, Gloucester, MA

February 12, 2013

Deep Powder Skiing

Dave Sartwell

---- — This past weekend we saw record amounts of snow drop all over New England, with more to come later this week. It has filled the woods with skiable powder so take vacation days, call in sick, escape to the north by whatever means you can because we just don’t see these conditions in New england that often.

Most of the trails we ski in New England are groomed affairs. When new snow falls the mountain areas put the big machines out and pack the fluff onto the existing snow so that they can maintain it for weeks to come. By grooming each trail every night and combining it with man-made snow, they can revive the surface to provide us with a quality skiing experience. If you do not live near a ski mountain or have the ability to just get up from your desk and go skiing when the dump comes, it is very easy to ski all winter and never experience a virgin mountain covered in new snow. There are just not enough powder days.

However, for those of us that love to ski on a natural surface, there are now stashes of powder all over the mountain. The most obvious are the glades. Here the trees prevent the groomers from entering into the woods. It is in these little playgrounds that skiing reverts to its origins; natural moguls, tree wells and soft snow that will slow you down, make you turn when you sometimes don’t want to and test your technique to the fullest.

Skiing in powder demands a little different technique than blasting down fully groomed runs. Because we do not get a lot of powder days in New England, most folks feel a little intimidated by going into the deep stuff. Powder snow does require that we adapt and modify the way we normally ski. On a groomed trail you can see your skis, you have a firm surface under your feet, and there are usually no obstacles around which you have to maneuver. Skiing in powder is different.

In powder you are floating inside an uncertain medium where you can’t see your skis or sometimes even your boots. In fact, we have skied in powder so deep we couldn’t even see our waist! The beginner in this stuff can feel unbalanced and unsure of how to proceed. However, once you get by that first set of insecurities, there is an experience ahead of you that is so freeing and pure that you will continually be in search of untracked snow for the rest of your life! Powder skiing is hard to learn but easy to do. Lessons from an expert can can speed the process, so spend a little and get an instructor to take you into the powder for a little tutelage.

The new shaped skis really help. The extra wide tips and tails help us float in the deep snow almost like a water-ski. There are specialized fat skis, but because we get so few powder days in our area they are really not worth the investment.

In powder skiing we ski in the snow not on it. Because of that floating effect we have to modify our technique just a little. Most of us ski basically on one foot. As we make turns we apply a great deal of pressure on the edge of the outside ski and press in and forward. If you apply that technique to powder skiing, that ski digs in, dives down through the snow and simply runs away from us. If you can apply equal pressure on both skis in powder, you will be creating a wide platform underneath you that will allow the skis to float through at the same level. This is why the big, fat, specialized powder skis work so well.

So you now are skiing down the mountain with your weight balanced roughly the same on both skis, how do you turn. Here is wear the real technique comes into play. In mogul skiing it is easier to turn on top of the mogul than when you are down deep in the trough. It is the same for powder skiing. We need to get the skis going up to turn them. To do this we weight and unweight the skis. And, to do that we need to move our weight up and down.

Try this on a gentle slope. Head straight down hill and start moving your body up and down with your knees. Do this several times just going down in a straight run. Now, as your skis float up, gently turn both skis gradually in one direction. Don’t cut them as if you were going around a tree, but move them in a slow arc. As you do this weight down on them and the skis will turn. Now rise and slowly turn them back the other way. The resistance of the snow should slow you so that you do not pick up a lot of speed. You will notice that you do not need to edge to control speed as much as you would on a groomed run.

So, pack up the kids and the car and get on up north to enjoy the best skiing of the season. And, challenge your self a little by getting off the main trails and into the powder.