By Simon Douglas, 2009.
Skiing in powder, many skiers say is the ultimate ski experience. The feeling of lightness, ease and grace is incomparable. However, ask many skiers about there first powder experience and the answers will properly be very different to those mentioned above and will properly be followed by a few four letter words which cannot be printed here.
This brings me back to my first powder experience…
This happened to take place in one of the powder capitols of the world (Hokkaido, Japan). It had snowed 1 metre overnight and the instructors (including myself) were first on the chair that morning. On arrival to the top of the run I asked the boys and girls the trick to powder skiing. The instructors (80% European) erupted into laughter and “you must be joking Kiwi” banter thrown my way. I was left at the top of the run with the Euro’s doing there powder eights with “Kiwi bend zee knees” chants as my first intro to powder skiing. Needless to say my first run wasn’t pretty and a few mouthfuls of snow later I was determined to get it right. I learnt the hard way but as my teaching career developed and a few more seasons’ in the Japanese pow; I have had the pleasure to share my love of powder skiing with people from all over the world.
With a few shocker lessons under my belt, one which included a first time powder lesson in the trees, I soon came up with a solid powder lesson for my guests. That season I had no choice as it snowed for two months straight and I had not too many other options as to teach powder technique.
I soon learnt after taking ‘Shazza from Aussie’ for her first powder experience in the trees that appropriate terrain was key as the first introduction to the deep stuff. A good pitch slope with easy access back to the groomers if it all goes pear shaped is usually a good start. It will help too if there are no trees on the chosen slope.
As I got my students from the chair to the novice powder run I would check there ability of the short turn. I would mention as an intro to powder snow the short turn would definitely be easier to learn powder as it would create rhythm and momentum.
Next I would mention how the nature of powder snow makes balancing and turning challenging. A straight run through some shallow powder with the core muscles tight to remain perpendicular to the ski, added with some bouncing movements gave my students there first taste of skiing through the powder. Balance is my main focus here with a awareness of how weight should be distributed evenly on both feet so the skis will sink to relatively the same depth in the snow and gradually develop a platform.
Next comes the turn. A shorter turn which is shallow is usually the easiest for the student. Because of the resistance surrounding the ski, boot and lower leg the rotational movements need to be stronger to achieve the same result as steering on groomed snow. With the focus of strong two footed steering with a stable upper-body
the smiles start to show as the students make there first powder turns.
Once the first direction changes are happening I mention how our steering movements need to be controlled and consistent throughout the linked turns. The rate of steering needs to be controlled through blending edging movements in with rotational movements. This is developed by having my students gradually steer the legs further
out to the side of the body and up on to both edges. This will have the effect of the ski slicing through the snow as opposed to pivoting the skis.
Shazza and Bazza from Aussie have now mastered the basics of powder skiing. Although there is plenty more to learn this is generally a successful introduction to powder skiing. I have had hugs and high-fives and many a night on the town from guests who have mastered the basics of skiing powder. It’s a feeling hard to describe. I have the biggest rewards in my teaching career by getting guests comfortable and skiing through powder snow.