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Tips for Sierra Cement?

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 
Hi Guys,
Tahoe was fantastic Sunday Feb 11 but I now have some questions for tips in an unusual type of powder besides fatter skis.
The snow that came down Friday into mid Saturday evening I understand was very light 3-4% water maybe, and into saturday night/sunday morning it gained water content to 7-8%. This created an unusual type of powder as well as avalance conditions (closed Mount Lincoln(silverbelt)) because of some small triggered avalances.
The snow underneath where your skis were was very light so it was very hard to build a platform that would help you rise up out of the powder but the stuff on top that your thighs were hitting was very heavy and slowed you down or stopped you even if you were on a steep slope so you could not pick up the speed you need to float out of the powder. Is this a case of you just have to struggle through it and nothing really helps? Even groomed runs from the previous day were almost calf deep but skiing these areas were great because there was something hard enough underneath to get a platform built up underneath.

Tips anyone?

5'8" 155lbs
Level 9 (but felt like a level 7 in this strange stuff)
X Scream series 187
post #2 of 24
Chubbs. I know that isn't what you wanted, but maybe that will help somebody else reading this. I have experienced snow like you described, but I didn't need any different technique. Just....Chubbs.
post #3 of 24
Hey DChan,

Despite my previous thoughts of working on the weekend. STUFF that ! Drove up to Sugar Bowl on Sunday morning...there and back 10 hours of driving...but 5 hours of POWDER !!!

Being my first ever experience of skiing powder I must say I struggled at first, big time...ate it ALOT ! In all I too found that skiing the runs that had been previously groomed were far easier...but that may have something to do with my level...other thoughts were:

- being stuck in neck deep powder and not moving is an unpleasant experience.
- my knees have an intense dislike for mystery moguls.
- I have a lot to learn about skiing powder...but when it works it really is a ton of fun !

I will have to look out for you next time. What were you wearing ? Red by any chance?


post #4 of 24
Thread Starter 
I Skied most of the day. Was wearing Black 1piece Descente with a red square on my back. "carbon" Boeri Axis Rage Helmet.
I usually have no problem with thigh deep powder but this stuff was strange. I Skied Bacon gulley, avalanche, donald duck and a few runs on Christmas tree under the Chair for the real deep stuff. The rest of the time on the groomers I was all over the place. Maybe next time we can catch up. I will be in Utah for a week.
post #5 of 24
I'll touch base when I'm heading up there next time.
post #6 of 24
I'll offer some tips, but the thing is that no tip is really going to do it for you, what you need is milege in powder in order to get a sense of (1) how much turn is needed to slow you down enough, but (most importantly) not too much, (2) Where to position your weight (fore-aft) so that you can still control yur skis but not go over the handle bars. Only mileage will enable you to get an intuitive feel for this.

For all powder, but especially thicker powder (and what we got last weekend, even at the end, was not that thick), you must commit to your turns (go into them aggressively), get some speed (speed will liberate your skis from the hold of the thick snow), and NOT try to skid them sideways -- but rather arc and drive them forward through the snow. Carving is different in powder than hardpack because you are working in a more 3-dimensional environment, instead of 2-D. Thinking 2-D (where you can easily skid the edges) will mess you up in powder, which is why it takes time to get a feel for it.
post #7 of 24
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the tips. I see you ski in tahoe and you probably know bacon's gully and Donald Duck off Disney and Blitzen off Christmas Tree. I was on all of these runs and even going straight down(started to just to see if could get enough speed to float out) I would basicly just get stopped. No carving, no turns. No problem with distribution(no falling forwards over the skis or sitting back). I didn't even try to carve so no worries about getting the skis sliding sideways. Just not enough lift on the foot or so of very light powder that was under the 1-2Ft of heavy snow that was on top.
Yes, I need more time but wonder if there are just some conditions that require us mere mortals to just struggle through or breakdown and buy the latest technology has to offer (fat skis).

By the way FreeFall, Did you get a chance to enjoy this last storm?
post #8 of 24
Maybe the wind had packed snow down in the areas you were in. The terrain in the areas you mentioned can be quite exposed -- that makes the snow much more dense, as I'm sure you know. Those areas also have a lot of variety in terms of terrain, you have to go steeper if you want momentum in powder (but I suppose that would have been obvious when you were skiing straight and came to a complete halt! )

And, oh yes, I was out every day in the storm, and I was still pushing my sore legs today.
post #9 of 24
Thread Starter 
Well I wanted to ski east face and silverbelt but they were closed , Couldn't talk my buddies into going to Strawberry fields or overland trail and I never ski alone where I might not be seen by lots of traffic. The stuff off Jerome and Judah just don't get steep enough and you are right, It was a little wind packed on top.
post #10 of 24
Snowboard, it worked great saturday and sunday.
post #11 of 24
My Tip is to continue on I80 east untill you hit the Wasatch Mountains.

