How To Ski Powder (Practical Tips for Beginners)
Powder - the dream of every new and expert skier alike. Powder surfing is the epitome of action-packed skiing films and how every skier imagines themselves plowing down the mountain on their ski trip. While the powder is never guaranteed, if you're lucky your next powder day is just around the corner. Here are the crucial techniques for skiing powder in a nutshell;
Powder skiing involves a more evenly weighted technique whereby you stay centered over your skis with a narrower stance. Imagine your skiing on one large ski and rotate with your thighs, not your edges. Point your skis downhill rather than traversing sideways across the slope.
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Maintain your speed and make long rounded turns. Keep your hands forward and pole plant to create three points of contact with the snow and build rhythm into your movements. Smile and breathe.
Skiing Powder Technique
Before you take on powder skiing you should be comfortable being able to parallel ski and hockey stop. While power skiing techniques are different from how you would ski on groomed slopes (and even counter-productive) - you'll need to have good balance and good control of your skis before you can handle powder skiing and get wiped out every few turns.
That said, no matter how good of a skier you are, when you hit powder for the first time you are going to take a tumble or two. Luckily powder is soft and more forgiving to fall in, but be aware that you can still hurt yourself and hidden dangers like rocks can lurk beneath the snow when you stray into backcountry territory.
Start off learning in 10-15cm of fresh powder before venturing into deeper terrain. This will give you a good idea of how your skis react and will help you build up confidence and technique for more adventures. Go for short sections before committing to longer more tiring runs.
Once you're ready to go off-piste and lay down your first tracks in light fluffy snow take heed of this advice:
1: Stay Centered
You'll want to squat down a bit but with your weight balanced over your skis. Sitting too far back will underweight your skis and allow your tips to cross (not good). Too far forward and your skis will point into the snow rather than rise above.
2: Narrow your Stance
Ski with your skis closer together in a tighter stance so that one ski doesn't lead off into the snow on its own. You don't want your skis touching but bring your stance in a hands width closer than your regular stance. If you're too wide the outside ski can run away from you and plunge into the snow, pull you back, and possibly through you off balance into a spinning crash.
3: Equal Weight
It's time to forget what you learned on the groomed slopes. Instead of putting pressure onto one edge which puts pressure on one ski - in powder, this will result in you plunging one ski straight into the snow, tipping you off balance, and ending in a face plant. Stay more equal weights on both skis. (source).
4: Create a Platform
Unlike hard-packed terrain, in powder skiing, if you shift too much weight onto one ski it will plunge into the snow and run away from you. To overcome this you need to put more even pressure onto both skis which will create a larger platform for you to ski on. Keeping you floating through the snow rather than plunging into it. Imagine turning on one big ski rather than two separate skis.
5: Rotation and Edging
Rotate your thighs, not your edges. In powder, you don't carve a turn or skid sideways. You need to steer your body and edges into the turns with a strong stance. Make your turns with your thighs (femur bone) instead of just the edges of the skis. Rotate your thighs in your pelvis as you make each turn. This core movement is deeper in the body rather than just through the knees and ankles.
You don't need to grip onto the snow like you do while skiing groomed terrain so you don't need to hit the edges hard. This means you can lean with the body rather than edge with your knees. More inclination & less angulation (source).
6: Flex & Pop
In powder, there is an up and down movement that you can create by flexing and extending your legs with each turn. This pop-up and down helps to release the pressure from the ski and make it easier to move into the next turn and get your body into the right position. It allows you to ride the snow rather than sink into it.
Technique: Towards the end of one turn push your skis into the snow and bend your legs as you change direction with your skis. Repeat through each turn, popping up at the end of the turn to initiate a change in direction and then flexing down through the arc of the turn. As you rebound off the snow, twist the skis on top of the snowpack.
You can think of this movement as a skidded parallel turn while keeping a strong core so that your upper body turns at the same speed as your skis. There is a great introduction to this in this video by Stomp It tutorials (at minute 2.28)
Rhythm is an important part of getting into the flow of things as you plow through the powder. By using a flick of the wrist and wide pole plant you can get into the right position and time each turn into a more natural rhythmic process.
