Skiing in powder is often regarded by many as the holy grail of snow conditions. It’s similar to a feeling of floating through a cloud that’s unattainable anywhere else. But a beginner may be left wondering how to ski in powder snow.
The 9 tips for skiing in powder snow as a beginner are:
- Keep your skis close together
- Ski less than 15 centimeters deep
- Get in the right headspace
- Extend and flex
- Ski faster
- Take the right equipment
- Stay centered
- Practice, practice, practice
- Never ski powder alone
There are, however, several other things you should know if you want to be confident skiing in any depth of powder. Though it can be the most enjoyable kind of snow to ski in, it’s still a big challenge if you aren’t used to it. Below, we go through these tips in more detail.
Skiing Powder For The First Time
As a beginner skier, it’s likely you aren’t seeking out knee-deep powder on a regular basis. That doesn’t mean that you won’t ever come across it, though. You’re more likely to encounter powder if your holiday or ski trip is happening anywhere from December to February.
If you’ve gone skiing in the past, you probably understand how the edges of your skis interact with the snow. Your skis hunt for traction on a hard-packed piste, but with even a small amount of fresh snow, that’s not the case.
It’s probable that the first time you ski in any amount of powder, it will feel completely alien and you won’t understand how to tackle it. Turning doesn’t work like it used to, and your skis seem to have a mind of their own.
After one or two runs and a lot of face-plants, you begin to lose confidence and wonder if this whole skiing thing is something you want to stick with. Is skiing in powder supposed to be this hard?
Is It Harder To Ski In Powder?
It can be harder to ski in powder. As a beginner skier, any new experience is bound to be a challenge. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily hard, but it does mean it will take time and active skiing to improve. Skiing in powder for a beginner doesn’t have to be hard or scary.
That said, the first few runs in anything deeper than ankle-high powder can be, and often are, a nerve-wracking experience. That’s not because you’re doing something wrong, it’s just because you aren’t used to the feeling, and repetition is likely going to be the only thing to solve it.
You’ve probably learned to ski, and the majority of your lessons didn’t have heaps of the white stuff as a day of powder does. That means your comfort zone is limited, and you may feel as though you’re starting from scratch.
Almost everyone who begins tackling powder struggles with their first few days, no matter how good a skier they are. Fast forward a week or two, and they’re having more fun than they’ve ever had on a pair of skis.
There are two important reasons why beginner skiers often feel this way during the beginning of their learning period. The first is because skiing in powder slows you down extremely fast, and if you aren’t used to slowing down so quickly, it can drastically affect your rhythm.
The second reason is that skiing in powder renders the edges of your skis, something you rely on for every turn you make, useless. Figuring out how to make a proper turn in this kind of snow is therefore the same as learning a completely new skill.
Skiing Powder vs Groomed Snow
10 to 15 centimeters of snow can drastically alter the way you need to ski in any given situation. There are several differences between skiing groomed snow and skiing powder that every beginner should know about.
Hard vs Soft Impact
If you’ve ever fallen on hard-packed snow or ice, you know how badly that hurts. It can sometimes make you feel as though you don’t want to push yourself and is generally not great for your headspace.
While skiing powder, falling over rarely hurts, due to the sheer amount of snow. For the most part, falling into deep snow is a rather pleasant experience. As your skill in skiing powder increases, you might even use these powder days to launch off a few jumps. If the landing is this forgiving, it doesn’t make sense not to give it a try!
Slow vs Fast
Depending on the type of snow, slowing down can take quite a lot of effort. Skiing on ice requires your edges to be razor-sharp, and even then it’s sometimes hard to use them. It can make you feel as though you’re out of control and are unable to stop.
Skiing through powder is a completely different story. Just a slight pivot of your skis and you’ll stop no matter how fast you are going. The speed you’ll travel while skiing normally in powder is also far slower than it would be on groomed snow. This is because, depending on the depth, all the snow acts as a natural speed barrier and constantly pushes back whenever you ski through it.
On-Piste vs Off-Piste
Where you’ll find groomed snow is dictated by the resort’s runs and snow bashers. Groomed snow is wonderful to ski, but it also comes with a few caveats including loads of people, occasionally uninteresting runs, and potentially non-challenging terrain.
The deepest powder in the best conditions is almost always found off-piste, because it’s untouched and left to build up over many days. Even if the entire resort is blanketed in snow, the runs will often become choppy by lunchtime if it’s even slightly busy on that day.
Off-piste, however, stays free of tracks and has some amazing natural features to switch up your runs. You may not be hitting those features as a beginner, but it’s the place to be when you become confident skiing powder!
Edges vs No Edges
In almost any snow condition except for powder, your edges are going to be the most crucial tool you have at your disposal for stopping and turning. They’re the difference between aggressive turns and sloppy ones and being able to stop on a steep incline or slide down it.
In powder skiing, attempting to use your edges will have little to no effect when it comes to stopping or turning. You may also become incredibly frustrated that you aren’t turning as easily as you have been all these years.
