Getting big powder on the big bumps
Skiing big powder on a small bump run makes bump technique a non-issue; the powder smoothes everything out like a Back Bowl run. But skiing big bumps on a big powder day has its own unique challenges beyond the ones you can find in the Bowls.Most of these are related to the fact that Vail and Beaver Creek rarely get large enough storms to completely fill in the deep troughs on the big bump runs. Twelve inches won’t do it; 18 is close, but it usually takes about 24, which rarely come all at one time.Therefore, because these runs never totally smooth out the way the Bowls do, in addition to the powder, you still have to deal with the bumpy base. To do this, big powder on big bumps requires you to use slight variations of both bump and powder skiing techniques.Look at the terrainOne of these concerns terrain analysis. Just as in skiing packed bumps, you need to look as far ahead as possible to plot your turns over or around each bump. But the deep powder complicates this because the snow’s drift obscures exactly where the bumps’ tops and troughs start and end.
Therefore, it’s important to look ahead even more carefully than usual and stay flexible. Otherwise you might find yourself spearing your ski tips into the side of a bump or getting some other unexpected jolt which sends you flying.PlantingAnother issue in big powder on big bumps is “the pole plant to nowhere.” Just as in deep powder in the Bowls, sometimes your pole can travel up to its hand grip when you put too much weight on it. But this is more of a problem in the bumps because you must lean farther forward than for skiing the Bowls, making it more probable that you may lean too heavily on your poles.So, just like on packed terrain as well as in the Bowls, you should remember not to put weight on your poles. Your pole plants should be for timing and to establish your balance point, not serve as a prop to keep you upright.
TimingA third issue is timing. On packed bumps, you can establish a rhythm and keep to it by anticipating each turn. When the bumps are covered in deep powder, however, you can never be completely sure what your pace will be on the next turn.Sometimes the powder slows you down; sometimes, depending on the bump, it speeds you up. Therefore, you have to be flexible and can’t count on a steady rhythm to help you stay in the fall line. Instead, you have to rely on good technique, especially keeping your shoulders facing downhill at all times.On your feetAnother issue concerns what the powder does to your feet. Big bump skiing requires quick feet, which is another way of saying that it requires quick edge transfer. But in deep powder, nothing happens as quickly as it does on packed terrain. And edges don’t have as much holding power.
Therefore, in order to make the quick turns necessary to stay in the fall line, you need to balance on the soles of your feet at all times, with less help from your edges than you get on packed terrain. Staying balanced on your feet requires correct upper body position, which in turn controls your balance from the waist down. And it requires good upper/lower body separation so your feet can deal with everything that comes your way without disturbing your upper body position.In addition, deep powder on the big bumps requires your feet to be extra sensitive to the inconsistent base. Varying the degree of bending and extending – i.e., up and down motion – from your knees and ankles is what allows you to manage the inconsistent pressure that the powder creates.Although big powder on big bumps can be more complicated to ski than powder in the Bowls, it also provides one of the greatest highs: the free fall feeling you get every time you turn on or around a steep bump and drop down into a cushion of powder. It’s the same feeling you can get from jumping off a cornice on a big powder day. But in the big bumps on a big powder day, it happens at every turn.Elizabeth Eber is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Vail.Vail, Colorado