how to ski powder

Explore the thrill of powder skiing! Get started with our beginner tips, gear advice, and top resort picks, including Vail, Heavenly, and Whistler Blackcomb.

Snowboarder in fresh fallen powder in Keystone, CO.

How to Ski Powder

Powder skiing is unmatched and epitomizes the essence of winter sports. The feeling of floating as you carve down untouched snow is the stuff of legend for skiers, young and old. Mastering the technique to ski powder efficiently and safely is critical to making the most of this sometimes elusive yet always enticing experience. This requires understanding the fundamentals, having the right equipment, and knowing where to find the best chance for fresh snow. This guide will navigate the basics of how to ski powder for beginners and spotlight a few world-class resorts celebrated for their high snowfall and excellent conditions. 

Powder Skiing 101

Powder skiing differs significantly from skiing on groomed slopes and other average conditions. The soft, deep snow demands a unique set of skills and slight adjustments to your skiing style. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced skier looking to refine your powder skiing abilities, understanding these nuances is key to enjoying the full potential of what many consider the pinnacle of skiing experiences. 

How to Ski Powder for Beginners

Powder skiing can be intimidating if you’ve never attempted it before, but don’t let that keep you from trying. Here are some quick tips for beginners to help master the basic techniques required for the task: 

Tip #1 - Understand Powder Dynamics

Recognizing that powder skiing is fundamentally different from other types of skiing is a good first step in learning how to ski it. The snow is softer and deeper, so you’ll need to adjust your technique to maintain momentum and float. 

Tip #2 - Mastering Your Stance

  • Center or Sitback Your Weight: Balance is vital in powder skiing. Unlike on hard-packed snow, where you might lean forward, in powder, it’s important to keep your weight more centered or even set back on your skis. This helps in floating atop the snow rather than sinking into it. 
  • Widen Your Stance: A wider stance than what you’d use on groomed runs or other standard terrain will help you maintain balance in soft, unpredictable snow. It provides a solid base of support for maneuvering through powder. This doesn’t need to be dramatically wider, but a subtle shift can help. 
  • Flex Your Knees: Keep your knees flexed and ready to absorb everything. This not only helps in maintaining balance but also in initiating smoother turns. Powder skiing is softer in feel than harder conditions, but flexed knees are still essential for keeping in control. 

Tip #3 - Adjusting Your Technique

  • Smooth Movements: In powder, every movement should be smooth and fluid. Avoid jerky motions that can cause you to sink or lose balance. Think of your turns as flowing arcs rather than sharp cuts. 
  • Use Your Whole Body: Initiate turns with your whole body. This involves gently rotating your shoulders and hips in the direction of the turn while keeping your skis parallel. This body-led approach helps in creating a smooth line down the slope. 
  • Keep Your Skis Together: While a wider stance is beneficial for balance, keeping your skis close together can help them act as a single platform to better float on the snow. This doesn’t mean keeping them locked together at all times but keeping them close enough for added float when needed. 

Is It More Difficult to Ski in Powder? 

Skiing in powder can be more challenging than groomed runs, primarily because it requires different techniques and muscles you might not use as frequently. The deep snow offers added resistance and requires more momentum to stay afloat, which can be physically demanding. You’ll typically work a lot harder to ski fewer runs on a good powder day because of this. The reward and added fun are well worth it, despite the challenges.

The Right Equipment Makes a Difference

Proper equipment can significantly enhance your powder skiing experience. Wider, rockered skis are designed to float on top of powder, making turning easier and reducing fatigue. Rockered skis have tips and tails that sit up off the snow with the underfoot section more in contact, resulting in more float. Some skis are specifically designed for powder conditions and will provide better floatation and stability when the snow stacks up. Consider renting or demoing powder-specific skis on powder days to feel the difference. Many experienced skiers keep a dedicated powder ski in their quiver to fully take advantage of deeper days. 

How Do You Train for Powder Skiing? 

Training for powder skiing involves both on-slope practice and off-slope conditioning: 

  • On-Slope Practice: Whenever possible, ski in varied conditions to improve your adaptability. Seek out softer snow on the sides of groomed runs if no powder is available to get a feel for powder skiing techniques. And if the snow is falling, get out there and get after it. 
  • Off-Slope Conditioning: Focus on building your leg and core strength. Exercises like squats, lunges, and planks are beneficial. Balance training, such as using a balance board, can also help improve your stability on the snow. Building endurance and stamina is also crucial. 

Finding the Ultimate Powder Experience

You can’t always predict when and where powder will appear. But several world-class resorts are known for offering better-than-average odds of copious amounts of the white stuff. 

Vail, Colorado

Vail is synonymous with exceptional skiing, boasting vast back bowls that fill with powder after a good storm. This makes for an ideal setting for both beginners and experts to refine and enjoy their powder skiing prowess. 

Average Snowfall: 354 inches

Park City, Utah

Park City, with its impressive annual snowfall, offers diverse terrain that includes gentle slopes for beginners and challenging runs for anyone looking to push their limits in powder. 

Average Snowfall: 355 inches

Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia

The expansive terrain of Whistler Blackcomb provides a potential powder paradise with a wide variety of runs. From tree skiing to wide-open bowls, there’s something here for every level of powder skier. 

Average Snowfall: 408 inches

Heavenly, California

Straddling the border of California and Nevada, Heavenly offers not only incredible views but also a mix of terrain perfect for powder skiers looking to experience powder skiing from the heights of the Sierra Nevada mountains. 

Average Snowfall: 251 inches

Embrace the Learning Curve

Patience and practice are your allies in mastering powder skiing. Start slow, focus on feeling the snow, and understand how your movements affect your skiing. Lessons from a professional instructor can accelerate your learning curve by offering personalized tips and immediate feedback. But if you can’t book a lesson when the snow is falling, dive in on your own, and you’ll still see improvements. Every powder day is a good day to ski, so take advantage of them every chance you get.