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Different powder techniques????

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 
Any do's and don'ts out there for skiing over a foot of powder? I typically would ski on a mid-fat ski all around. Is it worth renting or buying wider skis for maybe a couple days a year of real deep pow? Any advise on making it easier to ski my 84mm wide afterburners in the deep would be much appreciated!

And it would be on my 2 week vaca out to Colorado skiing either A-Basin, Keystone, or Copper, so lighter pow (not the east coast damp pow)
post #2 of 6
What kind of terrain do you ski now and about what level of skier are you? Since you're on Afterburners and asking about powder, I'm guessing an advanced skier but don't know if you're primarily an Open Parallel skier or Dynamic Parallel skier. If you normally ski a somewhat skidded turn on icy snow or firm/groomed snow then powder will be more of a challenge.

People generally adapt a Skidded Turn technique to powder by increasing their 'bounding' (unweighting) to get their skis up into a snow-density zone where it's easier to twist them into the new turn. If this is your standard technique then pay close attention to your upper body motion. Avoid increasing your upper-body rotary often used to launch the upper body into each new turn and help get the skis turning. Instead, try to use Independent Leg Steering (ILS) which is twisting each leg independent of the other leg and also independent of the rest of the body. 'Bounding' helps because the skis are easier to redirect with ILS into the new turn when not so deep in the snow.

A Dynamic Parallel skier tends to move with their skis (much more like carving) so adapting to powder is easier, though requires a good deal more attention to fore/aft balance. If this is your typical technique you'll find it works well in powder if your balance point is relatively centered underfoot. If you typically 'lever' the front of your boot in order to engage the tip more forcefully then you'll find the ski will simply 'dive' in powder snow - and so will you.

Leaning on the tails to keep the tips up is a seemingly intuitive response to this problem but presents its own problems. When the tails are much deeper than the tips then it's the tails that are primarily controlling skier-direction which forces the skier to twist much harder (skidding skier) or tip much further (carving skier) to get the equivalent rate of turn a center-balanced skier would get more easily. If you experience great difficulty with f/a balance I'd suggest doing a straight run starting out balanced on the tails and progressively shifting your weight forward until you find a centered position where the skis feel like they're very responsive, but not yet nose-diving on you. You'll be surprised how deep the tips can remain without causing problems.

A final thought is on stance. Many skiers ski with a very short (flexed) stance and this can be a problem in deep snow. When one side 'sinks' suddenly our instinctive reaction is to extend that leg and try to 'push' ourselves back up with the leg on that sinking side. If you have a very flexed stance all the time this instinctive reaction may cause you to over-thrust that ski deeply into a more-dense layer of snow which creates a sudden increase in drag on that side. I see a lot of powder skiers topple to one side just a bit, then spin around that sinking side into a body divot from this effect.

I find it helpful to ski soft, deep snow with straighter-than-normal legs and to consciously pay attention to keeping both skis equally weighted. If one side suddenly sinks, I resist the urge to prop that side up and instead allow any now-unsupported weight to press my other ski down an equal amount. This does mess with my lateral balance for a brief moment but makes up for it by allowing me to continue on.

post #3 of 6

With skinnier skis and somewhere around 6 inches of powder, you stop skiing on the subsurface and start skiing in the powder. Your technique needs to adapt to 3 dimensional skiing (i.e. moving up and down within the snow pack versus just skiing on the surface). With fatter/powder skis the idea is that you stay pretty much on top of the new snow and don't need to make any adaptations except for the bigger smile. So if you have trouble adapting with your normal skis, the back up plan is to just get the right tool for the job. Some people don't want to waste time on good snow "learning" how to ski it. Powder snow can be very frustrating to the uninitiated and it can take years to become a truly versatile powder skier (e.g. try breakable crust sometime). Renting skis is your choice to make, but be advised that fat skis tend to get sold out after the powder has fallen. At some point in your skiing career, you should experience powder skiing on powder skis. There's no shame in doing it sooner rather than later.

Mid fat skis by definition have extra float for powder skiing. Depending on the time of year you go, you aren't necessarily guaranteed to get over a foot of fresh even in a 2 week stretch. As Michael notes, depending your level of ability, you may not need fat skis to adapt to what's on the slopes. You may also be that rare breed of skier that actually enjoys the sensation of skiing "in" the snow. There are times when I prefer a skinnier ski just so I can be in the snow instead of on top of it. You can be on top of the snow surface any day. But there are also powder conditions where being in it is simply just a lot more work than being on top.

All powder is not created equal, even in Colorado. The adaptations you will need to make will depend on your equipment versus your weight, the water content and "packedness" of the snow, the condition of the subsurface (soft/hard or smooth/bumped) and the pitch of the slope. Sometimes (especially in deeper snow) your first adaptation may need to be figuring out how to get started. Like water skiing, you may need to start from a bottomed out position and manage to build up speed without digging your tips in. Once you get going, the first adaptation is to make shallower turns (not turning as much across the fall line) for speed control because powder snow is slower than groomed snow. You will also get a natural sense of skiing faster than normal. If you try to slow down to normal skiing, you'll get stuck. But, another adaptation is what I call "slow motion skiing". In powder snow, your movements need to be slower and smooth. So even though you are taking shallower turns, take your time and let them happen instead of forcing them. The bottom line is that you are going to need to vary your turn shape, rhythm, and bounce to match the conditions du jour and the gear you brought.

