Soft Snow, Hard Lessons - Tips for Skiing and Snowboarding in Deep Powder


Powder, pow, champagne powder … whatever you call it, skimming through the soft, deep snow is what most skiers and snowboarders live for. With an average snowfall of roughly 38 feet (11.6 metres) each winter, Whistler gets its fair share of the fluffy stuff, which attracts many people hoping to get their first experience of gliding on top of soft, bottomless white stuff. The first thing most riders discover is that learning to ride deep powder can be challenging (and tiring) until you figure out some key techniques. Since the last thing you want to do is waste time when there’s fresh pow on the hills, here are some helpful tips from two local ski and snowboard instructors to ensure you get the most out of your powder days.

Established in 1994, Extremely Canadian is a Whistler-based company that offers guided instructional sessions for skiers and snowboarders. Owner and Co-Founder Peter Smart volunteered to help us with some powder skiing tips. Marc Emerson is the supervisor for Whistler Blackcomb’s Adult Group Snow School and has been instructing snowboarders since 1993. Emerson shared some key advice for snowboarders looking to get afloat and maintain control in deep snow.  

The first thing many skiers and snowboarders often assume about riding powder is that they should lean way back. It is important to keep your tips above the snow’s surface, but simply putting all your weight on your heels or back foot will make your skis or board difficult to control. Both Smart and Emerson say it’s best to keep your body weight centered, even in the deep snow.  

On skis, “stance and balance are the most important things,” Smart says. “If you’re standing too far back, you can’t handle the feedback you get from your skis.”

Smart offered a clever tip for finding that ideal front-to-back balance point: “If you’re looking for a warmup on a powder day … ski some mellow bumps but do so imagining you’re in a really short room, so your head can’t go up and down. The bumps will force you to stay in balance. If you lean too far back you’ll know instantly; and if you lean too far forward you’ll also know right away.”

Smart says the key difference for skiing in powder is it requires more body language, rather than a different body position. “Just exaggerate the movements of normal skiing. You actually have to be a bit more animated in the softer snow, especially the deeper it gets,” he explains.   

Similarly, with snowboarders, Emerson says the tendency to lean too far back is a common problem with those who are new to riding powder. “By leaning back, what generally happens is your front leg will straighten, and once that leg straightens you lose your ability to move from edge to edge. The front leg still needs to be bent, and that’s where that centered body position still comes into play,” explains Emerson. “It’s similar movements to riding on hardpack; that centered, relaxed body position is important.”

Riding on appropriate gear or setting up your equipment properly can also make a big difference for riding pow. For snowboarders, setting your binding stance back is a quick and easy job that will help keep the nose floating more easily. If you’re riding narrower skis with less than 90-millimeter waists, it’s ideal to rent powder skis if the snow is deep. For solid skiers who have between 90 and 100 mm of width underfoot, Smart says following the right technique will get you through a powder day just fine.

“[Put] more emphasis on that traditional style … very animated and skiing the same way you would on hard snow. If you’re on a skinny ski, that technique is definitely going to play more in your favour,” explains Smart.  

An inevitable part of learning to ride powder is crashing in it. The softness of the pow is forgiving when you tumble, but landing awkwardly in bottomless snow can be a bit nerve-wracking. Righting yourself after a crash isn’t always easy, so here are some tips for when things go topsy-turvy. Smart’s first piece of advice is to figure out which way you’re facing.

“Once you’ve fallen, identify which way the fall line is and which way you are pointing. If both skis are still attached, try to remove them one at a time, in such a way that you can get up,” he says. If you’ve fallen on the uphill side of your skis, it’s usually possible to stand up without removing them, he says.

Emerson offers a good tip for getting up after a spill on your snowboard. In deep, soft snow, your arms and boots might simply plug holes and get you nowhere. In those cases, it’s ideal to shift your body weight over the board and use it like a platform to stand up on. If you’ve fallen in an awkward manner, “Use your hands and knees to crawl back into a squatting position where you’re over your board, then you can stand up using the board as a platform,” Emerson says.  

The most important thing to remember about riding in deep powder is always stick with a buddy, especially if you’re exploring treed areas. Deep snow can bury obstacles and create tree wells (hollow areas around the bases of trees where snow doesn’t pack in), which can be difficult or impossible to escape without help. Always keep your friends in sight, as these risks do exist within ski-area boundaries.

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