How to Ski Powder – 15 Tips for Learning in 24 Hours

102 Comments


(Photo: RunningClouds)

Last-minute packing is an art form, and most of my trips allow me to pack less than 10 pounds for a world tour.

This time, 10 pounds was just the starting point. My packing list was straight out of a James Bond movie:

“Shovel?”
“Helmet?!”
“Avalanche kit?!?”
“Tracking beacon?!?!”

I was seeing it for the first time around 4pm in the afternoon. The next morning, I’d be departing for Chile for “cat” (snowcat) skiing in Patagonia, after six years of no snow sports. What the hell had I signed up for?

Baptism by Ice – 15 Key Lessons

This post is based on my lessons and experimentation with the PowderQuest crew, with special thanks to Mo and David.

The first day was sheer terror. The second day was an improvement — just laughable. Then, around the third day…

Suddenly, I was skiing powder.

It wasn’t a gradual learning process. There were a few critical insights and lessons learned that immediately changed my ability to handle powder.

Here they are.

Positional tips and posture:

- Read a big newspaper. Keep your hands in front of you and downhill, as is reading a big open newspaper. Never read newspapers? Aim for about 6″ outside of shoulder width. Look at the picture sequence at the top of this post and notice the arm positioning throughout.

Keep your hands further ahead than you think makes sense.

- From this newspaper position, plant wide with your poles before your turn, and only move your wrists. Keep your arms from moving and flying backward, which throws you off balance — maintain newspaper position.

- Narrow your stance a bit, but not so close that your skis are touching. This will help with the “one ski, one turn” turning mantra discussed below.

- It’s fine to squat down a bit, but don’t let your knees end up behind your ankles. If your weight is this far back, you will suffer. “Sit back more!” is common powder-skiing advice, but all it did was burn out my legs and unweight the front of the skis, which led to the tips crossing more easily. Crossing = face plant. If your hands are forward, your weight is forward; if you hands are back, you’re weight is back. Once again: keep them more forward than you think makes sense.

- Scrunch your toes occasionally to test excess back-lean. If you can’t scrunch your toes, you’re leaning too far back.

Turning:

- Imagine your turns as rounded zig-zags down a hill. Squat at the mid-point of the straight lines, then — without a pause at the bottom — stand up to near-straight legs, which will unweight you. This is when you turn. Don’t time turns for when you are moving slowest; time turns with when you’re naturally unweighted.

- [This was big for me] Don’t avoid bump-like contours in the snow — aim for them! Rather than navigate around these bumps, run up them to unweight. It actually makes turning easier. Be sure to speak with a guide or snow patroller who can teach you the different between safe snow bumps (all snow) and dangerous bumps covering submerged rocks.

- Make turns with your femur (thigh bone) instead off the edge of the ski. In other words, envision your thighs rotating in your pelvis, in the same direction, to turn the skis.

Don’t ski as you would on harder snow. If you catch your lower edge to turn (fine on groomed runs), the lower ski will just shoot under the snow, cross under your floating top ski, and you will then eat snow.

- “One ski, one turn” — a mantra for the preceding point. Make all of your turns as if you have one big ski, and rotate your thighs instead of catching edges. Try and maintain equal pressure on each ski for the entire run.

- Don’t rush it. Imagine taking nice, rounded turns — again, using your femur to slowly rotate the skis — as opposed to the hopping into ice-scaper-on-windshield zig-zag.


Notice the “S”-like curves after the straight-away traverses.

Gear:

- USE FAT SKIS. Once you go fat, you will never go back. Additionally, a little bit of rocker (reverse camber) goes a long way. This approach was originally tested by the renegade skiers who rigged waterskiing skis on snow.

- Drop some cash for boots if you can. I don’t ski often, so I wanted to rent skis, but damn: I was punished for renting boots. Particularly if you’ll be spending several days out-of-bounds or in the backcountry (“off piste” or fuera de pista in Spanish), particularly if you might be spending thousands on a trip, spend a few hundred on boots that will custom fit and last. Having foot pain while far away from ski lodges for 10-15 hours at a time sucks.

