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How to Ski Powder

Shredding waist-deep, blower powder is the most exalted experience in skiing. But for the uninitiated, skiing powder can feel like stirring cement. That’s because deep snow demands a distinct set of techniques.

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The Boneyard never looked better. It was mid-April, a week after Steamboat’s closing day, but winter wasn’t heeding the shutdown: Three feet of fluff had just fallen on top of the 489 inches we’d gotten that season. So I hiked up at dawn—well before the springtime sun warmed the cold, dry snow into sludge—to stand atop the Boneyard, where a glittering white blanket hid the nest of fallen trees that gives this stash its nickname. I gazed at the aspens’ pale, spidery branches, then tipped my skis over the ledge and dropped in.

And I kept dropping. Everything disappeared from view—the sky, the trees, and even my hands were hidden in a sea of white. The powder was deeper than I am tall, and for a second I couldn’t tell if I was moving or stalled in a snowdrift. But I felt my legs bobbing beneath me, my skis flying on autopilot while my eyes searched the fog for my intended line. Two turns, then three—all under the snow, until I gained enough speed for my head to broach the surface, like the periscope of a submarine. And not a moment too soon: The Boneyard is salted with trees, which I could now see in front of me. I gulped some air, mapped my next few turns, and savored waves of snow washing over my helmet.

Sure, I’d counted on powder that day. But I discovered something even wilder, a new type of deep snow that proved just how three-dimensional the white room really is. Pow isn’t a road you ride on top of but a sea you swim through. You’re in it, and it’s in you, stuffing your mouth as you hoot with giddiness. And when it’s really deep, the snow’s surface isn’t the earth beneath your feet—it’s your sky.

Want to experience the white room without getting lost in all that snow? Take a cue from the pros.

Powder Skiing Tips 

Skiing powder at A Basin
Learn how to ski powder to reap the rewards off-piste. Photo credit: Keri Bascetta

Speed is your friend

“Don’t be afraid of speed. Go too slow and you end up mired in the snow, fighting it. Speed lets your skis float to the surface, where it’s easier to turn. Think of your skis as the wing of a plane: You need speed to get lift.” —Aryeh Copa, ski photographer

Widen your stance

“Thanks to wider powder boards, you can keep legs farther apart in the powder than skiers of the recent past. Skis are wide and buoyant enough that it’s no longer necessary to clamp them together to make a bigger platform.” —Michael Rogan, PSIA Alpine Team Coach

Flex, don’t squat

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“Your stance should make you look like a boxer, not like you’re sitting on the toilet. With your weight forward, over the balls of your feet, you’ll have much better balance and stability than when you sit back on the tails of your skis.” —Michelle Parker, pro skier

Load and unload those skis

Marcus Caston bounces through the pow.
Marcus Caston demonstrating his signature move: bouncing through pow. Photo courtesy of Helly Hansen

“As you progress through a turn, exaggerate the weighting and unweighting of your skis so you feel like you’re bouncing. Don’t work too hard steering your skis with your upper body—instead, focus on loading and unloading them.” —Jessica Sobolowski, Alaskan heli-guide

No longer do you have to keep your weight distributed 50/50 between skis. Trust your outside ski and stand against it.” —Rogan

Lengthen your turns

“Instead of making lots of short, thrashy movements, make smooth, long-radius turns that let you stay inside the white room for as long as possible. That way, your face shots last three times as long as they do with dainty little turns.” —Shroder Baker, pro skier

Aim for higher edge angles

Warren Miller athlete Kaylin Richardson knows a think or two about arcing in pow.
Warren Miller athlete Kaylin Richardson knows a thing or two about slashing high edge angle turns in pow. Photo credit: Scott Markewitz

“Get your skis out from underneath your body, where they can bend and work for you. When your skis stay under you, bending them only causes the tips to point up. When your skis are out from under you, they bend and arc in the direction you want to turn.” —Rogan

Practice patience

In deeper snow, you have to be extra patient. It takes some time for the snow to compress enough to bend your ski and start the turn. Stay balanced against your outside ski and give your equipment and the snow a chance to work together.” —Rogan

Originally written by Kelly Bastone and published in Skiing Magazine in 2009. The article was updated in Nov. 2019 to reflect current ski instruction and techniques.