How to ski powder: An advanced guide

Article published 26 August 2021

HOW TO SKI POWDER LIKE A PRO

Powder is the ultimate for many skiers. Picture an advert or a film where the skier is the hero and invariably you will see them hurtling down a mountain surrounded by icy clouds of fresh, virgin snow. It looks cool, looks fast and makes you feel like you are riding on air rather than the ground.

Powder is sexy. But it is also difficult. Beginners are recommended to stick to slopes that have been compacted after a fall of snow. However, it won't be long before you are ready to hit the powder and live the dream. We have some tips on how to traverse this magical but tricky substance.

Make sure you are kitted up

Powder is unforgiving to skiers who have a ‘will this do?’ approach to their equipment. You will need to be at your best in terms of balance and control so make sure all your gear is as good as it can be. That means skis that fit snugly and safety essentials that will fully protect you. It might be softer to take a tumble in powder but you can still get hurt in a fall, especially as powder can cover up hidden obstacles such as tree stumps.

If you are trying to start skiing powder then it is also possible to use wider (or ‘fat’) skis which makes everything a little easier by providing you with a bigger platform. Essentially you are floating on top of the snow and the fat ski helps to provide a larger air cushion. Some skis are also fitted with a ‘rocker’ at the top and tail which offers you more lift and greater traction when it comes to turning. Think of these extras as stabilisers on a bike. They are useful for learning and there is now shame in using them but eventually you will want to do things for yourself and take pride in your technique.

Get in the zone

Skiing powder requires a change in mindset. If it is your first time or you are still unfamiliar with the conditions, you need to focus on every moment of your run. At first this is not going to be relaxing and very much fun. However, after enough practice it will probably be the best skiing experience you can have so put the time in now to reap the many benefits of skiing powder later.

We recommend starting small. If you can, try to find powder that comes up to your ankles and knees rather than your waist. It is more forgiving and you can make your mistakes in a less dangerous environment. Don't go too far too soon. Try to ski powder a little bit of time then build up until you are confident you can do an entire run.

Prepare for speed

The key to success in skiing powder is to get up a good head of steam. Powder snow can slow you down which makes basic operations such as turning more difficult to achieve. In order to take control and get into your skiing groove you will need to be going fast to begin with or else your journey could end in a disappointing skid part of the way down the mountain.

You also need to keep looking ahead rather than staring down at your skis. Powder requires planning and it is vital to know what will be coming up in the near future so you can prepare in advance. Make sure those goggles are effective in a frosty cloud.

One ski thinking

Pro skiers are good on powder because they have learned how to work their body and legs together to get the right balance. The secret is to maintain an even weight over your ski and adopt a narrow stance. Try to imagine that your two skis are actually one board. Press down more firmly than normal. Your thighs will be getting a very good workout as you use them to navigate rather than the edges of your skis. Stay pointed downhill with the end of your skis and build up a rhythm. Hands should be held forward and your poles used as a third point of contact with the ground.

Don’t go back

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when skiing powder is leaning back. It will take the weight off your skis and the tail of the boards will start sinking into the snow making turns all that much harder. You will also find your legs starting to take the weight of your entire body and your muscles will be groaning in agony before long. Of course, being too far forward can cause the same problem in the opposite direction. Stay centred and stay balanced: easy to say but you will eventually get there and find your new stance more natural to hold.

Pop and turn

Turning effectively will also require a flex and pop action to prevent your ski tails from interfering with the action. When you are planning on changing direction, straighten your legs from the skier’s position which will automatically reduce the friction between the back of your skis and the snow. Bouncing can be fun but it will take it out on your muscles so a bit of time in the gym before your ski holiday could be useful. Do not forget to use your pole as part of the turn which will offer greater stability and accuracy and also encourage you to adopt the correct balanced stance.

When things get crusty

In an ideal world the slope we travel down is consistent in terms of the type of snow. In the real world powdery snow can also include crusty snow. This happens when the powder refreezes overnight giving the surface the same texture as a good pie. That means at some moments you will be floating over the top and at others sinking into the crust. To tackle this you will need to use some advanced techniques such as jump bouncing out of turns and also adopting a wider stance. For the early learners just beware that all that glitters is not necessarily pure powder.

Above all, enjoy it

Powder is a wonderful thing once you have mastered the basic techniques. Start small, develop your confidence and then get ready to live your ski dreams as you zoom through thewhite clouds, feeling like James Bond and satisfied knowing you have overcome one of the big challenges facing any winter sports enthusiast.