One of the keys for powder newbies is to manage the slope pitch. Too shallow and you can't build enough speed up to let your momentum help your turning. Too steep and you build up so much speed that freak out screws up your turns because you don't have enough time to make all of the necessary adjustments. If this happens, seek out a wider trail and ski across the fall line at an angle until you find a comfortable slope steepness. You can also use this technique to "test" the snow. Start in a shallow traverse and do some test bounces. On one of the up moves, bail out to an uphill stop. Once you're comfortable, make a turn instead of bailing out. Once you're comfortable with a series of linked traverses, you can start making the traverses shorter and shorter. After a while, you'll only need one traverse to get a feel for the snow and off you go.

Pray to ULLR and have fun on your trip!
post #4 of 6
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the pointers Michael and Rusty. I would say I'm a level 8 skier and do have dynamic technique. From what it sounds I may just have to break the habit leaning on my downhill ski to initiate and really rip into my turns and focus on keeping a more balanced stance without leaning too far back or forward.

I also don't care about spending time 'learning to ski' powder. I have been skiing for 20 years and am all about challenging myself with new things. The last couple years have been devoted to bumps and glades....now on to the steep and deep! Can't wait to hit the slopes
post #5 of 6

Hmmm... pow skiing.  


- It's always about control.  I watch the Warren Miller films all the time.  They are aways about pow skiing.  Looks like they are hell bent out of control.  They even throw in a few yard sales... ha ha watch 'em go splat...  Well, believe me, these guys/gals have control. 


- Ok, what about the newbie?   Well, you can't have much fun in knee deep pow if it's not sort of steep.  So, your friends will drag you out to the steeps.  You're, looking down this "cliff", slam your skis sideways and hold for dear life.  ...try to make a turn and you go careening across the slope, trying to slow down, throwing your butt into a sit-down move back into the slope.  It's all defensive and, while a challenge, it's really kind of a struggle.

----  So here is the deal.  Get out of your defensive position.  You're going to get waaaaay forward on your skis.  What??? you always hear about folks sitting in the back seat in the pow.... well, that's for when the terrain flattens out.  On the steep, you are waaaaay forward.  Always centered though - if you are way forward... then your butt is back.  You use your hands for finer adjustments - stick that hand way out with a pole plant to move your weight out there... to mark and initiate your turn.  Hands down - weight is forward.  Hands up and weight moves back.  So, keep your hands down and use the pole plant to tell your body where your are going. 


If you are afraid of tip dive, then you may have the wrong skis. I can't see tip dive on a steep slope.  Usually that happens when you hit a flat area at the bottom of a pitch, or find some uneven stuff underneath the pow.  Yes, even with flexible pow skis I sometimes get tip dive when I get frisky... going fast and don't get back fast enough at the bottom of the hill.


The slower you turn, then the faster you go.  The faster you turn, the slower you go down the fall line.  So..... when things feel challenging... you want to make fast turns to maintain the contol that you need for your level of skiing.  If you are struggling, then tell yourself to make your turns faster... no,  really faster.  Believe it or not, just like it almost seems counter-intuitive to get your weight way forward, now I am going to tell you that the best way to make a turn is to point your skis down the hill.  Yup, point those tips straight down the hill.   See, if you try to turn from skier's left directly to skier's right with a nice slow turn, then you will be building speed, more than your are comfortable with... But if your skis are pointed straight down the hill, then you only have to make half the turn, 90 degrees instead of 180 degrees.  Your turn can be twice as fast.  And to make it happen real fast.... be forward on the skis.  You would be surprised - if you point your skis straight down the hill in deep pow, well... you really aren't going anywhere for 1/2 second, time enough to make your turn.


Look at those pics in the ski mags... and the WM films... notice how the pros are forward on their skis.  Sometimes, in a profile shot they appear to be perpendicular to their skis.... but if the ski is pointed steeply down the hill, then they are in fact forward.  If that was you, then you would feel way forward.


Deep powder is really forgiving.  Sometimes, when it gets choppy, you may experience a little free fall on a turn as you drop down a couple of feet... that's pretty steep.  Get used to it.  The faster you turn, the better off you will be.


As you progress, you will be thinking how to use gravity instead if fighting it.  And the fun begins. 


post #6 of 6

There are two main differences between a wide powder ski and a mid-fat that allow for a change in deep snow technique. Once you reach a certain width (and what that is for a certain person on a certain day varies due to a lot of factors) one ski will support your weight in the powder. This means you no longer have to play the balance on both skis game and can ski powder more or less like hardpack where you can stand on just one ski and then the other. You cannot appreciate how much mental and physical work this eliminates until you experience it.

The second factor is ski tip personality. A good powder ski should have either a soft tip or rocker, which allows you to ski with your weight centered or forward (like on hardpack) without fear of tip dive. This eliminates the fore/aft balancing act required on stiff or short skis in deep snow, and again you cannot understand how much stress this alleviates until you experience skis that allow you to relax in the center when skiing deep snow.
Deep powder skiing is not a simple skill, but with the right skis it becomes a whole lot easier.

Edited by mudfoot - 5/5/2009 at 01:51 pm GMT
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