Find a good bootfitter at the resort, get a pair the first morning of a multi-day trip, and have the bootfitter adjust hot spots and customize to your foot that afternoon for pick up the following morning.

Falling and Yardsale Insurance:

It’s not a matter of if, but rather when, so learn how to get up the right way when you flip.

- X-factor: If you fall, don’t put your hands down to push yourself up, as you’ll simply fall through and get a snow sandwich. Cross your poles into an “X,” hold onto the intersection with one hand, place it uphill from you, and then push yourself up.

- The Sweeper: If you are a fall-prone novice, as I was, ask or hire someone to play “sweeper” and ski behind you, so that they can help you find skis if you eject out of them or “yard sale” (when you fall spectacularly and your gear shoots in all directions). Experienced skiers can still have fun while doing this for you, as they don’t need to ski slowly, but rather start their descent well after you.

- If you eat sh*t 10 times in a row, do two things. First, pause after each turn, or pause after getting up, and catch your breath for 20 seconds. No rush, brah. Second, when you’re ready to punch yourself in the face, or when your legs are totally shot, put your big girl pants on, head down to the ski lodge, and grab a hot chocolate or Hot Toddy by the fire. That will calm your inner animal, make you smile, and get you psyched to tackle it again in the morning.

Learning to ski powder can be immensely frustrating, but — like most things — it doesn’t have to be. If you’re looking for an incredible tour company for Argentina or Chile, take a peek at PowderQuest, who were simply awesome.

Enjoy the fresh tracks!

Have some additional tips? Please leave them in the comments!

###

Odds and Ends:
Join me in Australia with Sir Richard Branson; Live Kindle Q&A

First, I’m finally making it to Melbourne, Australia!

Will you be near Australia Oct 21-22? If you can, join me, Sir Richard Branson, and others here. I’ve never been to Melbourne or this event, but I’m really looking forward to good company, good conversation, and good food.

Second, I will be doing a live Q&A soon for anyone who wants to submit questions via Kindle.

The questions can be about anything in The 4-Hour Workweek or The 4-Hour Body, but if you can tie your question — about tango, languages, Ewoks, etc. — to a passage, ask whatever you like.

Here’s how to send me a question, and early submissions get priority, so please submit sooner rather than later:

1. Using your Kindle (I suggest Kindle 3) or the Kindle App for iOS (iPhone & iPad), highlight a passage in either The 4-Hour Workweek or The 4-Hour Body. You will see options for: Note, Highlight, and Share. Choose Share. This won’t work in the desktop Kindle app.
2. You will see options to share via Twitter and Facebook. Choose Twitter.
3. Type the phrase “@author”, followed by your message to Tim Ferriss. Press the tweet button.
If you haven’t linked your Twitter account, you will see a dialogue that says “Set Up Account – You need to set up your Twitter account before Sharing.” If this pops up, press Okay.
4. Press the “Link Account” button on the screen to link your Twitter account.
5. Type your Twitter username and password, then press “Sign In”. You will be taken back to a screen where you will see your Twitter account linked. Press “Done.”
6. You will be taken back to the Kindle reading app and your message will be sent to the author.

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102 comments on “How to Ski Powder – 15 Tips for Learning in 24 Hours

  1. The boot item needs to be bumped to the front of the list and it’s worth repeating.

    Even if you rent skis, BUY BOOTS ON THE MOUNTAIN THE FIRST DAY.

    Do not buy boots in the city. Do not buy boots in the ‘burbs. Do not buy boots on the last day of your trip because they are on sale.

    BUY BOOTS ON THE MOUNTAIN THE FIRST DAY.

    Chances are you might spend $75 more than you would in the city, but you’ll have a friendly lad there who ski’s nearly daily who will argue with you that, yes, you do need a smaller size boot than you thought, and will then work with your to make appropriate adjustments to the boot.

    • Hey Mike, here’s the tricks I show my friends when they come from sea level to climb 14,000ft peaks in Colorado with me.

