Recently, we blogged about the joys (and the risks), of going off-piste, and leaving the smooth, groomed runs behind in search of that special kind of snow that is the holy grail for many seasoned skiers – powder.
Composed of loose ice crystals, freshly fallen powder has a soft, light and dry texture that creates a skiing surface a world away from the flat, compacted snow found on groomed runs. Because of its consistency, powder doesn’t behave like other snow, making for an experience that’s completely different to skiing a prepped run – more like floating on the snow than carving through it, so if you’re keen to find out for yourself what it is that makes powder skiing so special, you’ll need to add some new techniques to your ski skills repertoire.
No one loves the powdery stuff more than our fellow snowsport aficionados at Nonstop Ski & Snowboard. Running ski and snowboard instructor courses and coaching camps in powder destinations around the world, what they don’t know about powder could be written on a snowflake, so we asked them to give us their top tips for skiing powder snow.
Just before we pass on their advice though, a quick safety message: As you’d expect, the best powder skiing is found away from the relative safety of prepared, patrolled runs, and going off-piste should only ever be undertaken by very experienced skiers who have the necessary equipment, training and skills. Powder snow can also be very deep – sometimes several metres – and apart from covering up all kinds of hazards, falling into very deep snow carries a risk of suffocation.
Ok, safety lecture over, let’s crack on with our tips for dealing with powder:
Make sure you have the right skis
A special kind of snow requires a special kind of ski, and if you want to get the most out of skiing powder, the first thing you need to do is equip yourself with the right tools for the job!
To help prevent sinking, and to get that floaty action going, powder requires wide skis. Initially you might want to consider renting or buying wide, all-mountain skis for use both on and off-piste, but as you become seriously addicted and spend more time in powder that’s more than 100 mm deep, you’ll probably want to upgrade to special ‘fat’ powder skis, designed specifically to get you gliding easily over the deep stuff.
When you’re skiing in powder snow, it’s crucial to get your balance just right, so that when you want to make a turn, you have complete control of your skis. It’s a technique that comes with practice, but the trick is to maintain a nice centred stance, not leaning so far forward that your ski tips dig in to the snow precipitating a face-plant (albeit a soft one), or leaning so far back that they lift, leaving you with little control when you come to make a turn.
Keep your skis working together
In powder it’s important to get your skis working together as a team, acting in unison so they create a broad, stable platform that will carry you over the top of the snow. Adopt a slightly narrower stance than you would do on the groomers, and let your skis flow, keeping the pressure even on both skis to avoid having one ski suddenly sink in and throw you off balance.
Carry enough speed
To ski through deep snow, it’s essential to carry speed and maintain momentum; go too slow and you’ll find it very hard to make a turn. In powder, speed is your friend, so embrace it and don’t be afraid!
Use a longer, faster turn shape
Following on from the above point, don’t angle your skis too much into the hill or you’ll kill your speed. In powder snow, you’ll need to keep your skis pointing down the slope a bit more than you might do if you were on a groomed piste in order to help maintain momentum and speed.
Maintain your rhythm & flow
Ski in a flowing, rhythmic style, using your pole plant to initiate your turn and to help maintain your tempo as you descend.
Stay relaxed & loose
The calmer and more relaxed you are, the better you’ll ski! You need to remain super-alert at all times of course, but try to keep your body loose and avoid tensing up. It’s something that will come naturally with experience and practice.
Start Shallow & Stay Safe
If you’re keen to dip your skis into some powder, you’ll need to find a nice gentle slope with a shallow covering of fresh snow; a place where you can safely test your technique, develop your skills and build confidence until you’re ready to go deeper.
Although as we said earlier the best powder will usually be found well away from the piste, you can experience the sensation of skiing his kind of snow, and get an idea of just how different it feels simply by cutting into the powder that often lies just to the edge of a groomed run.
Nonstop Snow offer unique experiences in the mountains, delivering award-winning ski and snowboard instructor courses and coaching camps in powder destinations in Canada, Europe and New Zealand. www.nonstopsnow.com