Skier skiing downhill in high mountains in fresh powder snow.

Powder Skiing 101

How to take advantage of fresh powder conditions and ski or ride effectively through deep snow.

Powder is the holy grail of skiing or riding. It’s why people flock for ‘first chair,’ skin the backcountry for freshies, and storm-chase across the country like surfers monitoring ocean swell. And when you finally do find that coveted stash, or score with a foot of new snow, you’ll likely also discover that skiing and riding powder is quite different from carving groomers or schussing hardpack at the resort, requiring different skills and technique. Here are a few pointers to get you down the mountain safely and in style.  

Expose a Big Footprint

Powder skiing and riding is all about increasing the surface area you present to the snow below so you can float instead of sink. While fatter powder skis and boards help this (see below), so does your technique. Instead of applying weight to your downhill ski independently and edging your turn as on a groomed run, weight both skis more evenly, keeping a centered stance, hands forward and your shoulders over your toes. This disperses your weight evenly across both skis to help keep your tips above the snow while increasing your flotation. 

Don’t Edge

Instead of engaging your edges as on hardpack, turn more by keeping your skis flatter and weighting and unweighting (without anything to grip, edging will cause your skis to sink, decreasing floatation). With hands forward, bend your knees and alternately weight the skis with each turn. During the transition between turns, extend your legs to unweight the leading (downhill) ski and transfer weight to the other one. 

Make Big Turns

Instead of making short, choppy, slalom-style turns as you might on hardpack, maintain your speed, and hence floatation, by making slower, longer-arcing turns. With your weight centered and even on both skis, weight and unweight your skis through your turn, slowly lengthening your turn radius. Note: Try to keep your skis facing down the fall line (meaning the steepest, most direct path down the slope) to maintain momentum, rather than across the slope. Try to stall a hair between each turn to lengthen each arc into more of a flowing “S” track instead of the choppy mark of Zorro. Key: Be sloth-like, moving slower instead of rushing through each turn. Unless it’s to hit an untracked powder stash, avoid long traverses, which will affect your rhythm and planing speed. Hint: Practice on wide-open slopes without such obstacles as trees.  

Body Position

Keep your weight centered and hands forward (don’t lean back!). Avoid rotating your torso with each turn by keeping your ski tips and upper body pointing downhill (hint: try to keep your skis parallel to your hips). 

Freeride skiing downhill

Look Ahead

Keep your eyes looking ahead instead of down at your skis or snowboard. Look and plan where you want to go and have your skis follow your eyes. Hint: Pick a target downhill—such as a tree, boulder or even slope sign—and aim for it. Always think and plan two or three turns ahead and know exactly where they’ll occur. Focus on where you want to go instead of on your skis. 

Ski the Fall Line

As with airplane wings, speed creates lift, which will keep you planing up on the snow’s surface with less resistance instead of sinking. To maintain speed, keep your skis pointed down the slope (i.e., the fall line) instead of straight across it during each turn. To slow down, angle your turns slightly more across the slope until you feel comfortable enough to regain the fall line. Note: While speed is your friend in powder, stay in control and be ready to stop or avoid obstacles on a moment’s notice. 

Get Powder Skis or a Powder Snowboard

Technique aside, one big factor that will help you stay floating on the surface is your choice of skis. Powder skis come in all shapes and sizes, but are generally fatter underfoot than more hardpack-oriented skis, with wider tips, or shovels, as well—all to help keep you on the snow’s surface and aid stability. Many also have rocker variations rather than traditional camber to help the ski float better in powder. All this helps create a larger surface area designed to keep you on top of the snow while also being easy to maneuver in powder. 

Ski sizing details: While waist widths for powder skis vary depending on the resort, terrain and snowpack, experts agree that underfoot widths of between 100 and 120mm is a good range for powder skis. Wider waists (110-130mm) are better for wetter, heavier snow, while narrower waists (100-120mm) work well for drier, lighter snow. For an all-mountain “one-quiver” ski, experts advise waists in the mid-fat, 95-105mm range. Backcountry skiers concerned with weight often choose lighter, narrower waists (85-100mm) at the expense of some float, while “sidecountry” skiers often shoot for waists in the 95-110mm range, depending on their region’s snow conditions. 

Snowboard sizing details: Powder snowboards have unique shapes, stance, profile, and flex specifically designed so they excel in deeper snow by floating on top of powder and maintaining speed. In general, it’s recommended to size up 3-6cm for your powder snowboard, which provides more surface area to help it float. (Some powder-specific boards, however, are designed to be ridden at the normal board size, and other wider ones 3-6cm smaller, depending on how volume is distributed, nose rocker and how far back the bindings are mounted; check with your salesperson/manufacturer and sizing chart for your model.) Most powder boards are also directional, meaning they’re meant to be ridden only in one direction (not switch). Added features include a larger nose for flotation and a shorter tail (often with a split or swallow tail) to help it sink.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.