      As much sleep as you can get
      Skip alcohol for the day or two before
      2 Asprin at the start of the climb, 2 more at 10,000-12,000 ft
      A salty snack (potato chips are rather effective) can help you overcome altitude sickness once you get it (assuming you don’t throw up right away…)

  2. Very cool Tim. I snowboard powder on a regular basis here in Park City,UT and you just can’t beat it. I’ve heard Patagonia is a must see for this as well. Thanks for the pics. Try and make it out to Park City some time.

  3. If I find myself getting frustrated after a fall in powder (and we get our fair share of powder in Colorado) then I take a minute to do the following:

    I imagine myself sitting in a drab government office for 2 hours waiting for new license plate tags.

    Immediately, I become super grateful to be covered in snow on the side of a mountain instead.

    It’s all in your perspective.

  4. Tim,

    Welcome to the real world of skiing. FYI, what most people do not realize is that these tips are the same for skiing hard pack as well.

    Centered athletic stance

    Use skis to build a platform from which to move…in powder edges are not needed to build it as the snow builds up underfoot so using both skis to build this base is essential. On hard pack, the edges must be engaged to build the platform. Top level skiers accomplish this with an almost equal distribution of weight on both skis.

    Boots are important but about 70 percent of the skiers in the US are on skis & boots too advanced for their ability… but I am all about getting fitted. That way you start out on you best foot. :)

    Drop me a line and i will fill you in on some more tricks of the trade ;)

  5. Aim for the bumps. Uhhhh…..yea I better get with that coach first to break it all down for me I’d probably end up dead from hitting a rock. Good deconstruction of the process dude I dig it. Turning with the femur makes perfect sense….because obviously that movement is coming from deeper in the body which would likely allow for more stability and control instead of trying to turn with the skis themselves. I don’t ski but it seems logical. Good stuff as always! Rock on party people! What’ a newspaper?

  6. Hi Tim,

    I love this post! Great inspiration as always.
    You have taken on a new challenge yet again, looking forward to seeing some footage from the trip!

    /Anthony Crowdwell

    ps. Spot yourself in my Gravatar? :-) Next to Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Branson… ds.

  7. Timothy, I’m going through your book, and you’ve already shocked the hell out of me by page 29! Can you please explain the PURPOSE of becoming national Sanshou champion by cheating on your weight (honestly, I cannot think what else to call it) and avoiding the actual techniques of Sanshou altogether?

    I know it must be in order to prove that you don’t need to follow tradition in order to accomplish your goals; but where’s the RESPECT for your fellow competitors? Where’s the respect for the art of Sanshou itself? What goal did you have in mind anyway? To humiliate and disgrace those who followed the path of Sanshou in the traditional way?

    I wanted very badly to think you’re a great guy when I began this journey, and I am seriously wondering what sort of person you are now. Obviously you don’t live and die by the opinions of others or you wouldn’t be where you are – but this is really appalling. I hope you’ll have the forthrightness to print this.

  8. Sorry, I know this is off topic, but I like your comments section. I like that people can drop a link in their name instead of in the comments section. Is that a WP plugin? What’s it called?

    Thanks

    Ryan

  9. Hello Tim.
    You have been a great inspiration, especially after reading your Book. I found it in a book shop in Italy.
    I would like to invite you in Italy to ski in the best places on the ALPS!
    Contact me please

  10. I used to ski for a while but switched to snowboarding since for some reason it was easier for me. But don’t worry I didn’t get a different attitude when i started snowboarding.

  11. Hey Tim totally unrelated (but dangerous) is I saw a Flikr photo you took doing Special Ops evasive driving training – where was that? any referrences on how me and some friends could take the same course? thanks

  12. Tim,
    Awesome post, great tips for the coming ski season. If you ever want to ski the best powder in the U.S. (Powder Mountain-Utah), I’ll take you up cat skiing down some killer powder runs. We own the resort. Come up with some friends and I’ll take you out – ski as much as you want on me. Send me an email.

    Curtis

  13. Tim, the Chile trip with you was a blast, thanks again for joining PowderQuest and hope we can do it again in 2012. Love the group shot, brings back great memories!

