So, you’re ready to reap the rewards of skiing in powder and good for you. It can be challenging, but you won’t regret taking the time to learn how to ski powder once you get started. Mastering a groomed run inevitably compels skiers to look for the next challenge. The variety of terrain on a mountain makes skiing so fun! As you prepare to take on the next challenge, here are three tips to help you as you start out. It’s going to take practice, practice, and more practice before you get the hang of skiing in powder, but don’t let that intimidate you. Rather, take breaks when you need to and enjoy the ride.
Table of Contents
Where to Ski powder?
Powder is the term applied to the light, freshly fallen snow on the slopes that becomes a fluffy cloud when disturbed. While some take skiing in powder to mean skiing off-piste or in the backcountry, you can absolutely ski powder on an established, marked run.
What is piste skiing?
Off-piste means skiing off of established, marked ski runs or groomed slopes. Piste means skiing on an established, marked run.
Off-piste vs. piste
You can ski powder while skiing piste, it just means that you’re not in the backcountry or off in the trees. If there’s powder and you’re skiing in it, you’re skiing in powder. You do not have to ski off-piste to ski in powder.
Ski enthusiasts, however, love skiing off-piste because it means there are likely to be no tracks in the fresh snow. The untouched snow beckons to them, and they can’t resist the urge to be the first ones to lay down tracks in the pure white snow.
No tracks means that you’re not having to compensate for the break in terrain from ski tracks and it means feeling like you’re the only person in the world at that moment in time (cue “Only Girl in the World” by Rihanna). Nature feels truly wild.
When learning how to ski powder, go with a buddy if you’re going to go off-piste and prepare for possible hazards and dangers. I recommend also keeping a Garmin inReach on you if you go deep into the boondocks in case of rescue. It also helps to read up on how to recognize avalanche hazards. The allure of skiing off-piste is that you’re experiencing nature untouched, but it also means unknown hazards lying underneath the snow or around the next tree.
Now, for the fun part. The most important thing when skiing deep powder is keeping your balance so that you don’t fall through the snow. While investing in a good set of powder skis is going to help a lot when skiing powder, technique is crucial, and owning skis that can float in powder won’t help you if you don’t know how to maximize their benefits. Here’s what you need to know to keep your balance in powder.
Powder is going to require a lot more work from you, but that’s what makes it fun! Since there’s no way to know just how level the snow is beneath you and what kind of obstacles are in your path when skiing powder, be ready for anything by keeping your core tight and your knees bent. This helps you brace for whatever your skis will encounter in the deep snow and you’ll be able to keep better control of your skis.
Give your edges a break
When skiing in powder, you’re going to want to do the opposite of what you do on a groomed ski run. When you’re on a groomed run, on packed snow, you turn with your edges and make sharper, zig-zag-shaped turns. This is because you need those edges to grip the packed snow. In powder, it’s different. There’s nothing weighing your skis down on a groomed run, but with powder, you’re actually sitting in the powder rather than riding on top, so turn with your body instead, so that your edges aren’t offering themselves up to be grabbed by the snow.
Distribute your weight evenly
Instead of gripping the snow with the edges of your skis and putting your weight on the downhill ski when you turn, you’re actually going to keep the weight evenly distributed between both skis. It’s especially important to keep this in mind when you turn, but when in powder, no matter what, don’t put too much pressure on one spot. Once you learn how to ski powder, it will be your friend, but it’s going to feel like your enemy for a little bit because it’ll grab your skis at every opportunity.
Mind your stance
Stance will help you keep the weight evenly distributed between your skis. Keep in mind the goldilocks rule—don’t lean too far forward or too far back. Center your body over your skis in a narrow stance, keeping the skis closer together so that they behave as one. This will keep you from sinking into the powder easily.
The second life-changing hack to learning how to ski powder is to keep your speed up. Powder slows you down, so this is crucial. Once you stop, it’s hard to get started again. Powder skiing is light and breezy while you’re moving, but once you stop the snow starts to compact under your pressure, and unburying yourself becomes a task.
The right gear for skiing powder to keep you warm and dry
Which reminds me, you’ll want some breathable, waterproof outerwear when skiing powder. The powder flies up as you’re skiing through it and you don’t want it to melt through your clothing as you go through the day. A waterproof coat and pair of ski pants with vents that you can open and close are a powder skier’s best friends.
