Gliding through knee—or waist-deep—powder, whether it be in a blue-bird powder field or among trees while the snow gently falls, is easily the most glorious type of skiing. Many say it’s like experiencing heaven on earth; everything is white and you feel like you’re floating. It’s what keeps the initiated coming back for more every season and religiously checking long-range and up-to-the-minute snow reports. For unproven or aspiring powder skiers, this sacred act can quickly turn south if they aren’t armed with specific technique and know how.
Having personally experienced this euphoria many times, we, at Ski.com, believe in the power of powder skiing. That’s why we tapped Alta, Utah-based Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA)-certified instructor Stephen Helfenbein to provide some tips, so newbies can also enjoy this piece of paradise. Stephen was recently selected as a member of the National Demo Team and is also an Educational Manager for the Intermountain Division.
Get in a good headspace
Before you even attempt to ski powder, you’ll need some mental preparedness. As Stephen explains, there must be a “willingness to go faster than you think you should and be ready to point their skis down the fall line. Let gravity take you, don’t battle against the pull. Surrender to the powder.”
Keep in mind, if you do fall, you’re falling into soft, forgiving powder.
The right equipment makes it easier
Fat skis have made powder skiing more accessible to more people, quicker. The main consideration is renting or demo-ing a ski with decent width, says Stephen. You’ll want something wider than your boot. The second factor is selecting something with tip rocker, which reduces the amount of mental and physical fortitude you need to get the tip above the snow to move down the hill.
However, having a powder-specific ski underfoot is by no means the end-all of mastering powder, warns Stephen. That comes with a lot of practice and plenty of patience.
Fundamental movements: flexing and extending
It’s all about pushing and pulling, flexing and extending. You want to create rebound. It’s opposite of what on-piste skiers are used to, says Stephen. You aren’t turning your skis a lot. Powder skiing is a lot more three dimensional, you’re attempting to make your tips go in and out of the snow.
There is a teaching method at Alta’s Alf Engen Ski School called the Alta Start which activates these movements. If you’re willing to try the Alta Start on your own, Stephen recommends finding terrain where you’d feel comfortable going straight and there’s some soft snow. Practice “porpoise-ing,” i.e. pushing skis down into snow and letting them pop up.
To get pupils to do this, Stephen says, “I’ll have them kick their tails into the snow, so they’re pointing straight down the hill to get that ideal fall line orientation.” Then, the key is to gain some speed while facing downhill before you start pressuring the ski.
Also, good powder turns are shallow or less curvy. This is important because it’s almost impossible to generate rhythm when turning if you’re starting them across the hill.
The final key element is the tempo of your pole plant. Many newbies mistakenly make quick pole plants. A good powder skier will have a much slower pole swing, like “1…2…3…” says Stephen. The movements are slower when skiing in powder, he says, almost like slow motion, but you want to be moving fast and down the fall line of the slope ahead.
Don’t get frustrated. Powder skiing isn’t easy.
Be patient if you’re not getting it right away. Powder skiing movements are counter-intuitive to a lot of the technique you might have learned for skiing on hard pack. One of the biggest challenges for novice powder skiers is getting them to stop twisting their skis sharply and abruptly too far across the hill, says Stephen. Powder skiing is all about control through resistance (flexing and extending), rather than turning. Make that your mantra if you’re having trouble; it’s more mental than physical.
Many new powder skiers also tend to sit back so their tips stay above the snow, but that’s exactly the opposite of what you want to do. You want to pressure the tips to get them to rebound out of the snow. Once you’re feeling that rebound, marry it with a beautiful, graceful rhythm and slow pole plants. When done right, it should be effortless.
How to take your powder skiing to the next level
Once you’ve mastered the Alta Start, you want to start focusing on aggressively pressuring the ski to get them to dive deeper and load them up like a bow, says Stephen. When the ski pops up out of the snow, you want to provide them with a redirection (turn) and then start pressuring them aggressively again.
The end game is to create fluid, fall-line turns with no tracks across the hill.
Where can I ski powder?
Powder blesses most ski resorts every year, but how much snow falls varies based on location, climate patterns like El Niño or La Niña and much more. Check out our Powder Vacations page to learn more about which resorts in North American have the most average annual snowfall.
Ready to experience the Shangri-la of skiing? Book your powder ski trip today! Our 65+ Mountain Travel Experts are standing by for your call at 800-610-8911. They can provide recommendations on powdery destinations and top powder ski schools, as well as book your complete vacation package. You can also get started by filling out a free custom form.
Originally from the icy trails of New Jersey, I moved West to pursue powder and a career in writing and editing. Now in Aspen, Colo. and working for Ski.com managing the website and blog content, I couldn't be happier. You'll find me skiing at Aspen Mountain or Aspen Highlands in the winter and mountain biking at Snowmass in the summer.