When it comes to putting a fine point to it, there are really two kinds of skiing surfaces, hard and powder, and they both elicit those ear-to-ear grins on a skier’s face. While they both have their merits, most skiers would agree that there’s nothing like a powder day. So is skiing on powder that much better?
Well it depends on who you ask. Powder is what many skiers live for, to feel that weightlessness, softness and smoothness of skiing through fresh, natural snow. However, for beginners, and even some winter athletes, skiing on groomers has its advantages. What’s more, the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics were competed on 100 percent artificial snow. (You can read more about this in our article about Olympians competing on artificial snow.)
The majority of advanced, and even many intermediate skiers, however, will agree that nothing beats skiing or snowboarding on powder. But what exactly makes skiing on powder better?
Well it’s all science. While artificial snow may resemble snow to the common person, it’s going to feel different when you’re skiing on it. Natural snow provides skiers and snowboarders a more weightless feeling as they cruise down the mountain because natural snow crystals stack very loosely on top of one another. A fresh layer of powder can be as much as 95% air. Naturally then, it feels so much softer and lighter to ski through.
Traditionally, there are two kinds of powder skiing. At ski resorts, resort powder lies over a firm base, with skis often penetrating through the new snow to the surface underneath. The powder cushions the old surface and controls the skier’s speed. However, a more thrilling and satisfying version of powder skiing may seem bottomless. When there’s no underlying surface to push against, skiers rely on speed to float through powder on their skis or snowboard. This is what you’re more likely to find when heliskiing or on a snowcat tour.
Whether skiing on fresh powder at a ski resort, or skiing in the backcountry, a majority of recreational skiers agree that skiing on powder is superior. It’s no surprise that powder days are so revered.
Powder skiing expert tips
Like anything else in life, it’s great to get some expert tips so we can start out right and get better and better. We asked Kevin Jordan of the Snowmass Ski School at Aspen/Snowmass for some of those tips. He is a member of the National PSIA-AASI Team (Professional Ski Instructors of America/American Association of Snowboard Instructors) and also teaches in the Snowmass Bike School when the snow melts.
In talking with Snowmass’s Kevin Jordan, he shared that there’s a common misconception among many people who think you have to lean back to ski in powder. The reason for the myth, says Kevin, is because many people think you need your ski tips out of the snow. Instead, he says, “Try being centered over your foot and let the snow compress underneath you. Think center of your foot versus leaning back.”
The water content of snow can vary from ski region to ski region and sometimes from resort to resort. Kevin suggests bouncing a couple of times before you start turning to see what kind of snow you are getting at that moment. “Some powder snow can be very light and dry (such as Colorado and Utah),” he says. “Other powder snow can be dense (such as Mammoth Mountain or the Lake Tahoe resorts) with more water content.”
Finally, one of the most important considerations for powder skiing is turning. Kevin suggests getting up to speed before you start turning.”Since there is more resistance in powder snow because it takes more time to compact underneath you, skiers may ski steeper runs or need to ski straight for a little bit before turning,” he says.
Choosing skis for powder
Skis make a difference. “Wider skis have more surface area and tend to plane, like a boat would in water, better in the snow. If you have an opportunity to try wider skis on a powder day, do it,” Kevin adds. When it comes to choosing skis, many skiers (particularly those who live on hardpack and only get to ski powder once or twice each season) prefer to find an all-mountain ski that performs perfectly in powder.
OnTheSnow.com’s pre-season round-up of the latest and greatest skis recommended the Salomon QST 106 for just that reason. The QST 106 is a ski designed to take on the whole mountain, with an emphasis on deep powder surfing. The QST 106 maintains a 106mm underfoot platform that excels when the snow gets deep, boast Salomon.