The Best skier in the world is the One with the biggest smile. Utah49
post #12 of 24
Thread Starter 
better watch out Utah49
Alta, UT, here I come....<FONT size="1">

[This message has been edited by dchan (edited February 14, 2001).]</FONT>
post #13 of 24
it's been snowing off and on since last Sat night more on then off. Conditions are really good.

The Best skier in the world is the One with the biggest smile. Utah49
post #14 of 24
Thread Starter 
back to my original question?
anyone have any wisdom on the snow type. I hope I don't have to deal with that strange stuff again soon but I also want to be ready in case I have to.
post #15 of 24

Super Mountains or wider skis with a soft tip. Steeps, speed, and abs to hold you closer to the fall line and over your boots. Soft boots with good heel hold-down retention. Crank up the heel din about 1 number and attach the powder cords. Pull your neck gator over your mouth so you don't choke on the face shots!

Good luck!
post #16 of 24

Your thread title sounds like sarcasm as it was actually the extreme opposite of cement. This phenomenon has nothing to do with "cement", which is high water content snow typically from precipitation out of humid Pacific air masses quickly rising over the coastal mountains and accumulating at elevations just below the freezing level.

As for an answer as milesb related...Chubbs. Or any really fat powder ski or monoski. Success would not be otherwise possible.

You skied at Sugar Bowl and I skied at Kirkwood. Both areas had similar massive accumulations though the snow at KW was somewhat drier on average simply due to higher elevation. SB is 6883 to 8383 while KW is 7800 to 9800. KW received 70 to 88 inches and now has a 90" to 140" base. The below would not apply to someone who skied this same storm at non crest resorts like Heavenly as the depths were much less. The best chance to experience this would be at Alta or Targhee as most Rocky resorts otherwise rarely get such big dumps of fluff.

One sinks in so deep with normal skis because of inadequate surface area in dry, cold, and fluid-like snow. Thence down deep there are too many forces exerting against the front of one's body versus forces of moving downhill with gravity. In the steeps you can only really go mostly straight when it is above your crotch and when the pitch lessens a huge wake forms. A friend of mine who skied at Northstar where the snow accumulation was more like 2 feet didn't have much of a problem because he could still platform off the firmer base. Likewise places at KW where wind limited deposition were limited I skied powder with my usual easy rabbit bouncing mode. I've skied multi foot dumps in the Sierra over the years and usually the symptom you describe are not a factor because one usually doesn't really get that deep turn after turn in typical Sierra snow no matter how deep it is.

For those who don't want to get a little technical you can stop here.

To get some basic good info including this statement "Studies in the Rocky Mountains have shown that the fluffiest, lowest density (0.01 - 0.05) snows typically fall with light winds and temperatures near 15°F" see url:

Now to give you some real numbers on why this snow was extraordinary, I checked the CDEC web site, remote snowpack status for Caples Lake during that storm series which is at 8000 feet and just 2 miles from Kirkwood which has a 7800 foot base. The CDEC info url for such is at:


You can click on the Earlier field to get reports from earlier periods including way back to when those storms occurred. What it showed was that during the whole period , snow occurred while the temperature was between 14 and 20 degrees which for 8000 feet in the Sierra is exceptional. For SB you could add 3 degrees. Even 3 degrees makes a noticeable difference in the snow quality. That was also why the snow level was around 2000 feet in the foothills. Temperature drops about 3 degrees F per 1000 feet thus:

((8000 - 2000 ) / 1000 ) x 3 = 18 degrees F. 32 - 18 = 14 degrees F. And since KW is mostly higher per above, the temperature was even a bit lower. Also the ridge where the runs are at KW receives almost twice the precip usually recorded at this remote Caples site partly due to massive wind blow in from the other side of the ridge.

There has always been lots of bullshit about how snow in places like Little Cottonwood Canyon is somehow mysterious lighter. But the truth is that when it snows there, it is usually a lot colder and the Pacific humid airmass has long since undergone accretion changing to snow. Here in the Sierra the average mid winter storm has a snow level of about 5500 feet which is where Blue Canyon is on I80. Accordingly the usual temperature during storms is in the upper 20's with a corresponding greater water content. But snow levels vary greatly depending on where the jet stream is pushing the atmosphere. Anytime you see lots of snow down below Colfax at 4000 feet the Sierra is getting snow as good as one typically sees in the Rockies.

