Like a child on Christmas morning, there is nothing better than waking up to freshly fallen snow blanketing the resort! After all, fresh powder is what most skiers are chasing and is one of the main reasons people flock to the powder fields of Japan or Canada. While this is the case, powder can be quite intimidating to those that are new to skiing/boarding, or from a country whose ski resorts don't receive such a large annual snowfall!
In this article I hope to put forward some helpful points that even the more experienced skiers can add to their techniques in the pursuit of mastering the deep white stuff.
While everyone is chasing “bottomless” pow, one of the main objectives of skiing powder is to avoid sinking and getting bogged down. Equipment heavily impacts a skier's ability to avoid this. As such, a wider pair of skis will prevent sinking and getting caught up in the deeper stuff. For those that are venturing off the beaten track, I would suggest a ski width in excess of 90mm where the boot attaches to the ski (“under foot”). This width combined with a slightly longer ski length will provide a larger surface area which will enable the skis to more effectively “float” through deep powder. For those that are new to powder skis, you may experience some difficulty controlling these bigger and potentially heavier skis. I encourage you be persistent as the rewards far out way the difficulty of adapting.
A narrower stance will combine the surface area of both skis which will add to the skis' ability to float through deep snow as mentioned above. Having the skis closer together will also mean that the skis will move through similar snow conditions. Having the skis further apart can lead to one ski passing through heavier snow and slowing or sinking while the other cuts through lighter snow and speeds ahead. This can be a tricky situation and often ends in a face full of powder.
One often hears that skiers should sit back when skiing powder. Unbalancing your stance in this way is never ideal and puts a lot of stress on all muscles. I would suggest staying centred and adding a little more flex to all joints (ankles, knees and hips). By doing this you will remain centred (and therefore balanced) but your hips will be positioned over your heels or rear bindings. In this position your hips will drive or push your feet through heavier pockets of powder which will prevent a nose diving effect from the skis. By flexing in the hip joint (while flexing the other 2) your shoulders will move forward bringing your centre of mass back over your feet while your hips are in this “aft” position.
The start of every turn, or turn initiation, can also be rather difficult when skiing powder. This is because the skis are weighed down by the powder you are skiing through. A more significant up motion between turns can lighten/unweight the skis, making it easier to turn them. As a skier becomes more proficient in powder, this up motion can be replaced by a “cross-under”, “down unweighted” or “absorption” style of transition. This type of transition between the turns is done by retracting or pulling the legs up under the body which reduces the load on the skis, making them lighter and easier to turn. This causes less jumping/up-down movement and subsequently less interruption to balance and makes for a smoother ride. It is however rather difficult to perform and should be used more by the advanced powder skier.
Lastly, momentum or pace is essential to skiing through powder efficiently. This is difficult for those new to deeper snow. Speed can be intimidating but skiing through powder slowly is incredibly strenuous and difficult to achieve. Momentum allows the skis to cut through the snow with more force, reducing the powder's feeling of heaviness or weight. This speed can be achieved by elongating your turns so that you spend more time heading down the hill instead of across. This can be very scary which is why finding a groomed run with powder on the side can be an effective learning environment. It allows you to ski a little faster with the comfort of knowing the groomed is close by if needed. Alternatively one can ski half on/half off the groomed so that composure can be regathered if balance is lost in the powder. A flatter powder run will also give inexperienced powder skiers the confidence to maintain momentum and spend less time fighting to slow down.
While the above key points will improve your ability to ski powder, one must understand that skiing through powder requires more effort which can be very tiring. The light and dry characteristics of Niseko powder make it the perfect powder to learn on. Like everything though, it does require practice but at least the practice is fun!