Hard Snow vs. Soft


I admit it; I am a product of the West and proud of it. I thrive in full sun and on soft snow. Although my dad always reminded me that "all snow is good snow," I nonetheless grew up in fear of my eventual comeuppance on the dreaded Eastern blue ice. I believed the legend that superior technical beings were being molded at Eastern ski academies, even as I nurtured my craft on frivolously compliant Western snow in Squaw Valley, Calif.

When I finally met my tormentor, I had to wonder what the fuss was about. Yes, it was harsh at first. But in reality, the physics of ice are more straightforward than soft snow-and thus easier to learn. The yielding viscosity of Sierra cement taught me all I needed to know about edge control, about the interplay of edge angle, pressure and balance. Making skis behave in soft snow requires constant subtle technical and tactical adjustments, while ice requires a vigilant, forceful, yet simplistically consistent refrain. Mastering ice is the equivalent of writing "I will not lean in or rotate" 10,000 times on the blackboard.

If you learn to ski on soft snow, you learn to go fast by working with the mountain. Conversely, learning to ski on ice teaches you how to constantly regulate-rather than generate-speed.

To be sure, the ideal learning scenario includes exposure to all kinds of conditions. But once you have mastered the subtleties of soft snow, it doesn't take long to learn the extra gear for ice. All you need at that point is sharp edges. I will grant that Westerners could learn a thing or two from Easterners about ski prep. Unlike my husband, however, I will never ski with a file tucked in my boot.

Edie, the U.S. Ski Team's top finisher in the 1988 Olympics, admits she wasn't attracted to her husband till she saw him ski. She is a SKI senior contributor.