To properly turn while powder skiing, you need to learn to gently guide your skis with your legs and feet instead of using the grip on your edges. It takes a lot of practice, but once you’ve got it, you’ve got it. We’ll discuss this in more depth later.
Common Powder Snow Skiing Mistakes
As we’ve said before, skiing in powder is often a completely new experience for a lot of people. Because of that, it’s common to see a few re-occurring mistakes crop up.
Trying To Steer Your Skis With Your Feet
One of the biggest mistakes beginners make when skiing powder for the first time is using just their feet to turn. On a groomed run, it might be ok to steer one ski and let the other one follow, but attempting to do this when skiing in deep powder is cause for trouble.
Not only will itmake you feel as though you are out of control, but it will also increase the likelihood of you losing one of your skis. As you’ll soon find out, there are no friends on a powder day!
Many powder beginners revert to using a snowplow. This isn’t because it’s easier to stop, but because people naturally fear the unknown.
Just like trying to steer with your feet, using a snowplow while in deep powder is a very bad idea. It’s a surefire way to have your skis cross underneath all that snow. And if your skis cross, your face is going to hit the ground faster than you can say “wipeout.”
Standing Up With Poles
Imagine you’ve just fallen over on a groomed run (or anywhere other than powder). Do you sometimes use your poles to help you get back up? If so, there’s nothing wrong with that. Why not use them if they make things easier?
If you’ve just started skiing powder, you might have the idea to do the same thing in this situation. Unfortunately, things aren’t that simple. Try to push off from your poles and they’ll just sink deeper and deeper into the snow.
The only way to use your poles to get up from a wipeout in powder is to cross them. Take both poles in one hand, have them cross in the middle of your palm, and push off from there. This creates a large surface area and will help you stand up in deep snow.
Leaning Too Far Back
If you’ve been skiing powder for a couple of runs and have fallen over through crossed skis or lost a ski in the snow, you might try leaning back. Leaning back is one of the biggest misconceptions about skiing in powder and will hamper your ability to turn.
Of course, you want to keep your tips from plunging into the snow, but the best way to ski powder is by keeping stacked over the center of your skis and adjusting your technique and posture to the situation that is undoubtedly changing every turn.
By leaning back, you’re only allowing just the back part of your ski to go to work. That means it’s harder to turn and harder to stay in control. And that goes for any snow condition, not just powder.
Skiing Too Slowly
The final most common mistake that beginners make while skiing in powder is skiing too slowly. People ski slowly in anything they aren’t familiar with to build up their confidence and stay safe. Though that’s not a bad idea, it’s not strictly necessary when skiing powder.
Take a few runs to get a feel for the powder before you start speeding up. You’ll find the speed makes turning much easier. When turning in powder, both your legs have to act as one, and if you’re going at a snail’s pace, then that’s bound to be difficult. Remember, powder snow slows you down far more than anything else. You’ll find even the smallest pivot will allow you to stop. So get moving!
Best Gear For Skiing In Powder Snow
Skiing in powder is one of those things that will truly be a more pleasant experience if you’ve got the right gear to do it in. Of course, you can do it with anything, but it’s going to be a lot better if you have any of these things before you start.
A powder skirt is your best friend on a powder day (or your only friend if you lose a ski!). It’s essentially an elasticated waistband inside your ski coat that acts as a barrier against all kinds of snow.
It’s helpful to have if you fall over on any kind of snow but extra important if you wipe out when you’re in powder. If you’ve got a fancy jacket, you might be able to have wrist gaiters that do the same thing for your hands. And you know how easy it is to get snow up your sleeves!
Baskets are plastic circles that go on your ski poles. If you’ve ever been skiing, you’ve probably seen them but not paid them any attention. They can really help you out while powder skiing, however.
When skiing in powder, it’s best to have a wide powder basket so the surface area stops the pole from diving deep down into the snow. This way, you should be able to make pole plants with good technique rather than falling forward after every turn.
Your pole plants should always come from your wrist via small movements that don’t interfere with the rest of your posture. That way, you won’t be compromising your balance and should be able to competently navigate the terrain.
While it’s true that you should be able to ski in any condition with any pair of skis, certain types will benefit you more than others. A wide-underfoot pair of powder skis with tip rockers will work far better in powder than a thin pair of racing skis.
The wider surface area of the skis’ underfoot will allow you to float above the snow rather than force your way through it. Not only is this a more pleasant type of skiing to experience, but it should prevent your skis from shooting off in a direction under the snow and unclipping from your bindings without cause.
There are no friends on a powder day. It’s an age-old saying that is, unfortunately, somewhat true. If you have a wipeout on the only good powder day of the year and your skis come out of your bindings, no one is going to want to spend hours helping you search for them.
Luckily enough, if your skis have a habit of doing this, there’s a relatively decent solution. Powder leashes will be your friend when you’re a beginner powder skier.
Attach one end to your ski bindings and shove the other end up your pant leg. Then, if (or, let’s be honest, when) you fall over, instead of spending hours trying to find your skis there’ll hopefully be a bright-colored ribbon poking out of the snow.
