The snow had fallen thick and quick the day before. And even though it was mid-morning, fresh powder was an easy find on many of the runs at Snowbasin. I thought to myself, “why not introduce the kids to a little powder today.” Why not?
We approached a swath of powder on the side of Snowshoe off the Becker lift. My son and I stopped near the top. I gave him a few brief pointers and then said, “follow me!”
And he did. For about one turn. Then a yelp of fear. A tight turn to the left. First one tip dove under the surface, than the other and he disappeared headfirst into the white bliss. Only he didn’t think it was blissful. He fought to get his head up, but with goggles still covered he began to panic and scream. Once the goggles were cleared he calmed down… until he tried to get up. And couldn’t. He was well and truly stuck.
Me? I was laughing my head off ten feet below while hiking back up to help. All my childhood powder days were flashing before my eyes. All the days where my dad gracefully floated on ahead and I augured in head first. So I wasn’t surprised at all when he said, “I don’t like powder.” Many powder newbies don’t. A good powder skier makes it look so easy! And it is, if you’ve mastered a few tricks that are different than skiing groomers.
1. Center Your Balance Over Your Skis
There are two tendencies for the first time powder skier. 1. Ski it like you would a groomed run, with your ski weighted near the tip. But if you do this in powder, the tips will drive. And you will to. Often head first. 2. The second tendency is to ski with your weight way to the back. And while this will elicit better results than option #1 you will find your quads working harder than necessary. Balancing directly over your skis allows you to control your turns and ski efficiently in powder.
2. Don’t worry about carving your turns.
All that edge work you’ve perfected on the groomers means very little in the land of knee deep powder. When I am turning in the powder, I think of tipping my ski, or dipping my thigh, to initiate the turn. I don’t weight my lower ski heavily (more below). You want your upper body facing downhill and your skis gently turning beneath you.
Heavily weighting the downhill ski can cause that ski to dive deeper in the snow and often cross under the other ski, causing your to fall. Powder turns are much more subtle and you need be more patient for them to round out. Skiing with your skis a tad closer together will also help you float higher in the powder, making turning easier.
4. Speed is your friend.
Often people become fearful and tense while skiing powder. But a little speed and loose legs are exactly when you need for good powder skiing. The snow will actually hold you back a bit, so don’t be afraid to ski a more direct line down the hill. And your turns will come much easier the more speed you have.
5. Ski with a buddy.
Ever been stuck upside down in a tree -well? It is incredibly disorienting. Just like my son experienced, falling in deep powder can be hard to recover from, by yourself. Finding skis, poles, and getting them all back on is exhausting. For your own safety and sanity, ski with a friend.
On your first powder day, pick an intermediate pitch of untracked bliss to ski first. Start with your skis shoulder width apart and get a feel for the snow, how heavy it is, how fast it is skiing. Then slowly break into your turns. Before long you’ll be shredding with the best of them.