The North Face has never let me down with ski gear that insulates and keeps me dry all day long. This women’s ski jacket from The North Face features a powder skirt to keep snow from going down your pants, vents, and a waterproof and windproof outer shell. Here’s the men’s Triclimate ski jacket. Remove the inner shell if you just need waterproofing for the day or wear both the inner and outer shells for ultimate warmth. It’s a flattering fit but roomy enough to wear a hoodie underneath as well. I’m happy to say that I’m still wearing my Triclimate jacket on the slopes.
When keeping speed up, it’s helpful to find a rhythm. As you’ve been practicing on groomed runs, you’ve probably developed a rhythm of linking your turns on your way down the mountain. It’s the same in powder, it’s just going to feel slower. Link your turns with easy, gradual movements, and swing your poles as you do so. This will help you establish a steady tempo so that your speed stays consistent.
Turning on groomed run vs. in powder
The third key thing to practice when skiing in powder is to take smoother, more gradual turns. It seems counterintuitive, but slower turns will help you maintain your speed and keep your skis sailing through the snow. Your turns should be more crescent-shaped and not the zig-zag lines you’re used to on a groomed slope. You’ll want to do this in the fall line.
The fall line—What is it?
So, what is a fall line in skiing? The fall line is the most direct path down the mountain. When turning in powder, you’re going to make gentle S shapes down the fall line. Zig-zagging across the hill in perpendicular lines to the mountain is great for a leisurely ski run when you’re not wanting to go fast, but this won’t help you when learning how to ski powder. Skiing down the fall line means facing down the mountain rather than skiing across it, which can feel pretty darn scary, I’ll concede. However, you can adjust your speed by turning more frequently and keeping your turns crescent-shaped.
As you’re taking these more gradual turns, it’s important not to put too much pressure on any one ski, but rather to keep the pressure consistent between both skis and turn with your body. Get your hips involved and keep your upper body straight.
A final way to keep your turns smooth is for you to stay loose and fluid. As you turn more gradually, half-moon turns, keeping your knees bent in the turn and straightening them slightly on the way out of the turn will help you with linking turns together. This will give your motion a little “bounce.”
What to do with my poles?
Swinging your poles as you turn in powder can remind your body of the soft stance it’s supposed to take. The bounce of the turn becomes bouncier when you swing your poles in unison with your curves. When first figuring out how to ski powder, pole planting can help with balance so that you have extra leverage as you find your rhythm. Keep the pole planting light as you turn in powder and deftly swing the pole back up.
Poles with powder baskets—the disc shaped things on the ends of ski poles near the tips—plant better in powder and deep snow because they have more surface area. They’re far less likely to sink into snow than a pole with a normal basket.
What skis are best for powder skiing?
Skis with more surface area are going to be great for powder. Narrow skis are not meant for powder, but wide skis have great float. Powder skis usually have camber, too, to give buoyancy and keep the tips and tails up. Look for a wide ski with camber and rent a pair to see how they work out for you. It’s unbelievable sometimes the big difference a little extra surface area can make.
A reading list for powder-packed idyllic runs and inspiration:
- Great book for international travelers: Powder by Patrick Thorne explores the perfect powder runs found throughout the world
- A fun read for kids and adults: Learning to Ski with Mr. Magee by Chris Van Dusen
- Great book for intermediate skiers wanting to up their game: Total Skiing by Chris Fellows
- Great book for for going beyond powder into challenging black diamond mogul runs: Everything the Instructors Never Told You About Mogul Skiing
- Subscribe to FREESKIER magazine
I’ve been talking about nothing but skiing in fresh powder and now all I want to do is head down the mountain with you. Learning how to ski is challenging and learning how to ski powder is the next big step in your journey. Don’t give up! It will all be worth it, I promise. Once you get out there, you’ll see what all the powder junkies are chasing. The weightless, floating feeling of fresh powder skiing leaves you wanting more. Pair that with being surrounded by the smell of fresh evergreen trees and dazzling white snow and you’ll properly tire yourself out for apres ski. Remember, you can always stop and take a break to smell the pine trees if you need to slow things down.