TAHOE-TRUCKEE, Calif. — With El Niño kicking into high gear and significant snow falling — and with more likely to come — it’s time to get back on those powder sticks.
But for the intermediate-level skier, powder skiing can be intimidating, and for good reason. Ask any slopeside-clinic physician or ski patroller and they’ll tell you — among other things — knee injuries typically go up on deep snow days.
However, with a little fine-tuning, taking on the deep can be a lot more manageable.
With that in mind, here are some suggestions for the next time you have a shot at first tracks:
GET ON TOP
Typically, the natural response for any skier taking on deep snow is to lean back to keep ski tips up.
“People think leaning back in powder is the way to do it, like water skiing,” Professional Ski Instructors of America certified instructor trainer Jonathan Lawson said. “They’re nervous that the tips are going to dive down.”
That’s fine to a point. But with modern ski designs, you can be over the top of your skis and still get that flotation to stay on top of the snow.
Too much of a back-seat stance will both put your knees at risk and cause you to fatigue more quickly.
TIGHTER AND LIGHTER
Unlike carving a groomed run, in deep snow it’s better to have legs closer together in a tighter stance. On a groomed surface you get much more performance out of your skis with a wider stance and more dramatic pressure on each ski during turns.
But in deep snow it’s less about aggressive turns, and more about soft adjustments. Turns should be more gentle with closer to even pressure on both skis at once.
“You’re closer to even from foot-to-foot pressure,” Lawson explained, “where as in carving (on a groomer) you might have 90 percent on your outside ski.”
When you’re floating on top of snow it takes much less pressure to turn. The narrower stance helps keep that pressure balanced between skies.
LET IT GO
Don’t be afraid to point your skis more downhill on a powder day than you would in regular conditions.
“You can take a more direct line down the mountain (in powder) than you normally would,” Lawson said. “With really round turns, a skier slows down too much. Momentum is your friend in powder skiing.”
In this instance, that momentum can also lift you on top of the snow more than going slower would.
And remember, powder is soft. If you’re going to fall, it’s best to let it happen. Injuries, especially ones involving twisting knees, often happen when a skier is trying to recover from a fall. Some times it’s best to just let go.
IT COULD BE THE SKIS
Finally, if you’re still struggling in the deep stuff, it could be the skis. While technology isn’t usually the problem, there absolutely are skis that perform stronger in deep snow.
If the snow gets deep, it could be a great opportunity to demo some new gear. Any ski with a tip-and-tail rocker or early rise will help with ski flotation.
Something that’s a little wider underfoot will also make a dramatic difference. For powder skiing it’s all about flotation.
Before working for the Tahoe Daily Tribune, the Sierra Sun-North Lake Tahoe Bonanza’s sister newspaper, staff reporter Sebastian Foltz spent five winters as a ski instructor in Colorado and Oregon.