This was the last time I'm going to get caught not being able to take advantage of spectacular snow and will now get some really fat powder skis for my quiver. My normal relatively wide mid fats have a 74mm waist which I normally can lay down short beautiful 8's with the best but I've seen these conditions a few times before and the only solution is to go really fat. -dave
<FONT size="1">

[This message has been edited by SSSdave (edited February 15, 2001).]</FONT><FONT size="1">

[This message has been edited by SSSdave (edited February 15, 2001).]</FONT>
post #17 of 24
Thread Starter 
Thanks for trying SSSdave but I have to say that Alta snow usually has less water content then even the last storm we had. yes probably colder weather. Last year I skied in a big storm in Alta, Waist deep when I stopped and yet it did not take that much work or effort to ski in it. I Skied last year, one day on my Prolink equipe 3S and one day on X Screams. The X Scream day was better but was skiable even on the Equips. A lot of work but skiable. I think the problem I had this past Sunday was the heavier snow on top of the lighter snow. Yes I suspect that super fat skis are the easy answer but since I know fat skis have not been here forever and the snow has, and the older skiers that have been around since before fat skis probably skied in the heavy thick stuff, I was hoping someone had some other tips. Like I said, I was able to ski most of it, Just not as gracefully as when the snow is just a little more "even" from base to top. I'm not looking for any magic bullets just some pointers to work on.
post #18 of 24

You could well be right as I was only at Kirkwood which is maybe 30 miles which in a storm might as well be 100. Storms have a lot of local variations such that you may have indeed had a warmer layer above. On the other hand what I could see of a lot of other good skiers coming down off chair 6 and 10 was that they were not doing much more than I was. Then again seeing wasn't all that good as it was often dumping and I was skiing more than stopping and watching others. Snowboarders and monoskiers were having no problemo. I saw just a few local resort guys on fats but did not have a chance to watch, ski, or ride a chair with any. In fact except for the morning before snowing picked there were not any lines on the big chairs. I did check the quality of the snow at depth by banging it with my pole where I'd stop and it was super dry and cold smoky fluid. And over the many years I have had some similar experiences. At Kirkwood it is often really deep at Thunder Saddle due to extra blow in. As for Alta, I am no authority on Utah, given just limited trips there, but I would expect this snow we had would rate high there or anywhere. Note also the link I posted which related research in the Rockies showed snowfall at about 15 degrees is the point where snow crystal shapes offer the least potential packing density. Well so much for speculation, that is about all we can do since the snow is history now. I'll be back up this holiday weekend despite the coming storminess and good luck catching some powder where ever you decide to visit. -dave
post #19 of 24
In South Central (Alaska, that is), the conditions are sometimes like you describe. Alyeska, Alaska's biggest resort, has a base elevation of only 250', which means when the weather changes quickly here, the snow conditions change just as quickly. Windblown/crusted over powder has pretty much the same characteristics. This winter has been stranger than most (a lot of above-freezing days), so maybe I can offer a couple tips.

First and foremost, be definitive when you want to turn- move with a purpose. Punch the turn and commit to it by shifting your weight downhill. If you sit back and ride the skis, you will end up fighting them down the hill with defensive actions. Act on the turn instead of reacting to it. Use bumps to help your turns by lifting your skis slightly from the snow when needed to point them down the fall line. Speed is your friend. Grip it and rip it.

Next... Chubbs. Or something of that nature. Skis that are light and flexy get pushed around by the varying snow. When you drive through that turn, you want something that is going to translate that force into the snow, instead of trying to reach a comprimise.

Finally, realize that the idyllic floating that happens in champagne powder isn't possible in heavy, variable powder. It's more Nietzsche, "Will to Power", and all that stuff I learned in college and promptly forgot. I'm not saying to force your turns, but commit to them and follow through.

Most of all, realize you're doing something that when viewed from the outside appears completely ridiculous. Have fun.

