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Tips for skiing in deep/powder/off piste snow

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Just back from a weeks skiing holiday where we were "lucky" enough to have a decent amount of fresh snow most days.

I say "lucky" in quotes because while I know that most experienced skiers love skiing in deep powder snow I tend to find it quite a struggle tbh.

I'm a reasonable piste skier comfortable taking on most blacks and able to do what I feel are decent parallel turns most of the time on the piste.

Whenever I try skiing in deeper snow though (above shin level) it all seems to go out the window. Its a great feeling gliding across a bit of fresh powder at the side of the piste, but if I actually try and turn in the stuff it feels like my skis won't turn and I feel myself reverting to beginner errors like leaning back too much and snow plowing, which no doubt just makes it even worse.

Anyone got any tips on how to turn effectively in deeper snow and where I might be going wrong? (I was on a pair of "all mountain" skis which were supposed to be OK for the deeper stuff so it was my technique that was the problem rather than the equipment I think)
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@SlipnSlide, there’s a bit of slowing things down, you need to be more and more dynamically balanced on your skis, arguably a more equal weight distribution on your skis ...

It also helps I find to do a couple of little bounces in the snow to establish just what you’re working with.

And a bit more effort sometimes to start the turn.
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As a novice off-piste skier, some of the tips which have been the most helpful to me are

- Weight on ze TWO ski (French accent obligatory)

- Give your skis time to make the turn; you can’t skid round fast in the deeper stuff

- The slower you’re going, the more you’re going to have to think “old school” and start your turn with more jump/ effort

- skis close-ish together. The last thing you want is one ski going in one direction and the other going straight on and it’s more likely to happen if each ski ploughs its own path. Links to no1 I think; you need to think about turning both skis.

- try to ski “quietly”, especially on breakable crust that you don’t want to break. No exaggerated movements

- try to ski very positively (not quietly) when the snow is heavier / deeper than you’d like

- breathe in to start the turn and out as you finish it- helps with initiation

- make sure you finish every turn and get fully back in control before you start the next.

I’m sure others will point out that some of these are wrong / I’ve understood them wrongly, and they’ve come from a selection of instructors/ guides, but all have helped me.
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My amateur tips..
Balance- feel the soles of your feet against the soles of the boots along the whole length.
- even pressure is important. I find that consciously “standing” on my uphill ski as I come round at the end of a turn evens up the pressure.
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@SlipnSlide, to enjoy skiing off piste in powder with minimal effort rent some fat (110m+), soft, fully rockered skis. Far more effective than anything you can learn in a short period.
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There is some merit in @BobinCH’s comment...
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What @BobinCH, says is spot on, big skis can be an effective skill multiplier.
The two big problems you’re up against are; the off will show up and exaggerate the flaws in your regular skiing that you can get away with on piste, mileage, and this is the biggie, because in an average winter in the alps you only get 6-12 powder days in a whole season it’s hard to get the practice.
Tips won’t help much, what will in addition to the big skis is some good quality (a level 4 instructor) coaching to get rid of the flaws and packing up your job and becoming a Ski bum.
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Less angulation and lean into the turn a bit?
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BobinCH wrote:
@SlipnSlide, to enjoy skiing off piste in powder with minimal effort rent some fat (110m+), soft, fully rockered skis. Far more effective than anything you can learn in a short period.


2nded. And rent some poles 5cm shorter than you are used to with proper powder baskets - they will help you reach down and forward and help with zee vertical motion.
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I am no expert, and think that I was at the same level as you earlier. Even pressure, bouncing and keeping the skis closer together all helped. I found physically steering the ski by rotating from the hip down helped, compared with on piste where turning is more of a relative pressure thing ... I don’t know if an expert is going pick me up on this though
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A bit of speed helps a lot. Gliding through that piste side stuff and trying to turn at 5mph is quite tricky.
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Quote:

lean into the turn a bit


no.

Quote:

help you reach down and forward


Why would they and why would you want to? I think they would just encourage bending at the hips and the traditional British toilet stance ...
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Thanks for all the replies. A few of you recommended trying to keep the weight/balance more even over both skis and I've heard this mentioned before for off piste skiing.

I must admit I do get quite confused by this though. I always thought that the whole basis of turning on skis was to transfer your weight from the downhill/outside ski to the uphill/inside ski. This is what I tend to do to make turns on piste and its quite difficult to get out of the habit.

How do you turn the skis if they are both evenly weighted?

As mentioned I also find I lean back too much in deeper snow. I know this is wrong, but unlike on-piste, when I'm in deep snow it feels like my skis will get stuck and I'll go flying forwards and land on my face if I don't lean back. Any tips on how to avoid this? Should your position be exactly the same as when skiing on piste or should it be slightly further back but not too much?
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
A guide gave my daughter some great tips even pressure on the skis when turning, weight and unweighting when turning helps he called them tigger turns.
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@SlipnSlide, on piste, when you aren't trying to skid off speed, a edged and weighted ski, whether equally weighted with its friend or not, will more or less describe an arc. Enough edge and weight and you'll turn - due to the shape of the skis. I find it hard to describe in words I'm afraid and am not an instructor. Those facts may be related.