8: Rounded Turns
Your aim in powder is to make smooth rounded S turns. This will allow you to maintain your speed and not get fall flat on your face. Slowly rotate the skis. Avoid sharp zig-zags and the temptation to rush your turns. You'll have plenty of time to control your speed at the end of the turn.
9: Maintain Speed
Powder slows you down much faster, so it's important to maintain a nice speed throughout your turns. While turning aim to keep the same pace throughout. If you ski too slowly your skis will sink deeper into the powder and it will be more difficult to initiate the next turn.
10: Point Downhill
Take a more aggressive line down the fall to pick up more speed and avoid body rotations. Point your tips downhill with skis parallel to your hips and through the arc of the turn lead with your shoulder and follow with your tips. Skiing diagonally across the slope rather than down it will limit your fluidity and make it more difficult to stay afloat.
11: Look Ahead
Avoid the temptation to look down at your skis. Instead, see the upcoming terrain and make a mental plan for the next few turns.
A good connection between your body and the terrain will allow you to ski smoothly and stay in control.Santiago @ Outdoor Research.
This visual anticipation will create rhythm and bring flow to your skiing.
- ✅ Stay centered
- ✅ Narrow your stance
- ✅ Equal weight
- ✅ Create a platform
- ✅ Rotation and edging
- ✅ Flex & pop
- ✅ Rhythm
- ✅ Rounded turns
- ✅ Maintain speed
- ✅ Point downhill
- ✅ Look ahead
1: Leaning Back
It's common advice for powder skiing to be told to lean back into your skis to get more float. This advice is actually applicable when using narrower skis in deeper powder, but on all-mountain or powder-specific skis (more on this below), there is no need to lean back and it is counter-productive. Leaning back has these unintended consequences:
- ❌ You'll quickly tire your legs as all your upper body weight will punish you in that position.
- ❌ Your ski tips will be underweighted and may cross causing you to crash.
- ❌ The tail of your ski will sink down making it much harder to turn.
To get into the correct position, stand centered over your skis and imagine a string going through your center holding you up. Then relax down into a skier's stance with your shins slightly flexed into your boots and a slight bend at your knees, ankles, and hips. Keep your hands up front.
2: Tails in the Snow
Tails in the snow are a major reason why many skiers find it harder to turn in powder. The way to overcome this is to introduce a flex and pop through each turn.
3: Skiing Too Slow
If you're moving too slowly, you won't have enough momentum to stay up and above the snow. If you're struggling with your powder turns then speed up, stay centered, and pop up above the snowpack.
4: Over-rotating the Upper Body
If you find yourself traversing sideways with your torso facing across the mountain at the end of the turn then you're likely over-rotating your upper body. This can result in your tails getting stuck and ejecting you off into the snow or falling backward.
Stay steady and project your body downhill so you and your skis don't over-rotate. Working on strengthening your core muscles will also help you overcome this problem.
5: Feet Too Wide Apart
If your stance is too wide, turning will become harder, and staying centered over the snow will become more difficult. The wide stance will also create more drag on the outside ski and could cause you to get stuck into the snowpack rather than being able to pop up and float above it.
Stomp It Tip: Bring your skis together and make one track in the snow. For a few runs put overexaggerate a narrow stance so you get used to skiing in this position. Then you can relax and feel more comfortable skiing in this narrower powder position.
I learned this from Tim Ferris, it's a quick way to check if you're excessively leaning back too far. Try to scrunch your toes, if you can't then you're likely leaning back too much.
Aim for Bumps
Rather than trying to avoid small rises in the snow if you aim for them, you'll release the pressure on your skis as you rise and it will make it easier to turn. Obviously, avoid rocks and large bumps that could injure you.
Use Fat Skis
Fat skis above 110mm at their middle (source) are perfect for powder. The thicker skis give you more of a foundation and allow you to distribute your weight over more of a surface area - so that you float rather than sink.
