Skiing on the epic, big powder days
Sometimes, even proficient powder skiers have trouble when the snow piles up higher than 10-12 inches, or when it is heavier than Vail’s typical champagne fluff.This is partly due to equipment. Those used to getting by with not so fat, fat skis are at a decided disadvantage because they sink down lower into the powder, and therefore have more, heavier snow to push around. But, the trouble many skiers have is mainly due to not changing technique for the deeper and heavier powder.When the new snow is light and less than a foot or so deep, powder skiing is very similar to skiing a groomed run, with only a few minor adjustments. One is that in skiing powder you must smooth out your movements – no quick or very small radius turns – and the other is that you must distribute your weight more evenly between both skis. This makes a platform out of them which doubles your power and makes it easy to push through the snow.
Furthermore, although balance is important in all kinds of conditions, it is even more important in powder. This is because in powder, if you make a mistake, the snow weighs your skis down too much to “catch” yourself quickly by breaking your stance. Thus, you must remember to stay forward and keep your knees bent, so you have some leeway to save yourself with balance.Very deep, or heavy powder skiing requires the same adjustments as those for light powder, although you must do them more assertively. However, it also demands some other skills as well as a change in your mindset.Because you never get down to the packed base like you do in shallower, lighter powder, you have to feel your way around and ride the lower part of the powder, much like a snowboarder, while you ski the upper part of the powder.In other words, in “big” powder, you never see the actual terrain. Instead, you see smoothness, and what you feel is a series of waves. These powder waves are soft and undulating, and riding them feels much like the up and down of a merry-go-round. If instead of riding them you try to fight or control them, you will probably fall, or very quickly exhaust yourself.
The best way to ride the underlying waves is to establish a steady rhythm to your turns – just like the beats of a metronome – and stick to it no matter where each turn occurs.Since to do this requires a leap of faith that your skis won’t encounter unseen bumps, ice or obstacles, you have to keep reminding yourself how deep the snow is and how unlikely it would be to hit anything. Again, this is part of the mindset of feeling your way through the powder as opposed to visually charting your way over the terrain.And what makes it all more complicated is that at the same time you are feeling your way over the bottom part of the powder, you still do have to ski the upper part. And you still have to ski it assertively because it is heavy.So next time the big powder comes, think of it in terms of two powder days at once: one to ski on top of one to ride.
Elizabeth Eber is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Vail.Vail, Colorado