Why Some Skiers Don’t Like Powder and How to Make Sure You Don’t Wind Up That Way
Powder days are a thing of beauty. Ski expert Abe F. shares his eight top tips for enjoying your next powder opportunity to the fullest.
Deep, snowy, powder days are like the holy grail for most skiers. And yet every season, on the most pillowy of snow days, I overhear people in lift lines and ski lodges complaining—yes, you read that right—about all the snow that is blanketing the slopes!
Chagrined as I may be, I understand where they are coming from. Powder is a pain at first. It can leave you wallowing in flat spots with your legs burning while skiers whiz past. Bumps can form and bounce you off your line. All the hours of work improving your ability to carve in icy conditions feel wasted!
But don’t despair. Powder days are a thing of beauty and the right mindset can help you enjoy them to their fullest.
Be ready to learn.
Skiing deep powder requires some different skills and techniques than skiing hardpack. If it’s your first time, be prepared to learn something new and don’t expect your skills to immediately transfer to deep snow. It’s important to have a more neutral stance and to use your edges less aggressively than usual. Allow your tips to float without getting into the backseat. Check out “5 Steps to Skiing Powder Like a Pro” by fellow expert Aidan Anderson for an excellent deep-dive on the finer technical points of skiing pow.
Learning these new skills might not be easy, and it’s important to be ready for that so you won’t get discouraged too quickly. Experienced skiers say powder is exceptionally fun—not that it is exceptionally easy. Be ready for that learning curve and power through it so you can really enjoy powder properly.
Get out there early.
Skiing untracked powder is way easier than skiing tracked-up powder. Depending on how crowded your mountain is, the whole resort could be tracked-out and bumpy by the first afternoon after the storm. These kinds of conditions require more adjustments and more effort. And while I certainly love a super-soft mogul field in the afternoon after a blizzard, the pure and untracked mornings are truly supreme. If your skill level isn’t where it needs to be to enjoy tracked-up powder, there’s still a good chance that you’re ready for the fresh stuff and you’ll need to be up early to enjoy it.
There are two reasons to be more confident when skiing in powder. First of all, falling hurts way less when there’s a foot of soft snow to fall into. Second, working back and forth across the hill makes it very likely to catch an edge or sink a tip in all that snow and totally ruin your rhythm or cause a wipeout altogether.
Keep your skis more vertical than you normally do—they float much better that way. The deep snow will be friendly to that style of skiing by naturally slowing you down and cushioning any falls.
Get into a rhythm.
If you’ve ever seen a Powder 8’s Competition, you know what I mean.
If you haven’t seen one—picture two skiers in a wide-open powder field making beautifully arced and synchronized turns, weaving their way down almost endless runs and leaving behind tracks that make perfect figure 8’s. Or just YouTube it.
The rhythmic style of this kind of skiing is so important for powder days because making sharp turns at will is challenging in deep snow. More often than not, it’ll lead to big falls. Making gradual, rounded turns with a consistent pace is way easier and more fun.
Look out for flat spots.
You don’t need to pick some super-steep diamond runs and point your skis straight down to get the proper momentum for powder skiing, but that laid-back green or blue with a big, long lull in the middle is not your friend either. Slowing to a stop in knee-deep snow and struggling to walk hundreds of yards to get out is one of the most common first-day-in-powder mistakes to make. If you aren’t comfortable on steeper terrain yet, be very careful to carry your speed with you into shallower areas and keep moving straight ahead as you float on through.
Don’t lose your gear.
I remember skiing Mount Snow, Vermont’s legendary steep Ripcord, as a young child. I lost a ski and watched it tunnel right into the fresh powder at top speed and disappear forever. My dad had to ski me down on his back and my older brothers teased me mercilessly.
Having a ski pop off in knee-deep snow and getting it completely buried is a huge drag and it is very common to lose a ski entirely, even with a concerted digging effort. That does not mean, however, that you should just crank your DIN setting way up—that would be unnecessarily dangerous. A better option is to use powder straps. They aren’t costly and keep you tied to your ski after they pop off.
If you don’t like the idea of having the ski tied to you as you tumble, you can attach a neon-colored cord to your binding, bundle the rest of it up under your pant leg, and then tuck it into your boot. This will allow the ski to safely fall away from you while providing some extra color and length to increase your chances of finding it.
If your ski does get lost and you can’t find it easily, go to the last place you are certain you saw it and use your poles to draw a 9’ x 9’ grid in the snow going downward and out from there. Search each square in the grid separately and thoroughly. Dig deep. If it isn’t anywhere in the first grid, continue making and searching more grids directly down the fall line from the starting point.
Do some powder hunting.
If you are only ever exposed to powder on those rare and special post-blizzard days, it’ll be hard to get in the necessary practice on a consistent basis. And if you only get to ski powder on days when you have no other options, it can be really hard on your legs before you know just how to do it.
Even when there hasn’t been a big snowfall for a few days, most mountains have little, hidden powder stashes that stick around for a while. Give these spots a try on days when you are skiing groomers confidently and your legs are fresh. This way, you can build on those skills gradually and with confidence.
Keep smiling! There is no secret formula or magic tip to suddenly become a pro at skiing powder. There are plenty of technical considerations to be aware of and pitfalls to avoid, all while retaining a positive learning mindset. Don’t expect it to be easy at first. And trust that once you are floating effortlessly upon pillowy-soft snow without a care in the world, it’ll all be worth it.