Narrow skis will immediately sink under the surface and require much more effort just to keep the tips up. Fat skis will be less stable and harder to control on groomed slopes, so a good compromise is an all-mountain ski (91-109mm) that will work with a variety of terrains from hard-packed through to powder. Choose fat skis with a reverse camber at the tip and tail known as a rocker ski.
How to Pole Plant in Powder?
Use pole planting as a timing device to create a smooth flow down the mountain. Pole planting is essential for maintaining balance and creating a rhythm. In powder your pole planting act as extra points of contact to make you feel light yet stable as you rotate through each turn (source).
If you're not yet incorporating pole planting into your regular groomed slope skiing, then this is the basic technique:
- ✅ Reach out in front of you and to the side with your pole.
- ✅ With a deliberate wrist movement plant your pole into the snow at a straight angle.
- ✅ Let it flick off the snow and fall behind as you lean into its path BUT don't let your arm fall behind you as this can trigger you to over-rotate.
More details on my full guide to pole planting.
This video by Warren is a great walkthrough on the art of pole planting during off-piste powder adventures.
By the way, you'll want to put larger baskets onto your ski poles or use a different set of poles with them installed. The basket is the circular bit around the tip at the bottom of the pole, and it acts like a snowshoe to prevent your pole from going straight through the snow and being useless for you. Most ski poles come fitted with a small basket designed for hard-packed groomers.
How to Get up After a Fall
When the inevitable happens, you'll need to dust off the snow from your face and find your way to your feet. Instead of putting your hands down to push yourself up (you'll just fall through the snow) cross your poles into an X shape. Put the X uphill and then put your hand at the point where they cross. Then push up to your feet. This video by Darren will give you a nice walkthrough of how it's done.
Best All-Mountain Powder Skis
Which Ski Resort in the United States has the Best Powder Skiing?
Every resort at one time or another has great powder days, but some are renowned for the quality of their light fluffy powder. Some of these are:
- Utah (Alta, Snowbird, Snowbasin, Powder Mountain)
- Wyoming (Jackson Hole, Grand Targhee)
- New Mexico (Taos)
- Colorado (Vail, Silverton Mountain)
However, it depends on the local weather and how lucky you get with the timing. While we can't plan out ski trips around the weather, keep checking the weather reports - and if you can get a day off work or book a last-minute trip - that's the best way to bag yourself a powder day.
How to Stop Goggles Fogging in Powder
Goggle fog can happen anywhere on the mountain, but with snow flying onto us from powder skiing, our face and body can quickly get covered in a pile of fresh snow. This snow will not only limit out visibility, but it will make the outside of our goggles colder and more likely to cause the heat on the inside to condense. When internal goggle heat condenses into water droplets, wet get goggle fog. Here's how to stay fog-free on your powder adventures:
- ✅ Shake the snow off, don't wipe it.
- ✅ Don't let your core body temperature get too hot.
- ✅ Don't tuck your balaclava deeply into your goggles.
P.S I wrote a whole guide about beating goggle fog here.
How to Ski Crusty Powder
What looks like powder from afar might, in fact, be crusted over powder that has frozen or compacted into hard ice crystals. You'll know right away when you try to ski on the crust, rather than float you'll slide and then at points break through to the softer layer beneath.
You'll probably want to head back to the groomed trail, but if you need to or want to ski crust then this is how to tackle it head-on - it won't be that fun.
- ✅ Take a slightly wider stance.
- ✅ Jump pounce out of turns (advanced).
- ✅ Take a more aggressive line.
Don't Get Too Close to Trees
One of the major causes of snow suffocation is skiers falling into tree wells and getting stuck head first in the snowbank. A tree well is formed when snow builds up around a tree and a hole beneath the branches is created. Over the season as more snow builds up this hold gets deeper and deeper and present a real threat to skiers or snowboarder who get too close and unwittingly fall inside.
The problem is, that once you fall in, it's very hard to get out on your own as your skis and poles wrap around and wedge you further. With the wrong movements, you can also cause more snow to pile down on you from above.
The best thing you can do is to ski between trees and not to get too close to anyone tree and to always ski with a buddy who can watch out for you and help you get out if you get stuck.
If you want to know more, I wrote a whole guide to avoiding & escape from a tree well.