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Each type of ski is specifically designed to perform best based on different snow conditions and your style of skiing. Powder skis can be used on any type of snowpack, but we’re told they perform much better on fresh snow. Let’s find out the truth.
Because powder skis are designed with a distinctive shape and stiffness, they perform infinitely better on deep fresh snow. They can be used on packed snow, but they don’t handle very well and will tend to chatter when you try to turn.
Reasons That Powder Skis Love Deep Snow
Powder skis are very different than other types of skis because they are designed to float on top of fresh snow instead of cut through packed snow and ice. Generally, they are much wider, and their profile contains more rocker at the tip and tail when compared to all mountain, racing, and freestyle skis.
Why Are Powder Skis Wider?
Powder skis are designed to float on top of fresh snow, which is why they are significantly wider than other types of skis. The extra surface area on the base of the ski helps distribute your weight more evenly, making it easier to float on top of the snow instead of sinking into it.
Everyone has their own preference on how wide they like their sticks, but an effective powder ski should be, at the very least, 105mm underfoot. Skinnier skis can be used in powder, but they will tend to sink into fresh snow, causing you to lose speed and come to a standstill.
Nowadays, powder skis can measure upwards of 130mm underfoot, but the perfect width depends on the skier’s personal preference.
|Type Of Ski||Approx. Width Underfoot|
|Freestyle/Park & Pipe||≤95mm|
Rocker Promotes Float
Since powder skis are intended to float on top of powder, they are built with a special profile that differs from other types of ski that are meant to dig into harder snow. The majority of powder skis will either be fully rockered, reverse cambered, or have a lot of tip and tail rocker with minimal camber underfoot.
Skis with a full camber are designed to put as much edge into contact with the snow as possible to increase edge hold at high speeds, which isn’t necessary in soft snow. Building a ski with more rocker minimizes the friction between the base and the snow allowing the rider to stay on top of fresh snow much easier.
Short Effective Edges Reduce Friction
Powder skis generally have a shorter effective edge than all-mountain or big mountain skis because it allows the ski to stay on top of soft snow more efficiently.
That being said, a shorter effective edge has drawbacks on harder snow. Using powder skis on hardpack will cause them to act squirrely at high speeds, and they won’t hold an edge nearly as good as a ski with a longer effective edge.
|Shorter Effective Edge||Longer Effective Edge|
|Less control and stability at high speed||Better control and stability at high speed|
|Less friction and better float on soft snow||More friction and less float on soft snow|
|Easier to quickly turn in tight terrain||Tougher to turn quickly|
A ski’s turning radius is based on the shape or depth of its side cut, or in other words, a shallower side cut equals a longer turning radius. Skis with a longer turning radius are better for bombing down steep runs at high speed, which is ideal for staying on top of powder.
Most powder skis will have a medium or long turning radius. A medium turn radius is better for skiing powder around trees so that you can drop an edge and turn quicker whereas a long turning radius is better for wide open powder conditions.
What Would It Feel Like To Use Powder Skis On Hardpack?
Powder skis will work OK at lower speeds on wide-open runs. As you increase speed, the skis will want to “run away” from you, and they will start to chatter heavily if you try to turn. Skiing in tight trees will be especially tough because they are wide and heavily rockered, not to mention the extra surface area of the ski means more weight.
The Cold Hard Facts
They are called powder skis for a reason, while they aren’t impossible to ride on packed or icy snow, they certainly take a considerable amount of effort compared to an all-mountain ski.
- The extra width and surface area are great for staying on top of deep snow but make the skis heavier.
- Shorter effective edges decrease drag between the edges and snow, making it easier to maintain speed in powder but leave the skier with less stability at high speeds.
- A rockered profile allows the skier to surf on top of the snow but makes it hard to carve on hardpack.
- A shallower sidecut equals a ski with a higher turning radius, great for bombing wide-open runs, but tough making quick turns in tight spaces.