Skiing powder is the same as any other skiing......only more so. At least that's what we used to say when I was teaching. What does that really mean? Well, as a number of posters have pointed out, if your technique isn't solid on corduroy, you're probably going to struggle in the fluff...or on rock hard ice...or at higher speeds than you're comfortable with...or in bumps...or in crud.
I've been racing Masters for about 15 years, and every year, we talk about the same thing: getting it done in free skiing before you get in gates, and the same old boring stuff: edge the ski, pressure the tip, flow through the turn, start from an athletic stance and move to maintain it throughout a series of arcs. I feel like any more there's not a whole lot of difference between running gates, skiing powder, skiing bumps, or whatever. I think that comes from realizing that the GS turn is the basis for everything else, so it's not hard for me to switch from slalom to Super G, from gates to powder, and so forth.
Having said all that, here's some thoughts:
- Tools are important. For ski area powder, I'm currently using a 168 cm. Atomic R:Ex. Great ski for powder on the trails or ducking into the trees. The last time I was in anything waist deep or more (Irwin Lodge), I was using a pair of Atomic Fat Boys...anybody on anything skinnier was working too hard.
- When I first came out west from Vermont...more years ago than I care to think about...I was already a good skier after two winters on the Front Four of Mt. Mansfield. I ate s*** in powder for about the next two years. Some of that was technique, a lot of it was just paying my dues. It's easy to work on carving on hard snow, there's always some of that. Unless you're a ski area local, it's really hard to systematically improve your soft snow skills.
And it does take skill, as we know. The picture we were all shown was a babe on one of those classic Colorado days where the sun is out, the sky is bright blue, there's no wind, and the powder is 10 inches (no more) of Colorado smoke. That happens about once every other year. Somebody once noted that the Eskimos don't have a word for snow...they have something like 30 different words for all the different kinds of snow. You'll get stuff that's 6 inches deep that's so wet or windblown it skis like concrete...or you'll get stuff 2 feet deep that's easy to ski but hard to see. And it's always snowing hard, and the visibility's always bad when the snow's good...learn it, know it, live it, love it...that's what'll make you a powder skier.
- Not everybody...including not everybody who's a good skier...likes to ski powder. Find the hardcore shredders and hang out with them. You'll learn a lot just watching the powdermeisters, and you'll have more fun, too.
- Find some steep and wide stuff, where you basically can't get hurt, and grow some fangs. If you crash, so what? It's built into the game, and if you give yourself a comfortable, but challenging, learning environment, you'll find out how important momentum and staying close to the fall line are. The caveats for this are: always go in with a partner, come out with the same partner, and wear a helmet.
- Run some gates...with a good coach. Running a rutted slalom course is great for your bump skiing, and it's also great for the discipline required when you have to stick a turn out in the weeds.
- Speaking of the weeds, skiing the trees is where you find the good stuff, especially days after the storm. Skiing slalom is an exercise in looking ahead at where your skis want to go, not directly at the next gate...that'll draw you into a straight and late line, which is the opposite of what you want. There's a tendency to get mesmerized by all the foliage when you're skiing trees, to the extent that you end up in a tree well. Always look for the white, don't look for the green...