It might look a little silly at first, but these powder leashes can save you many hours on the slope and also a few friends who you would have otherwise been forced into finding your skis. When you’re good enough at skiing powder, you might not have to wear them anymore. As a beginner, however, they are invaluable.
The final thing you’re likely to want with you when you’re skiing powder is a transceiver. This isn’t something you need if there’s just been a bit of snowfall overnight on the pistes, but it can be a lifesaver if you venture out into the local forests where huge snow deposits can build up.
The best recommendation for transceivers is to go and get professionally trained in using them. Again, this isn’t something you need to worry about as a beginner, but addiction to powder skiing could quickly see you dreaming of bigger and better things. Always ski safely.
9 Tips On Powder Skiing For Beginners
1. Keep Your Skis Closer Together
Remember, it’s vital that you ski powder while keeping both your legs slightly closer together than usual. Hip width apart should be fine, but any closer than that and you risk throwing yourself off balance.
The reason you do this in skiing is so your skis and legs work as one unit. This way, you reduce the risk of one foot getting caught under a heavy area of snow and the other carrying on.
2. Ski Less Than 15 Centimeters Deep
Going from skiing freshly groomed slopes to waist-deep powder isn’t the best way to learn. Powder skiing comes with its own unique set of challenges and techniques, so throwing yourself in the deep end is not a clever idea and may lead to injury.
The best way to learn to ski in powder is in no more than boot-high snow. That way, you will be able to get used to the feel all this snow has on you and your skis, but you won’t have to struggle with getting up if you fall over. Getting up after wiping out in waist-high powder is nothing short of the most tiring thing you’ll ever do.
3. Get In The Right Headspace
Anything new is nerve-wracking. You can only prepare so much, and even then your confidence might not show itself until you’ve practiced it for real. Skiing in powder is not an easy task, especially at the beginning.
Those nervous feelings you might have are totally understandable. By practicing powder skiing in a safe environment that also pushes you out of your comfort zone, you’re setting yourself up to become the skier you’ve always dreamed you can be.
4. Extend And Flex
One of the strangest feelings about skiing in powder is the turning. If you try turning like you do on-piste, you’ll get a face full of snow. What you need to do is “pop” out of your turns.
Extending your legs at the end of the turn will take the pressure off both skis and allow you to move them as one when pivoting to change direction. While you have to extend to successfully exit a turn, you also need to flex your legs to apply pressure at the end of the turn. But not too much! We aren’t skiing on ice, after all.
A common difficulty most beginners face is trying to turn their skis sharply at the end of each turn rather than using the power of flexion and extension. It might be time to start doing some yoga if you struggle to make those movements!
5. Ski Faster
Contrary to the situation on almost every other kind of snow condition, skiing faster on powder will make things a lot easier for you. The sheer amount of snow will slow you down almost immediately with just the slightest movement.
By skiing faster in powder, you can build up a continuous rhythm without feeling as though you’re out of control. This will make turning a far easier activity and won’t make you feel as though you have to move your entire body to go in a different direction.
6. Take The Right Equipment
While taking the right equipment for powder skiing isn’t essential, it can definitely make your life as a novice powder skier a far more pleasant one. Having the correct clothing and skis are probably the most notable pieces of equipment likely to change your experience for the better.
That said, there is some benefit in learning to ski powder on normal, all-mountain skis. This will let you rely on the skis and get rid of any bad habits. When you finally do switch over to a fat pair of powder skis, you’ll have the perfect technique and have a much nicer time cruising down the mountain.
7. Stay Centered
Don’t lean back, not even in powder. It cannot be stressed enough how bad an idea this is. Most beginners fall into this trap because they think it will keep their tips from diving into the snow and stop them from falling over.
While that is partly true, you’ll do far better by keeping a perfectly stacked ski posture and centering your weight over the middle of your skis. If you find yourself constantly digging skis into the snow, that’s even more of a reason to stay centered. It’s times like this that having a decent set of core muscles can make a big difference.
8. Practice, Practice, Practice
Skiing in powder isn’t an easy thing to do. It’s one thing trying to get a beginner to ski in a different type of snow condition, but when you can’t see the terrain underneath the snow, it makes for a nerve-wracking experience.
Couple that with the tremendous wipeouts that always happen in powder, and you’ve got a very hard skill to learn with high-risk consequences. The only real thing that will improve your skiing? Practice.
Of course, you need to know you’re practicing the right way, so getting an instructor is a fantastic idea. But like most things in skiing, you cannot expect to be perfect at something after just a few runs.
9. Never Ski Powder Alone
When snowfall gets heavy and weather conditions grow worse, it’s not a good idea to ski alone. This is true both on and off-piste, but it’s most important when you’re talking about off-piste.
It only takes a split second for you to vanish in a mist of white snow, and no one will know where you are. By skiing with a friend, you have someone who can alert ski patrol if they need to, and, if they’re a true friend, lend you a hand if you lose a ski.
While skiing in powder is a somewhat scary activity at first, it’s also one of the most rewarding and beloved skiing disciplines in the world. By using both your legs as a single unit, remembering to extend and flex on every turn, and skiing faster than usual, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a regular powder hound.