Last weekend’s powder dump brought many valley skiers and riders into a dreamy woo-hoo wonderland.
That is, for those who know how to make those graceful turns on the trails and glades. But this isn’t champagne snow country. The occasional powder blast is glorious for fluid powder hounds but for the average snow slider it means some adjustments.
When there’s powder, skiers tend to lean back. Don’t.
“This makes it difficult to steer the ski, taxes the quad muscles and makes the skier tire quickly,” emailed King Pine Ski School Director Trisha Jacobson.
Jacobson says the most common mistake the average snowboarder makes in powder is letting the nose of the board sink into the powder, making it difficult to turn and move.
Sunday River Snowsports School Director Matt Erickson says skiers tend to use too wide of a stance, put too much pressure on the outside ski — downhill ski — and try to create a turn shape that takes their skis too far out of the fall line or too far across the hill. Snowboarders tend to lean too far forward with too much weight on the front foot.
“Powder days are all about feeling the float, and the silence of the turns so, let your feet do the work and the skis make it happen,” said Cranmore’s Mountain Meister Coordinator Ray Gilmore. “Slow down your upper body movements because your feet are being slowed by the snow. It is a different rhythm.”
That can be a challenge for turn happy New England skiers used to firm snow.
“Eastern skiers tend to use edging and pressuring their skis to control their speed on hard surfaces,” said Bretton Woods Ski School Director Steve Debenedictis. “In soft snow, it is better to control speed by turning the legs and skis in a nice round shape to the turn to control speed.”
So, to get better, Jacobson suggests skiers keep their ankles flexed and stand somewhere between the middle of your foot and heel without sitting back.
“Actively steer your skis with your feet through your turn, just like steering a car around a curve,” she said.
Use you poles to help with rhythm and flow.
For snowboarders who usually put weight on the front foot to turn, she recommends shifting weight to the back foot to float in powder thus keeping the board’s nose above the snow.
Practice shifting your weight to the back foot while still initiating the turn with the front foot. Also, keep your lower body loose and flexible to respond more easily to bumps and powder stashes.
Since valley powder days are infrequent, the key is to be prepared.
“We hope for dumpings like this past weekend, but so rarely get them,” Gilmore said. “So the adage of practice makes perfect, doesn't really work so you have to be ready before the next dumping, shows up.”
According to Gilmore that means being in shape and practicing flexion extension movements (flex and extend in your ankles and knees, so your skis rise up, when transitioning from turn to turn almost like a porpoise) with a Professional Ski Instructors of America and American Association of Snowboard Instructors certified coach. He recommends clinics like the one for Mountain Meisters.
Erickson says lower level students often take more lessons while more advanced skiers do not take lessons. Snowboarders frequently have more success when taking a lesson in powder.
“However, taking a lesson is always impactful because a coach can address your specific needs when skiing or riding in powder,” Erickson said.
Storms like we just had are a great opportunity to get better in the powder, said Debenedictis.
“Taking a lesson with a certified instructor can help you get past all the trial and error and opens the door to lots of fun and face shots,” he said. “Breathing in a little snow while sliding down you favorite run is something you will want to do over and over.”
Powder days can be a challenge for novices taking lesson as the snow tends to slow skiers down. But groomers hit lesson areas and beginner terrain last which is good news for skiers and riders looking for some decent footing under the boards they can’t see. Dust on crust, the delicious white powdery topping on groomed snow, can make wannabe powder hounds comfortable.
So dig out from the house and get to the slopes.
“Once you know how to manage it, there is nothing like a powder day,” Jacobson said.