You don't want to lean back, but you want to be more centred. Agin, I can't give it justice in words. Sorry.
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
For me it's really a matter of exposing yourself to as much deep powder as possible. A day here or there is not really enough to get a really good feel for it. Fat skis help a lot too, but there's no substitute for skiing in a place where powder is commonplace. The more you ski in it, the more natural it becomes in the same way as skiing on freshly groomed pistes. But as a powder beginner, I would look for relatively shallow slopes that you can comfortably straight line at moderate speed and then work on gentle turning and bouncing up and down to feel the response. But there does need to be sufficient gradient to actually get enough speed up to float in the powder. A narrow, centred stance and a light touch are the key things for me. If you feel the outside ski starting to dig in while turning, release the edge immediately and get back to a neutral position and start again with less pressure/ more even weight between skis.
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Quote:

For me it's really a matter of exposing yourself to as much deep powder as possible

@uktrailmonster, yep.

I didn't really get it, esp. not big cruisy high speed powder turns until I had a week's heliskiing. I thought I was a reasonable skier on everything else by that point but had just never put in the powder hours despite having skied for 32 years including some full seasons of 5-6 days a week.
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Powder turns have been described to me as a series of hockey stops linked together where you don't quite stop.
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bolderz wrote:
Powder turns have been described to me as a series of hockey stops linked together where you don't quite stop.


That's an analogy I can relate to but again I'm confused.

I've heard that in deep powder you should aim for more gentle, smooth and gradual turns but surely a "hockey stop" is an example of an extremely sharp, aggressive type turn? i.e. completely the opposite Puzzled
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bolderz wrote:
Powder turns have been described to me as a series of hockey stops linked together where you don't quite stop.
That's not a bad description for a steepish gradient. Wouldn't work on a shallow gradient though as you'd go over sideways.
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Raceplate wrote:
bolderz wrote:
Powder turns have been described to me as a series of hockey stops linked together where you don't quite stop.
That's not a bad description for a steepish gradient. Wouldn't work on a shallow gradient though as you'd go over sideways.


Yeah it's simple: Go steeper or go faster. No one said it was easy though.
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Tom Doc wrote:

Yeah it's simple: Go steeper or go faster..
Bang on. Short turns on steeps, GS (or bigger) radius turns on shallower stuff works for me.
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When you fall and lose a ski it is a good idea to have a few feet of ribbon attached to each ski to help you find it. A ski can travel a surprising distance if you fall at speed. [Ask me how I know this.]

These work http://www.powdercordpouch.com/category-s/113.htm

As does 10 feet of crime scene tape tied to the brake and tucked into the salopette.
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And cross your poles to push yourself up when lying in the powder Razz
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Start using phrases such as "Epic" and "Awesome" a lot more than you usually do.
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@Mosha Marc, you forgot "Rad" and "Stoked", (preceded with "like really ")
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
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Quote:

bolderz wrote:
Powder turns have been described to me as a series of hockey stops linked together where you don't quite stop.


That's an analogy I can relate to but again I'm confused.

I've heard that in deep powder you should aim for more gentle, smooth and gradual turns but surely a "hockey stop" is an example of an extremely sharp, aggressive type turn?


While I kind of get where the analogy is coming from I don't think it is that helpful for the reason you suggest. You aggressively edge in a hockey stop you definitely don't do that powder skiing.

If you are starting skiing powder on all mountain type skis then you should be aiming to make linked, pivoted, short-swing turns similar to those you might make skiing the fall line on a steep piste* but with less edging - you don't need to edge because when you push your skis across the fall line the powder will cause enough drag to control your speed.

(* BTW if you can't make smooth linked pivoted short swing turns on a pisted red run then I'd suggest you need to get that right first).

My suggestions would be

a) on a moderate angle slope, point 45 degrees across the fall line and build some speed in a straight line
b) start to bend and extend your knees, feel how the skis compress the snow, feel the weightlessness as you extend. Find a rhythm moving up and down
c) next as you make an extension, push your skis through the fall line. It's a more complex motion than this but I find the idea of pushing the tails around with my heels helpful
d) at the end of the turn (where your skis have crossed the fall line and are now pointing a long way from the fall line on the opposite side, you should have bent your knees again, be compressed and ready to extend again to unweight to make the push in the opposite direction

This is not the only way to ski powder - you can turn up the speed and make big banked turns for example - but it is how I would suggest you start.
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I studied Heckleman and another yank called Lito Techada Flores. Both gents had produced videos ( remember them?) generally they teach very similar even weight distribution. Centred stance with positive pressure of the shin into the boot. My other game changer came from an ISM guide learnt from a Swiss guide.
In order to equally weight both skis, forget your feet and "work your knees as one unit", trust me it works!!!!!!!!!
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
BobinCH wrote:
@SlipnSlide, to enjoy skiing off piste in powder with minimal effort rent some fat (110m+), soft, fully rockered skis. Far more effective than anything you can learn in a short period.


