I admit, I've been a little behind on updating this blog. It's not that I've stopped skiing — far from it! The fact is we've received over five feet of snow since my last update, and I've been spending a little more time outside, and a little less time on the computer, as a result. Also, I own three cars, and all three simultaneously died, to the point that one engine had to be replaced, and the other two engines had to be removed for repairs. So when I wasn't skiing, I was elbow-deep in grease. But let's talk about the snow for a few minutes.
We all learn to ski on groomed snow. It's hard, and Newton's Laws of Motion provide clear and predictable results. You push against the snow, and it pushes you back. A turn results. But what happens when you get into the powder? Suddenly there's this strange snow that sucks you in. You sink, you stall, and you fall. Why do expert skiers all rave about how great powder is, when it's clearly an evil pollution that must be groomed to ski on?
So which is it? Scary nasty surface, or wonderful playground? It all depends on whether you know how to ski in powder. Clearly, powder is more difficult than groomed snow, so you must be a fairly good intermediate skier or better to handle deep powder. But beyond that, you also need to know a few extra tips and tricks to enjoy the powder.
The first thing to consider are your skis. A good skier can handle powder on any skis, but dedicated powder skis will make learning much easier. If you don't own a pair, consider buying or renting a pair just for powder. You'll be looking for something wider underfoot (at least 90mm, over a 100mm for deep powder, and for really deep powder maybe wider). At a minimum, you want tip and tail rocker, but consider going full reverse camber if you don't plan to use the skis on groomed snow at all. These features help keep you from sinking and make the powder easier to ski, while making you less maneuverable on groomed slopes. Again, you can use any ski in the powder, but it will be more difficult with hardpack carving skis.
Now that you're geared up, let's pick a slope. The best powder is often poached early when the resort opens, but that's okay. For learning, powder that's been chopped up can be easier with less risk of sinking. Ultimately, though, you want the clean untouched powder for the best thrills, and that will often require a guide to take you to the right hidden spots. Don't be afraid to look at steeper and scarier terrain than you normally ski — the powder will slow you down significantly, making slopes a lot easier to ski than when they're firm. Also, speed is your friend in powder, so don't try to go too slow. Open up and enjoy it!
Now that you're skiing a little faster, it's important to note that you need to turn slower. Everything you do in powder must be slower and more deliberate. Take your time turning, making a large rounded turn rather than a sharp twist across the slope. Remember, there's no skidding in powder — you'll just faceplant instead! Be patient and enjoy the experience of floating through the snow.
On hard snow, I like to describe turning like riding a bicycle, where one legs gets long and the other gets short through the turn. As you angulate into the turn, you need to do this to keep both skis on the surface. When our skis are floating through the snow rather than riding on it, that entire concept goes away. Instead, both legs flex and extend together. In the middle of the turn, the legs should both be fully extended, pushing the skis out to the side. As they turn under you, you flex to allow them to cross under your body, then extend them out to the other side. This rhythmic flex and extend move keeps your speed under control, and feels amazing.
Generally I like to advise people to keep their feet shoulder width apart. In deep powder, bring them a little closer together. We're not riding on the snow as much as flying through it, and the skis act as a wing. The wider the skis, the less you need to bring them closer, but generally you want them close but not touching to maximize the float they provide.
Wait, what? Did I just say that skiing powder is like flying? It absolutely is! You are moving a wing (skis) through a medium (snow) to generate lift. If you go too slow, you stall, failing to generate enough lift, and you'll sink down into the powder. To generate lift, the leading edge of the ski (wing) must be slightly higher than the trailing edge, relative to the direction of travel, so that snow hits the bottom, not the top, of the ski. If your tips dive down, snow will hit the front top of the ski, and you'll go even further down.
It's important to keep the tips up when skiing powder. You don't need (or want) them to come up out of the snow, but you do want to keep them from dropping. Beginners often overcompensate by leaning back and bringing the tips way too far up, but you just need a little lift. Don't use the back of the boot as a lever to rotate the skis up at the expense of moving your weight back, but rather close the ankle to keep the skis in the correct position with your weight centered.
It's not easy, but it's well worth it. For your first few runs in powder, try finding areas that would normally be an easy blue, where you can straightline in the powder. Going straight down the fallline, practice flexing and extending both feet without turning. Get used to the concept of controlling your depth, then introduce shallow turns. Once you're comfortable, get yourself onto a steeper slope, and enjoy the best skiing of your life!