Patience For Powder – Tips & Tactics for Skiing Fresh Snow

Everybody loves skiing powder. Okay, everybody loves the idea of skiing powder, but many actually find it a struggle. 

Here are a few tips and tactics to make life easier: 

Pivot with Precision

Only twist your skis as much as you need to. Any abrupt redirection of the skis across your momentum (without a whole lot of anticipatory inclination) will almost certainly result in a face plant. Aim for a round arc, C-shaped rather than a Z-shaped.

If an emergency dictates a really tight turn, you’ll need to move your mass a little further inside and be ready for that extra force! 

Bend Em Like Beckham

Powder bends your skis a lot, so take advantage of this self-steering effect and allow the tails to follow the tips as much as possible. It’s kind of like riding a berm or a luge track that tilts with the turn.

There will be some displacement of the tails but the more it can be reduced the better. A ski travelling forward through the snow in this fashion makes for a much smoother and more predictable ride than a ski travelling sideways.

Allow ski to move forwards through the snow rather than sideways

Stay Centered... But Not Grounded

In an effort to avoid Chicken Plucking and Face Planting, people have a natural tendency to lean back in powder and crud. Of course, this causes the tails to sink into the snow and the skis nearly impossible to steer. The result is one of our favorite symptoms... loss of speed control, AKA Jet skis!  

Regardless of what your brother in law tells you, aim to balance through the middle of the skis with pressure directly through the bottom of your feet. Granted, your feet slow down as your skis sink into the snow, so ‘centered’ may mean your feet will be in front of you a little more... but not so far in front that you’re on the tails.

You will have to keep the feet moving in order to maintain balance. When your skis bounce out of the snow between turns your feet will want to take off. Reign them in by pulling them back underneath your body. Just get ready to push them ahead again as you plunge back in.

Balance Through The Feet

Feel the force... and feel your feet! You will need to move them to support you based on the turn shape as well consistency and depth of the snow.

Backcountry Powder Skiing 1 - Tobin

Get the Skis Out of the Snow

Still have twisting troubles? Get some air. If you’re patient enough with the pressure, push off that platform, or better yet, let it push you and get your skis out of the snow. Now you‘ll be able to redirect them before plunging back in.

Bounce to the Rhythm

Rhythmical turns will help you take the energy from one turn into the next… you’ll be bouncing right out of the snow. 

Take Advantage of Terrain

Look for high points in the terrain like little bumps, rollovers or wind drifts to help get your skis out of the snow. This will make it easier to create that steering angle.

Skiing - Get out of the snow and get snow air

When it’s heavy, use terrain tactically to help get your skis out of the snow between turns.

Master Momentum

When you sink into that soft powder it will slow you down which is great if that’s what you want to do.  Unfortunately, if you are going too slow, you will not be able to float to the surface between turns and this will make it very difficult to initiate a direction change.

So into ore your instincts. You can either select steeper terrain, or take a more aggressive line keeping your skis in the fall line a little longer then you would in harder conditions…  Speed is your friend!

Steep Powder Skiing 1 - Tobin
Steep Powder Skiing - Tobin

Think Less About Edging & More About Platforming 

Powder is already grippy... maybe too grippy! We don’t need our edges to bight the snow, we need our bases to compress the snow. 

To build a broader platform you may want to take a more of a two footed approach.

I still like to balance primarily through the outside ski but using a little muscular effort to pressure the inside ski will compress more snow, giving you something to stand on and keep that outside ski from diving and straying (AKA Scissoring Skis).

You may also want to narrow it up a bit. A lot of ski instructors preach a wide stance on the groomers. This may be more stable, but narrowing your stance a bit in powder can help keep your skis from having a mind of their own. 

Edge Grip

Edge biting hard snow

Two Footed Platform In Powder

Two footed platform in powder snow

I’ve Got a Lot of Patience for Powder

It takes time for that snow to compress under your weight... so wait for it!

Extend your legs into the control phase of the turn and keep the outside one long and strong until the snow decides to push back.

The key is being patient. You won’t get a reaction right away like you will on hard snow. To change direction in powder you need to let the skis sink into the snow and compress it enough to push back. It’s kind of like a trampoline. If you want to bounce you need to keep your legs long and resist while the springs stretch tight.

Patience in Powder - Skis Entering Snow

Skis entering snow... be patient!

Patience in Powder - Waiting

Skis compressing snow... still waiting!

Patience for Powder - The Snow Finally Pushes Back

Finally the snow starts to push back... resisting, hopefully I can avoid this tree!

Tight Core & Test

Powder varies a tonne in consistency and who knows what terrain or conditions are hidden underneath. Sometimes it’s impossible to know what lies ahead until you dive right in.

When taking off down a run, the first turn or two is always a test, so just put your feelers out there and be ready to adjust balance and control pressure on the fly. Keeping a tight core will help stabilize your upper body and minimize how much you will get thrown off when you hit that unexpected bump or wind effected snow.

You’ll be able to pull off a quick recovering without anyone noticing... then rip the rest of the run!

Pillow Bumps

Everybody loves powder bumps. All the fun of regular bumps but covered in soft feathery pillows that explode when you ski into them. Bumps do a lot of the hard work of steering the skis in powder for you. But when they’re not there, the moves are still very similar. There’s a lot of flexing, extending, resisting and fore/aft adjusting. You’re just making the bumps from the snow as you go. 

Powder Skiing - Tobin Using Bump
Powder Skiing - Tobin Using Bump 2

Any Ski in Powder... Fat Rockers or Skinny Boppers.

If you want to make life easy in bottomless powder you can always get yourself a pair of fat skis. Fat skis create a bigger platform and help you float on top of the snow making the skill set required much closer to that of skiing a groomed run. They’re awesome for arcing big rooster tail turns in wide open bowls.

For even more float and easy turn initiation you can try a pair of skis with reverse camber, or “Rocker” at the tip and tail . They sure are a lot of fun and have opened up a whole new world of carving and slarving possibilities in deep snow.  

That said, when the snow is light a fluffy, in tight spaces and on steeper terrain, I still crave the old school powder experience of sinking in and bouncing out of the white stuff on skinny skis. It certainly requires better balance and little more momentum, but the face shots are plentiful! 

Ski Design -  Rocker or Reverse Camber
Ski Design - Rocker Camber Hybrid
Powder Skiing Hero Shot!

There’s just something about sinking into the snow on skinny skis:)

Troubleshooting - How to Ski Powder

Some of the most common powder symptoms:

Join the Science Friction Club.

Outsmart your ski instructor and troubleshoot your own ski technique.

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John Dixon
John Dixon
7 months ago

Great work Tobin.

Marco Forte
Marco Forte
7 months ago

Excellent explications. So clear, and so well explained. Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

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