    Thanks to everyone for the great comments and powder skiing tips.
    Tim, I was glad to see the “Sweeper” in your tips. So essential, especially when you are in deep powder. The “sweeper” can easily find your lost skis or poles. Here’s how:

    Starting just above from where you started to fall, have the sweeper turn his poles upside down (grips facing the snow) place them together, and start sweeping the poles into the snow as deep as he can go. Do broad sweeps of 3-4 feet across, slowly working down the slope toward you. It’s easy to tell when you found your lost gear, and the poles will help lift the skis or lost pole out of the snow. This will save you a lot of time and energy (especially at altitude), giving your more time to practice your powder skiing.

    Has anyone been out skiing yet this season?

  14. Timely post Tim – I have spent the last couple of months working on my muse which revolves around Powder Skiing – it was reading 4HWW that inspired me to start.

    I launch on 1st of December and will send you the details.

  15. [COMMENT MODERATED]

    Tim,
    I know you like vagabonding and skiing. I went to college next to the most amazing hotel/restaurant/bar in the world. Club Vagabond.

    In Leysin, Switzerland it started in 1961 as a climbing club. The Vag survived 50 years of travelers who spent the night or just enjoyed the food and drink. This place was epic! Everything you could imagine a little chalet bar in a small Swiss village packed with famous climbers should be. A documentary is in the works by people who loved the Vag.

  16. The 4 Hour Skier ? Im sure many people could benefit (not just in skiing) for your systematic breakdown about how to learn new things like this. Depending on the powder, once you get more used to skiing, it actually helps to lean forward and be more aggressive. Leaning back on skis will cause you to have less control and your planks will go all over the place. Complete opposite on snowboard.

    The 4HWW encouraged me to learn how to do everything for my startup from the ground up & Im currently set on hacking the outdoor adventure equipment rental system (click my name for the link). Would really appreciate your thoughts !

  17. Definitely motivated me to take a break from surfing everyday and hit some powder! planning an adventure this year. Hopefully my ski legs wont be too rusty. Nothing beats powder.

  18. Tim, All,

    Nice skiing. I have skied on a number of continents too. Finding good boots is paramount, took me 4 pairs in 2 years and a lot of pain to find custom made ski boots existed. I recommend to places:

    http://surefoot.com/ good looking customer skiboots. They locate in various ski area’s, boot an appointment and plan ahead.

    http://strolzboots.com/ I have these Orange race model (8 years now) not great looking but 100% fit and incredible control over the skis. Will last for 15+ years. (650 euros for a pair and take 4 hours of fitting)

  19. Hi Tim, love the books and the blog, keep up the good work. Have you ever thought of posting something on your blog about Motor Learning in Sport and Skill Acquisition? I know that many people (me included) would find it useful. Hopefully answering such questions as: is rep loading additive? exponential? is there a break over point where additional reps will yield no additional benefit? etc. I know of people in the martial arts who are / have practised full time (sometimes up to 12 hour days) – a massive sacrafice. With your neuroscience background and 80/20 analysis a post of this sort would be a really interesting read for someone like me.

    Thanks for your time, as as I say keep up the good work, you’ve helped me alot so far, thank you.

  20. Hi Tim,

    As promised earlier I’ve just launched my muse, it’s called The Powder Bible and it’s an eBook guide to Powder Skiing.

    It has a very 4HWW approach to skiing and snow – use intelligence to go where the snow is going to be, instead of spending a fortune and missing out.

    Get in touch if you would like a copy or more details.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  21. Awesome. I’ve skied east coast my entire life, so never any powder until last winter. I skied at Jackson Hole, out of bounds, for my first taste of powder. My legs and lungs were shot after one run. Not to mention I was extremely frustrated.

    Looking forward to getting out west again this year and giving it another shot. I’ll keep these tips in mind.