+2

But if your technique is lacking and you still find yourself sitting back on the skis, then this wider platform will accelerate even faster in the fall line than your current skis.

Outside of time spent on and off piste with an instructor - the timeframe varies with each person - the short answer is

You need to have a consistent and fairly fast speed on snow. This allows the skis to plane and float at or near the snow surface. The closer you are to the snow surface, the easier it is to turn. There's less resistance. Wild shifts in acceleration and deceleration are a recipe for falling.

You have to be patient at the start of the turn.
Unlike when you're on piste with a firm, stable base under your feet, skiing unconsolidated snow takes patience and dynamic balance.
You have to be patient and wait for your skis to sink into the snow, compressing it and creating a base on which you can then pivot both skis.
If you try to turn before you've created a solid base then you'll find yourself falling due to imbalance.

Hope that helps


Last edited by You know it makes sense. on Wed 18-04-18 9:26; edited 1 time in total
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Mosha Marc wrote:
Start using phrases such as "Epic" and "Awesome" a lot more than you usually do.


Awesome dude! Laughing Laughing

May I also suggest some facial hair and tattoos?
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 Poster: A snowHead
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I would have thought the difference between all mountain skis, presumably at something like 90 and 110 wide ski's would be minimal. It's also dodging the issue, trying to cut corners IMO. Admittedly the 97 wide skis I have are the widest I've skied so I've no experience of extra fats. Plus I started skiing powder on skinnies.
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SlipnSlide wrote:
bolderz wrote:
Powder turns have been described to me as a series of hockey stops linked together where you don't quite stop.


That's an analogy I can relate to but again I'm confused.

I've heard that in deep powder you should aim for more gentle, smooth and gradual turns but surely a "hockey stop" is an example of an extremely sharp, aggressive type turn? i.e. completely the opposite Puzzled

I agree the analogy doesn't sound right to me but maybe it's in the definition of a hockey stop which for me is a "hard" stop that yes isn't what I'd be doing in powder snow.
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DavidYacht wrote:
Even pressure, bouncing and keeping the skis closer together all helped.

Agree with the first two. Not so sure about the third one. "Bounce" is a really good term and especially when starting off or on shallower slopes helps to get the rythmn that is the hallmark of skiing off piste. Not sure about ski's being closer together. For me hip width same as on piste. If you get unbalanced, yeah your ski will run away and you can "tip over" but over time that balance will improve and will actually be better apart.
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Lot of good advice in the thread and always an interesting discussion.

I agree with those that say you have to throw yourself at it a little and accept it's going to take a bit of time and you are going to have a few falls along the way.

I also think the actual differences between off piste and on piste technique are subtle. Often people try to adjust too much or feel they have to change. The leaning back thing is pretty common I think.
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@Layne, historically, on long skinny skis, leaning back was actively advocated.
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@under a new name, nope. I was taught powder skiing back in the 80s on 205 GS skis by the Deutsche Alpenverein. From day one it was drummed into me to NOT lean back, to weight both skis, and to have a very active un-weighting, which initially almost amounted to a jump, into the fall line and then steer out of that (with both skis). Worked fine for me. The essential point being that all this only works if you have some speed going. Without speed it was utterly exhausting!

Wider skis do make things an awful lot easier. Especially with the wider shovel and tail.
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@Steilhang, maybe not by everyone (oh and I wasn't saying it was a good thing to advocate)
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Layne wrote:
Admittedly the 97 wide skis I have are the widest I've skied so I've no experience of extra fats. Plus I started skiing powder on skinnies.


I’d suggest to test some!

I can tell you, with lots of experience testing skis of different width, shape, construction and shape, that it makes a huge difference.

I have a pair of soft, fat, fully rockered skis on which I guarantee I could completely change the OP’s experience skiing powder in 10 minutes
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Quote:

@Steilhang, maybe not by everyone (oh and I wasn't saying it was a good thing to advocate)


yeah - it was wrong. I found it was only advocated by people who didn't ski powder well.
Of course the planing effect caused by shorter tails made it look like people were leaning back but if you weren't centred you could steer those long planks efficiently and you needed plenty of foot and knee steering
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BobinCH wrote:
Layne wrote:
Admittedly the 97 wide skis I have are the widest I've skied so I've no experience of extra fats. Plus I started skiing powder on skinnies.


I’d suggest to test some!

I can tell you, with lots of experience testing skis of different width, shape, construction and shape, that it makes a huge difference.

I have a pair of soft, fat, fully rockered skis on which I guarantee I could completely change the OP’s experience skiing powder in 10 minutes

I don't get to ski true powder often or long enough to justify it as I do family trips a year in late December and late March/early April in the French Alps. If I lived in the Alps and could ski just when there was powder or went heliskiing or did trips to Japan it may make sense. Maybe when the kids are a bit older but for now I need an everyday all mountain ski. This year was exceptional in the amount of powder skiing so maybe I missed a trick on not hiring some for a day just to see.
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