.

To explain this simply lets imagine that snow is a liquid and not the solid white mass that presents itself on the slopes (it is for arguments sake anyway precipitation that is frozen into ice crystals).

If you were a water skier you would first recognise that to make optimal progress you need to start to aquaplane which is only possible with momentum. The water skier remains dead in the water until the boat starts to speed across the water. Almost like magic, lift is created and the water skier begins his repertoire of tricks as he skims over the surface.

So how do we apply this to skiing, well this leads us to our first top tip;

Tip 1: Speed Is Your Friend

Without momentum forget it! One of the first things that you may experience when skiing good turns in powder is that it feels quicker than is comfortable for you. An expert skier will normally set off direct in the fall line and wait for speed to build up as this creates the lift and allows him to pressurise the ski more effectively. Don’t be afraid to give it some gas when skiing the powpow.

Tip 2: Pressure Control Is Key

As the skier sets off he may make a few controlled pushes, retractions and small hops. This is a clever method of feeling the consistency of the snow without committing to a turn. After all, not all powder snow is the same. I could write pages on this important fact but you simply need to be aware that there is easy powder and then a huge variety of other snow that will challenge even the best of skiers. The strange thing, is to the untrained eye snow can appear very inviting but as you enter the so called “powder field” it quickly becomes apparent that this is anything but powder! Wind pressed concrete, wet sludge, Scottish porridge, crusted slabs of doom, crud and so on are what await us during the Winter season.
Pressure is the key element that allows the expert to ski these challenging conditions. According to Newton’s Third Law, to initiate a direction change we need something to push against. On piste this is fairly easy as the surface of the snow is packed and prepared so with minimal effort we can initiate a change of direction. In deep powder snow we need to first pressurise the ski to create a solid surface and then ‘unload it’ to allow the ski to change path. This is why you appear to see the expert skier bouncing or jumping as he turns from left to right.

Imagine making a snowball with dry, cold, fluffy powder snow compared with making a snowball from a wetter consistence of snow. It is extremely difficult to create a ball from that dry powder compared with the wetter snow. You need to squeeze hard which results in a tiny, pea shaped ball that leaves you adding more and more snow to make that perfect face splatting artillery. When skiing you must learn how to maximise pressure build up which is lacking in the majority of recreational skiers who simply lean from side to side to make turns.
When skiing you should be trying to compact the snow under your feet so that you have a platform to change direction from and this is why pressure control is so important. A good coach will educate you well in the different ways to pressurise and unweight a ski dictated by the terrain and snow.

Tip 3: Choose Your Gear Wisely

Perhaps now you are beginning to see why those fat boys make life so much easier in deep snow? Maybe if I add that snowboarding makes a lot of sense in deep snow you will understand what I have been trying to say. The bigger the floating service area to distribute your mass, the easier it is to have lift even at slower speeds and with less emphasis on the hidden skill of pressure.
I also think it is a exaggeration to ski on a fat boy ski with 120cm under the waist and a huge banana shape in 10cm of powder or worse still on a packed piste. Clearly these skis have a purpose when snow depth is extreme (in excess of 40cm) otherwise a wide all mountain ski with sufficient length should suit your needs. Avoid slalom skis and short blades at all costs.

Tip 4: The Deeper The Snow, The Steeper The Slope

The risk of avalanche increases as it snows and as the slope angle increases towards an optimal angle between 25 to 45 degrees. Skiers find themselves in this danger zone as it is necessary to have a steeper angle to provide momentum in deeper snow fields. As a beginner in the powder you will still be able to make good turns at 20 degrees if the snow depth is less than 20cm and you have an all mountain ski.

Tip 5: Beware Of The Myths and Tricks

No!!! No!!! and no again! You don’t just sit back in deep snow. This is a myth!
An expert skier will explain that they use fore and aft pressure on the ski and pendulum across the length of the ski to avoid burying the ski tip or sinking the ski end. They do not just sit back.
This technique is actually used on the the prepared piste also by the expert, but the average recreation skier has no understanding of this important secret weapon in the arsenal of the pro skier.

Tip 6: Adapt Your Stance

Once again we can find some clues by looking at the snow boarder who even after one or two weeks boarding can make good turns in powder. The reason being is that the board is one unit and not two independent struts that need to be controlled individually by the skier. We have all experienced that feeling of the skis going in two different directions as we attempt to make a turn.
For the beginner in powder, adopting a narrower stance is helpful for lift but be aware that the skis are not used as one unit and still require you to be focused on both skis turning. Strength in the muscles that hold your legs closer together is needed and a braced strong core to add direction.

Tip 7: Milage Is The Final Piece Of The Puzzle!

The problem for the average recreational skier is that they rarely have the opportunity to practice this illusive skill as they ski maybe once or twice in any given winter season. If you had the opportunity to ski day after day in deep snow I am sure that most would make huge improvements rapidly. The answer is to try and ski as much variable terrain and snow as possible and not stick to the groomers. Bumps, ski routes, ridges, slush all have benefits in improving your technique. Don’t look to the path of least resistance.

As always a short tech blog like this can not cancel out the benefit of a good ski coach who can quickly introduce an average skier to new challenges on and off the piste.

Ski Instructor Academy runs a number of Improver and Performance Private Ski Clinics each season focussing on solving the issues skiers have when trying to improve their technique. Whether it be powder, moguls, carving or general technical skiing our tailored and fully inclusive clinics hold the answers.