Ten Things You Need to Know About Skiing Powder - Ski Mag

Ten Things You Need to Know About Skiing Powder

How to get up in deep snow, avoiding "tree wells", and other powder-related tips.
#6 Buy Proper Powder Skis

1. Mt. Baker, Washington, averages 647 inches annually—the most snowfall of any lift-served area in the Lower 48.

2. Fact: Rockered skis make skiing powder easier. Get yourself a pair for super-deep days. See page 45 for some good options. For more on rocker, go to skiingmag.com/rocker101.

3. The East’s deepest powder is at Jay Peak, Vermont, which receives an average annual snowfall of 376 inches—61 inches more than Mount Washington, the Northeast’s highest summit.

4. Give trees a wide berth. Branches often prevent falling snow from piling up around a tree’s trunk, creating a hidden hole or “tree well” that can swallow unsuspecting skiers.

5. Getting up in deep snow is hard. Form an X with your poles on the powder to create a surface you can lean on to push yourself back up to standing.

6. Press your shins into the tongues of your boots. This will fight the tendency to lean back to keep your tips above the surface.

7. Storms that deposit light, cold snow on top of a denser bottom layer create the best powder conditions. Storms that dump thick, heavy snow on a fluffy bottom layer elevate avalanche danger.

8. Pop out of your ski in powder? Jam the tail into the snow, to the heelpiece of the binding, so the tip is pointing up at a 30-degree angle. Press the toe of your boot in and then easily step back in.

9. Light powder is easier to ski than heavy powder. The BC interior and Utah are good for learners because both regions get quantity and quality.

10. Ski-area bars often celebrate big dumps with drink discounts. If the 24-hour report claims a certain amount of fresh, booze prices get slashed. Ask the bartender.


Cody Barnhill, with textbook form, at Alta, Utah.

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Located on the West Ridge at Taos, the Elevator Chutes are often home to extreme freeskiing competitions. Elevator and the other chutes on the West Ridge showcase Taos' toughest terrain, which would be a feat on any resort, but Taos has been ranked consistently by SKI and Skiing magazines for having some of the steepest terrain in North America.  Taos' steepness requires more snow, as well. Locals go by the "75-inch rule" where the base has to be at least 75 inches deep before you can put away the rock skis. If going for a visit, don't miss Kachina Peak as well as it has also been ranked as very extreme and is an honorable mention for our list.

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James Heim wishing he were on belay. Location: Last Frontier Heli-Skiing, BC.Check out our suggestions for good gear for steep skiing.The first rule of skiing steeps: Don’t take off your skis. I was 11 years old and I still remember the name of the trail at Big Sky, Montana: Snake Pit. My family was on its first Western ski trip. I wanted to outperform my brothers, so I suggested this steep, rocky glade. Two turns in, panic struck. I inexplicably took off my skis, stacked them across my arms like firewood, stepped downhill, and slipped. I tumbled down hundreds of vertical feet, somersaulted, slammed my knee into a stump, and screamed like a dying rabbit. My parents consoled me by buying me a black-diamond Snake Pit pin from a Big Sky gift shop that I promptly stuck on my school backpack.The second rule of skiing steeps: Know how to self-arrest. And know that self-arresting is difficult without your skis on. When you fall, you’ll most likely be on your side. If you’re not, twist yourself around so your skis are perpendicular to the fall line. If you fall headfirst, roll over so your skis end up downhill, below your body. Now dig your ski edges into the slope as hard as you can to stop. If you lose your skis midtumble, kick hard with the toes of your boots and claw with your hands until you create enough friction to stop.The third rule of skiing steeps: In order to prevent a dangerous collision with trees or rocks, scope out your line carefully before you drop in. Note the locations of dangerous features such as cliff bands, trees, and lift towers so you have a clean run-out if you fall. Find your line and follow it to the bottom. And whatever you do, don’t panic the way I did. All you’ll end up with is a banged-up knee and a lousy pin.

Skiing Steeps: Everything You Need to Know

On steep slopes, the risks are higher—if you fall, it’s harder to stop. But so are the rewards. Pitches tilted past 40 degrees can be thrilling if you overcome your fears and tackle the terrain confidently. Learn how to self arrest and more. —Hillary Procknow

Marcus Caston skiing powder during a hell-ski excursion on the French-Swiss Border.

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