A couple of poles, a pair of ski tips and an almost all consuming powder cloud is usually the extent of most “Skiing in Japan” photographs. While this leaves an awful lot of skiers and boarders chomping on the bit to hop on a plane and jump into their bindings, it also leaves a good number of us scratching our heads and wondering what on earth this powder mania is all about, and more specifically – how to ski powder.
It certainly took me time to understand it. The first major “powder day” I encountered was after being on skis for 18 years, 3 of them as an instructor. Loving nothing more than setting my edges and flying down the groomers, I couldn’t imagine how I could truly enjoy powder. I knew Japan was famous for it’s enormous snowfall but figured I’d avoid it as best as I could; I managed that for about 3 days before it proved impossible in Hakuba.
Waking up to 50 something cms of fresh snow I feigned excitement to match that of my peers, but secretly was bugged that the corduroy was ruined and I may spend the day floundering around in the snow; cold, frustrated and embarrassed. My expectations pretty much nailed it, as it was all of the above. Except for the cold. It wasn’t cold because flopping around like a fish trying to dig out various limbs and pieces of equipment did keep me pretty toasty.
Within a short time though I began to glimpse the light. The odd string of turns went from feeling focused and tiring to light, bouncy and fun. Smiles began to creep onto my face and then the odd squeal of delight or giggle slipped out. The tomahawk style stacks became less frequent, and when they did occur they seemed funny not frustrating. Needless to say, there are now few things I enjoy more in the world than skiing powder.
So, how do we transition to this? If we are already comfortable on our skis or board, we’re off to a great start. The basic principles that allow us to successfully ski down the piste are the same ones that will unlock the powder. Our key skills remain the same in powder, but more emphasis is placed on some more than others. In the same way that while all skills are present in a carved turn, some require more exaggeration than others. The best way to fully understand what, when and how is to take a lesson – it will save time and energy. As with learning any new thing – we have the best shot at grasping it if we understand it first.
Once you know what you should be doing, put the mileage in by practicing. Please do make sure that you do so safely by knowing your limits and choosing where to ski accordingly. If you are alone avoid all off piste and treed areas unless you are a very competent, confident rider. During very deep snow, ride with a friend or make sure you are clearly visible to the public.
Stick with it
It is almost impossible to take yourself too seriously when learning powder; the chances of sinking your skis tips or doing a roly-poly or two are decent, but fortunately the landing is soft. Truthfully, it can be vexing initially, but fortunately progress can be made pretty quickly, even over the course of one run. Before long you will start to reap the rewards of your efforts and when you do – it’s a feeling like no other.
Written by Nadine Robb
Owner/Instructor, Hakuba Ski Concierge – the boutique ski school in Hakuba