185cm Volant Epic
190cm Volant Chubbs

"Man, I wish I could ski as well as my equipment does."
post #20 of 24
dchan, I don't know if you have read Lito Tjada-Flores' book, but in one chapter he describes techniques for difficult snow. This book came out in the late 80's, before fats were popular. Anyways, for really difficult snow, he gives a couple of techniques, but adds that you cannot really link these kind of turns. Lots of old fashioned muscling and unwieghting. So perhaps people were NOT skiing this stuff smoothly before fats.
post #21 of 24
Drink lots of beer and eat lots of pasta. All my ski buddies that are light struggle in this stuff. You definitly need momentum to ski the wet and heavy. Intead of using alot of up and down motion to create a platform try remaining neutral to keep your speed. Stay in the fall line as much as possible. If you feel the pressure build start your next turn. Don't wait for a platform! Another tactic is to get in an out of someone elses track.
post #22 of 24
dchan, I've skied the cement all my life. Don't even know what really true light powder feels like. Growing up in the PNW seems all we ever had was wet powder.

Anyway, I was able to get up to Mammoth on Sunday and Monday when they got about 4' of new and skied in some of the stuff you describe.

Here are my techniques for surfing the cement.

First, find the steepest runs that are open. There your technique falls squarely on being light on your feet. For me that is saying something. In cement don't worry so much about speed control. You can point the skis straight down a 45 degree chute go straight, and slow to a crawl in less than 1.5 turns. All you have to do is make an aggreesive move and you'll sink and stop.

So to keep things moving gently roll from turn to turn. No pronounced up down movement. Just roll, roll, roll, the knees. Stay centered and in a good athletic stance to anticipate times when your skis may decelerate quickly. Use terrain features to help unweight but don't go airborne. You'll just sink and stop.

Second, ski both feet as one. Provide only a moderate amount of extra weight to your downhill foot. Too much and one leg will sink deeper than the other, get hungup and you'll do an endo.

Third, head to the trees. The snow seems to be lighter in the trees. But really look ahead. You can hit chest deep pockets that will blind you with a face shot. Know where the next tree.

On less steep intermediate/advanced runs, you really have to follow the snowboard lead here to keep from getting stuck. You have to lift the tips up an out of the cement to keep them running. Not necessarily sit back, although your weight will be further back than is instructionally correct.

In this position the key is to maintain a lightness on your skis and ski them as one platform. Gently roll from turn to turn. Sudden moves in Sierra Cement means an endo or just getting stuck. This does burn the thighs a bit, but it makes skiing the cement a lot more fun.

It may seem at first like you are breaking the skiing rules by shifting your weight back, but if you want to ski the cement instead of hike it on these intermediate runs, it's the only way I've found that works.
post #23 of 24
Thread Starter 
Thanks for all the tips guys
I got a chance to ski with Scott Mathers at Alta and I described the conditions to him and he basicly said there are some conditions that just require work. He gave me some tips (I'll post more in a few days about my Utah trip and lessons) but agreed there are some conditions that are just plain hard to ski.

Oh Yeah, we did get some days that were waist deep and deeper in Utah. No problems other than a few rolls and face shots <FONT size="1">

[This message has been edited by dchan (edited February 24, 2001).]</FONT>
post #24 of 24
Well here is a flatlanders input.

The wider and longer the ski, the greater the flotation. Chubbs or any reasonably flexing wide ski is a very good idea.

Speed is your friend. It promotes flotation.

You will never be able to ski powder or gunk at a slow very controlled speed, but you can be in control at an effective and faster speed.

You must always have both skis weighted, but percentage of weight can change from ski to ski as does the progression of the turn.
Let the snow pile up under the skis. The skis are to be thought of and treated as one single platform, so they must always be skied together.

Think, as someone else posted, three dimensionally, thus allowing the snow to pile up in such a manner that you create a situation of a banked turn. You are going from banked turn to banked turn. Let the snow pile up under the skis, and allow your knees to come up. This should create sufficient unweighting, and thus will be your que to roll your skis over similtaneously into the new turn.

But in doing this you also need to think of yourself as skiing in slow motion. Abrupt, jerky, and uneven movements will only allow the gunk to trap and control you.

Think smoooooth. You want to ski very smoothly, but with some speed. Everything is done gradually. I often think of a bus driver with a very large steering wheel in hand steering a very large bus. You are turning that wheel from side to side. As you turn the wheel you are making a banked turn with your skis. When you start to bring the wheel back to the other side [ the snow has pushed your knees up and the skis have lightened ]that is the time for your pole plant, and thus the beginning of the new turn. So you are gradually moving from one pole plant to the next using the snow to create banked turns.

I hope this helps, and above all else try to be calm and serene in your attitude and approach to powder and gunk skiing.

More speed for flotation, more relaxation in execution, letting the snow create the banked turns by always having some weight on both skis. Make the gunk your friend, by always thinking , acting , and skiing .... smooooooothly !
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