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We all know how beautiful fresh snow is. However, when we step outside into fresh snow we immediately sink. The fresh snow is too soft and lacks the density to support our weight. Have you ever wondered why we sink into the fresh snow when we are walking, but skiers are usually able to glide effortlessly across the snow without sinking?
Because skis are longer and wider than shoes, their weight is distributed over a wider area and so are less likely to sink into the snow. Narrower skis are more likely to sink in fresher, deeper snow. That’s why wider skis that glide through the snow at slower speeds are great for deep snow.
Walking in Snow vs Skiing in Snow
When we are walking across the snow in regular shoes we are putting pressure on the snow over a small surface area, which is the size of our feet. Because a ski is longer and wider than our shoes, the distribution of weight is more widespread over a larger surface area.
Our body weight is not positioned in one small area but over the length of the entire ski. A regular ski will still potentially slightly sink in fresh snow if it is several inches deep and for this reason, there are specific skis that can be purchased that are structured to easily go through fresh snow without issue.
Is This Why Skis Are So Long?
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The sidewall section gives the ski accuracy power and edge grip while the capped regions reduce swing weight and increase overall durability.
A great example of how surface area impacts the pressure on an object is if you stood on a piece of furniture. If you just stood on a soft sofa, there would be a large indentation where your feet are standing due to the small surface area, however, if you lay down on the sofa, then the indentation is much smaller because your weight is distributed over a larger area.
The same concept applies to wearing skis. The surface area of a ski is much longer, and therefore, the weight of the human body is spread out over a much larger area.
Different skis will have specifications that make them better suited for different conditions. In general, the length of the ski is very much what helps them glide over the snow without significantly sinking.
Pressure and Force on the Snow
To better understand how a ski works, it is good to understand the relationship between force and surface area. Whenever a force is applied perpendicular to a surface area, it applies a certain amount of pressure and the pressure can increase or decrease without the actual force changing.
If the surface area is smaller, then the pressure is greater and vice versa. With a sport like skiing, a greater surface area of skis is desired in order to keep the force to a minimum.
The force put on the snow is significantly decreased when we are on a ski versus walking in our regular shoes.
The Structure of Skis
A ski is made up of several parts that all play a role in the overall reason that skis do not sink deep into the snow like a regular shoe will.
1. Nose or Tip
This is the part of the ski that is at the very front. You will notice that this point on a ski will curve upwards. This allows the front of the ski to glide across the snow easily as you go down the mountain.
As you would expect, this is the back portion of the ski and in general, the tail of the ski will be flat, however, the width of the tail can vary depending on the type of ski. The tail can also have a curve upwards or a “rocker.”
3. The Deck
As in skateboarding, the part of the ski that you are strapping your feet to is called the deck or base. This is also the portion of the ski that will come in contact with the snow the most.
When you look at a ski from the side, you will see an arc in the middle and this is the camber. When someone is on the skis, this arc will compress and touch the snow while helping to distribute your weight as evenly as possible.
While skis are intended to glide over the snow, there is still the possibility of a normal ski slightly sinking into deep fresh snow. There is a certain type of ski that is specifically intended to maneuver through fresh powder easily.
The powder ski was designed with characteristics to ensure that you can easily glide through the fresh powder snow. Powder skis are wider than standard skis with larger tips and medium to large tails.
Powder skis have camber along with rockers or upwards curves at the tip and tail, which makes it easier to ski through soft, fresh snow. This allows the full ski to have an effective edge, which will provide the stability that is needed.
As we now know, the larger the surface area, the more the pressure is disbursed. Powder skis have a wider surface area, this will help the skis stay on top of the snow and lessen the risk of sinking.
Powder skis are beneficial when in many inches of fresh snow, however, they will not glide across harder snow surfaces as well as a normal ski will. Those who ski frequently may choose to invest in a pair of powder skis to have as an alternative in situations where there is a large amount of fresh snow.
What Can You Do to Not Sink in Fresh Snow?
Fresh snow does not have much density compared to snow that has been packed down over the span of a few days. This is why you may sink down slightly when you ski on fresh powder.
If you are heading to ski in fresh snow, but you do not have any powder skis, there are some things you can do for the best skiing experience. You can absolutely still have an enjoyable ski trip without powder skis.
1. Balance Your Weight
This is perhaps the most important thing to remember when skiing in fresh snow. By keeping your weight evenly balanced, you will less likely to sink into the fresh powder.
2. No Sharp Turns
You will not want to try to make sharp turns in the deep powder. Aim to make soft, sweeping turns.
3. Keep a Narrow Stance
By keeping a narrow stance, you will help keep your skis straight underneath you and help to prevent a ski from slipping out to the side of the fresh snow is deep.
4. Use your legs
Using your legs to create your turns and movement will help keep your movement controlled. The more control you have, the easier it will be to ski on the fresh powder.
Overall, skis do not typically sink much in fresh snow. There are many people each year who ski in fresh snow without issue. Because of the weight distribution while on skis, there should not be any significant sinking that you will experience. You may notice it is a little harder to ski in fresh snow, especially if it is several inches or more. However, if you become someone who skis frequently, you may consider investing in a pair of powder skis that you can use if there are several inches of fresh snow where you are skiing.