A couple of poles, a pair of ski tips, and an almost all-consuming powder cloud are usually the extent of most “Skiing in Japan” photographs. While this leaves an awful lot of skiers and boarders chomping at the bit to hop on a plane and jump into their bindings and start skiing powder, it also leaves a good number of us scratching our heads, wondering what on earth this powder mania is all about. More specifically – how to ski powder.
What is powder skiing?
Japan is renowned for its fresh powder snow. Whether on the ski resort or backcountry skiing, deep powder is the name of the game in Japan. Powderhounds describe powder skiing as skiing through clouds, floating through deep powder, and popping between turns, effortlessly bounding through the snow as you fly down the mountain. However, deep soft snow can often be a nightmare for the uninitiated. A hot, sweaty day spent finding lost skis, falling over, and forcing your skis to turn. How can two people describe the experience of skiing powder snow so differently?
It certainly took me time to understand it. The first significant “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 genuinely enjoy powder. I knew Japan was famous for its enormous snowfall but figured I’d avoid it as best as possible; I managed that for about 3 days before it proved impossible in Hakuba.
Waking up to 50-something cm of fresh snow, I feigned excitement to match that of my peers but secretly, I was irritated that the corduroy was ruined and I may spend the day floundering around in the snow, cold, frustrated, and embarrassed. My expectations nailed it, as it was all of the above, except for the cold. It wasn’t cold flopping around like a fish trying to dig out various limbs and pieces of equipment.
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. There are now few things I enjoy more than skiing powder.
How To Ski 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 ski down the piste are the same ones you use when skiing powder. The essential skills remain the same while powder skiing, but the emphasis changes. 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.
Powder Skiing Tips
Reading an online article about how to ski powder will not make you the next freeride world tour champion, but the following tips may give you a leg up on your next powder day.
Create a Platform
Unlike hardpack snow, powder snow is soft. You need to create a base of support that will help you float in the powder. When skiing powder, you want to keep your skis closer together and think of your legs as a single unit. Ski instructors often talk about thinking of your legs as a piston or a spring.
Keep Your Speed Up
The goal in powder snow is to float on top of the surface as much as possible. Your goal should be to ski fast enough so that the tips of your skis stay above the top of the snow (not always possible in bottomless powder). Make sure you ski fast enough to keep your skis on the surface when in powder.
Flex & Pop
If you’ve watched any ski movies, I’m sure you’ve seen skiers bounding in and out of the powder as they turn. When you have mastered turning in powder, it’s time to start learning how to rebound and pop yourself out of the snow between turns. This is when you genuinely feel like you are floating through the snow.
Once you know what you should be doing, put the mileage in by practicing skiing powder. Make sure that you do so safely. Know your limits and choose where to ski accordingly. If you are alone, avoid off-piste and treed areas unless you are a competent, confident rider. In very deep snow, ride with a friend or make sure you are visible to the public.
Stick with it
It is almost impossible to take yourself too seriously when learning powder; the chances of sinking the tips of your skis or doing a roly-poly or two are decent, but fortunately, the landing is soft. It can be vexing initially, but fortunately, progress can be made quickly, even over the course of a single run. Before long, you will start to reap the rewards of your efforts, and when you do – it’s a feeling like no other.
Common Powder Skiing Mistakes
Feet too wide apart
You need a wide base of support to float in the powder. A wide stance will cause one or the other ski to sink into the snow and often result in you falling over.
Leaning back tires out your legs and is inefficient. Instead, increase your speed and try to hop while simultaneously pulling up the tips of your skis. Your skis will rise in the snow and start to plane.
Rotating the upper body
Rotating your upper body is a common tactic for intermediate skiers who have yet to learn to steer their skis with their legs. Doing this in the powder is a recipe for disaster. Don’t rotate your shoulders; this puts you off balance and will cause you to fall over. Instead, ski straighter down the hill and turn your legs underneath your body.
Is powder good to ski on?
Yes, powder is great to ski on! Powder skiing can give you a feeling of weightlessness and a smooth ride. However, you must know your limits when skiing in powder and practice proper technique.
How do you ski in powder?
Skiing in powder is similar to skiing on groomed terrain, but there are a few key differences. You should use wider powder skis and a narrow stance to ski in powder. Tun by shifting your weight from one ski to the other and use the snow rebound to help your skis rise up and out of the powder between turns.
Is it easy to ski in powder?
It can be challenging to ski in powder, but it is not impossible. You can gradually become more comfortable skiing in powder with practice and the proper technique. It’s important to remember to stay relaxed and trust your skills as you get used to skiing on different types of terrain.
Is skiing in powder harder?
Yes, skiing in powder is generally more difficult than skiing on groomed terrain. While it can be challenging at first, with practice, you can become more comfortable and eventually master the art of skiing in powder.
Should you lean back when skiing powder?
No, you should not lean back when skiing powder. Leaning back will tire out your legs and make it difficult to stay in control. Instead, keep your body centered over your skis and focus on keeping your legs bent and rotated as you turn.
Why is ski powder hard?
Skiing powder is hard because it requires different techniques and equipment than regularly groomed terrain.
Is it harder to ski on powder or ice?
It is generally harder to ski on powder than ice. Powder requires different techniques and equipment, such as wider skis and a narrower stance.
What is the difference between powder skis and regular skis?
Powder skis are usually wider and longer than regular skis. This provides more stability and control when skiing in powder, as the wider design helps to keep you afloat on top of deep snow. Traditional skis often have a narrower waist width which makes them better for groomed slopes and turning while on edge.
Do I need wide skis for powder?
Yes, wider skis are generally recommended for powder skiing. Wider skis provide more stability and control on deep snow, making it easier to navigate through the terrain. Narrower skis are better suited for groomed slopes and will not perform as well in deeper powder.
Hakuba Ski Concierge is a ski school in Hakuba, Japan, offering high-end personalized lessons to small groups and private individuals. We provide great lessons with instructors who go beyond to ensure you have the best experience possible.
Written by Nadine Robb
Owner/Instructor, Hakuba Ski Concierge – the boutique ski school in Hakuba