How to Ski Powder – 15 Tips for Learning in 24 Hours 102 Comments
Last-minute packing is an art form, and most of my trips allow me to pack less than 10 pounds for a world tour.
This time, 10 pounds was just the starting point. My packing list was straight out of a James Bond movie:
I was seeing it for the first time around 4pm in the afternoon. The next morning, I’d be departing for Chile for “cat” (snowcat) skiing in Patagonia, after six years of no snow sports. What the hell had I signed up for?
Baptism by Ice – 15 Key Lessons
This post is based on my lessons and experimentation with the PowderQuest crew, with special thanks to Mo and David.
The first day was sheer terror. The second day was an improvement — just laughable. Then, around the third day…
Suddenly, I was skiing powder.
It wasn’t a gradual learning process. There were a few critical insights and lessons learned that immediately changed my ability to handle powder.
Here they are.
Positional tips and posture:
- Read a big newspaper. Keep your hands in front of you and downhill, as is reading a big open newspaper. Never read newspapers? Aim for about 6″ outside of shoulder width. Look at the picture sequence at the top of this post and notice the arm positioning throughout.
Keep your hands further ahead than you think makes sense.
- From this newspaper position, plant wide with your poles before your turn, and only move your wrists. Keep your arms from moving and flying backward, which throws you off balance — maintain newspaper position.
- Narrow your stance a bit, but not so close that your skis are touching. This will help with the “one ski, one turn” turning mantra discussed below.
- It’s fine to squat down a bit, but don’t let your knees end up behind your ankles. If your weight is this far back, you will suffer. “Sit back more!” is common powder-skiing advice, but all it did was burn out my legs and unweight the front of the skis, which led to the tips crossing more easily. Crossing = face plant. If your hands are forward, your weight is forward; if you hands are back, you’re weight is back. Once again: keep them more forward than you think makes sense.
- Scrunch your toes occasionally to test excess back-lean. If you can’t scrunch your toes, you’re leaning too far back.
- Imagine your turns as rounded zig-zags down a hill. Squat at the mid-point of the straight lines, then — without a pause at the bottom — stand up to near-straight legs, which will unweight you. This is when you turn. Don’t time turns for when you are moving slowest; time turns with when you’re naturally unweighted.
- [This was big for me] Don’t avoid bump-like contours in the snow — aim for them! Rather than navigate around these bumps, run up them to unweight. It actually makes turning easier. Be sure to speak with a guide or snow patroller who can teach you the different between safe snow bumps (all snow) and dangerous bumps covering submerged rocks.
- Make turns with your femur (thigh bone) instead off the edge of the ski. In other words, envision your thighs rotating in your pelvis, in the same direction, to turn the skis.
Don’t ski as you would on harder snow. If you catch your lower edge to turn (fine on groomed runs), the lower ski will just shoot under the snow, cross under your floating top ski, and you will then eat snow.
- “One ski, one turn” — a mantra for the preceding point. Make all of your turns as if you have one big ski, and rotate your thighs instead of catching edges. Try and maintain equal pressure on each ski for the entire run.
- Don’t rush it. Imagine taking nice, rounded turns — again, using your femur to slowly rotate the skis — as opposed to the hopping into ice-scaper-on-windshield zig-zag.
Notice the “S”-like curves after the straight-away traverses.
- USE FAT SKIS. Once you go fat, you will never go back. Additionally, a little bit of rocker (reverse camber) goes a long way. This approach was originally tested by the renegade skiers who rigged waterskiing skis on snow.
- Drop some cash for boots if you can. I don’t ski often, so I wanted to rent skis, but damn: I was punished for renting boots. Particularly if you’ll be spending several days out-of-bounds or in the backcountry (“off piste” or fuera de pista in Spanish), particularly if you might be spending thousands on a trip, spend a few hundred on boots that will custom fit and last. Having foot pain while far away from ski lodges for 10-15 hours at a time sucks.
Find a good bootfitter at the resort, get a pair the first morning of a multi-day trip, and have the bootfitter adjust hot spots and customize to your foot that afternoon for pick up the following morning.
Falling and Yardsale Insurance:
It’s not a matter of if, but rather when, so learn how to get up the right way when you flip.
- X-factor: If you fall, don’t put your hands down to push yourself up, as you’ll simply fall through and get a snow sandwich. Cross your poles into an “X,” hold onto the intersection with one hand, place it uphill from you, and then push yourself up.
- The Sweeper: If you are a fall-prone novice, as I was, ask or hire someone to play “sweeper” and ski behind you, so that they can help you find skis if you eject out of them or “yard sale” (when you fall spectacularly and your gear shoots in all directions). Experienced skiers can still have fun while doing this for you, as they don’t need to ski slowly, but rather start their descent well after you.
- If you eat sh*t 10 times in a row, do two things. First, pause after each turn, or pause after getting up, and catch your breath for 20 seconds. No rush, brah. Second, when you’re ready to punch yourself in the face, or when your legs are totally shot, put your big girl pants on, head down to the ski lodge, and grab a hot chocolate or Hot Toddy by the fire. That will calm your inner animal, make you smile, and get you psyched to tackle it again in the morning.
Learning to ski powder can be immensely frustrating, but — like most things — it doesn’t have to be. If you’re looking for an incredible tour company for Argentina or Chile, take a peek at PowderQuest, who were simply awesome.
Enjoy the fresh tracks!
Have some additional tips? Please leave them in the comments!
Odds and Ends:
Join me in Australia with Sir Richard Branson; Live Kindle Q&A
First, I’m finally making it to Melbourne, Australia!
Will you be near Australia Oct 21-22? If you can, join me, Sir Richard Branson, and others here. I’ve never been to Melbourne or this event, but I’m really looking forward to good company, good conversation, and good food.
Second, I will be doing a live Q&A soon for anyone who wants to submit questions via Kindle.
The questions can be about anything in The 4-Hour Workweek or The 4-Hour Body, but if you can tie your question — about tango, languages, Ewoks, etc. — to a passage, ask whatever you like.
Here’s how to send me a question, and early submissions get priority, so please submit sooner rather than later:
1. Using your Kindle (I suggest Kindle 3) or the Kindle App for iOS (iPhone & iPad), highlight a passage in either The 4-Hour Workweek or The 4-Hour Body. You will see options for: Note, Highlight, and Share. Choose Share. This won’t work in the desktop Kindle app.
2. You will see options to share via Twitter and Facebook. Choose Twitter.
3. Type the phrase “@author”, followed by your message to Tim Ferriss. Press the tweet button.
If you haven’t linked your Twitter account, you will see a dialogue that says “Set Up Account – You need to set up your Twitter account before Sharing.” If this pops up, press Okay.
4. Press the “Link Account” button on the screen to link your Twitter account.
5. Type your Twitter username and password, then press “Sign In”. You will be taken back to a screen where you will see your Twitter account linked. Press “Done.”
6. You will be taken back to the Kindle reading app and your message will be sent to the author.
Posted on October 14th, 2011