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How to Ski Powder

Shredding waist-deep, blower powder is the most exalted experience in skiing. But for the uninitiated, skiing powder can feel like stirring cement. That’s because deep snow demands a distinct set of techniques.
posted: 12/09/2009
How to Ski Powder

The Boneyard never looked better. It was mid-April, a week after Steamboat’s closing day, but winter wasn’t heeding the shutdown: Three feet of fluff had just fallen on top of the 489 inches we’d gotten that season. So I hiked up at dawn—well before the springtime sun warmed the cold, dry snow into sludge—to stand atop the Boneyard, where a glittering white blanket hid the nest of fallen trees that gives this stash its nickname. I gazed at the aspens’ pale, spidery branches, then tipped my skis over the ledge and dropped in.

And I kept dropping. Everything disappeared from view—the sky, the trees, and even my hands were hidden in a sea of white. The powder was deeper than I am tall, and for a second I couldn’t tell if I was moving or stalled in a snowdrift. But I felt my legs bobbing beneath me, my skis flying on autopilot while my eyes searched the fog for my intended line. Two turns, then three—all under the snow, until I gained enough speed for my head to broach the surface, like the periscope of a submarine. And not a moment too soon: The Boneyard is salted with trees, which I could now see in front of me. I gulped some air, mapped my next few turns, and savored waves of snow washing over my helmet.

Sure, I’d counted on powder that day. But I discovered something even wilder, a new type of deep snow that proved just how three-dimensional the white room really is. Pow isn’t a road you ride on top of but a sea you swim through. You’re in it, and it’s in you, stuffing your mouth as you hoot with giddiness. And when it’s really deep, the snow’s surface isn’t the earth beneath your feet—it’s your sky.

 

Powder Tips From The Pros

1. “Don’t be afraid of speed. Go too slow and you end up mired in the snow, fighting it. Speed lets your skis float to the surface, where it’s easier to turn. Think of your skis as the wing of a plane: You need speed to get lift.”  —Aryeh Copa, ski photographer

2. “Your stance should make you look like a boxer, not like you’re sitting on the toilet. With your weight forward, over the balls of your feet, you’ll have much better balance and stability than when you sit back on the tails of your skis.”  —Michelle Parker, pro skier      
 
3. “As you progress through a turn, exaggerate the weighting and unweighting of your skis so you feel like you’re bouncing. Don’t work too hard steering your skis with your upper body—instead, focus on loading and unloading them.”  —Jessica Sobolowski, Alaskan heli-guide

4. “Lengthen your turns. Instead of making lots of short, thrashy movements, make smooth, long-radius turns that let you stay inside the white room for as long as possible. That way, your face shots last three times as long as they do with dainty little turns.”  —Shroder Baker, pro skier

 

Where To Learn

1. Big Mountain Centre, Kicking Horse, BC
Kicking Horse’s three-day Phat Kamp uses video analysis to help skiers master basic powder-skiing moves; the five-day Real Deal adds in avalanche awareness. [$549 and $849; kickinghorseresort.com]
 
2. Perfect the Powder, Grand Targhee, Wyoming
This four-day clinic helps solid skiers improve their game using a combination of lift-served and snowcat skiing—and 500 annual inches of fluff. You’ll learn to rip untracked snow in trees and on steeps. [from $2,995; grandtarghee.com]
 
3. Pro Powder, Hokkaido, Japan
An international team of instructors leads two-, three-, and four-day powder camps that teach skiers how to plunder Niseko’s neck-deep powder. After a few drills on groomed slopes, the focus shifts to the resort’s tree stashes. [from $150; pro-powder.com]

 

More Powder Stuff

- Check out this article for 10 things you need to know about powder.

- Make sure you have the right gear to shred on a pow day.

 

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