  22. I grew up in Michigan (very lower Michigan) and the some of the ski resorts were actually renovated land fills (lowe I is pretty flat). One was called Mount Trashmore. The lodge had a pretty good band though (We were called Sidekix)

  23. Ski Tips that make a difference immediately:

    1 boots have to “paint” the front of your leg or you will have no control.

    2 boots have to hold your heel down without excessive buckle tightness or you will have no control when you really need it

    3 Boots have to have enough toe box room or they will hurt

    4 If you try on the boot shell WITHOUT the inner boot and your ankle bone or any other part hits the shell, it will be worse when you add the inner boot and it will hurt when you ski. (It will also lever the boot away from the spot it hits and screw up your balance and skiing.

    5 Take out the boot board that is inside the shell below the inner boot. Is it flat or is the ball lower than the heel? Most people need the ball lower than the heel. If you need the ball lower than the heel, add a 1/16 inch shim under your heel on the boot board. You can add a cushion full length under the inner boot, also 1/16 inch. This will allow the ball of the foot to sink lower than the heel. For women, in particular with a large calf, the full length shim inside the boot will raise the leg out of the boot giving a better fit around the ankle. Same for men with a large calf relative to the ankle size.

    6 Never test boots on carpet. Always use the hardest and flattest surface you can find in the ski shop. A carpet allows a bad boot to feel good because the boot sinks in. A boot in a binding on a ski does not sink in.

    7 Remove the spoiler. Most people don’t know what a spoiler is so you may have to ask. The spoiler was added years ago and is still on most boots to force the leg forward. Some are held in by velcro, some by screws and some with rivets. Modern ski technique and modern skis want a balanced stance, not one forcing the knees forward all the time. Like the dinosaur, it was good in its time but that time has passed.

    jack at Biostance

  24. Hey Tim,

    Until last year I had never seen snow. Living in Queensland Australia my whole life I had travelled but never to any places that were snowing at least while I was there. I managed to go on a snow trip last year to NZ with two of my best mates both of which has snowboarded before. Upon getting in to NZ they had a HUUUGGGE snow fall and the fields were covered in powder. Although this turned out to be fantastic to fall into it wasnt the easiest to learn on because I was trying to overcome the fear of going fast at the time and would slow right down on one of my rails and stop. I would then find myself sunk in half a meter or more of snow. Having to dig myself out of the damn powder was tough going. Later on in the trip though my sore tailbone and headache from catching the front rail and face planting made me realise that I had taken the powder for granted :)

  25. Ive skied for over 10 years but ran into deep powder in a bowl at the lower fingers. I couldn’t get out. I skied above my level.
    Ski patrol was ready to pull me out. POW skiing is so different that groomed. It’s super hard but the small sections I skied I was hooked. It was like floating. Now POW is all I want.
    Hands at shoulder height and proper gear is a must.
    I just picked up a paid of 98 cm at waist skis. All mountain. Can’t wait to get on them. The reason I’m at this blog is a fresh invite to Chile has come up and I did some research and your blog appeared.
    Awesome comments…. great stuff.
    Thanks

  26. Big question Tim, did you get the powder bug? Once you get the flow of powder skiing it is almost effortless.

    Wanted to contact you about featuring this article in my upcoming iPad powder skiing mag. Contact me to discuss if you’re interested.

  27. Thank you for this great article. I read it few days ago and started using the new trick i learned. I can see the progress and can’t wait until I master it.

  28. It’s really a nice and helpful piece of information. I am happy that you simply shared this useful information with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

  29. I blog frequently and I truly thank you for your information.
    This article has truly peaked my interest.
    I will take a note of your blog and keep checking for new
    details about once per week. I opted in for your RSS feed as well.

  30. Greetings! your blog caught comment on this stuff the title [How to Ski Powder – 15 Tips for Learning in 24 Hours] alone makes to go through the blog in detail i hope many will find this stuff much helpful good job

  31. I know it has been over a year since this item was posted, but I thought I would still post a tip since it made a significant difference for me when skiing powder.

    Go to Youtube.com and do a search for Doug Coombs and watch how he skis. Before his untimely death a couple of years ago, he was arguably the best back country skier ever.

    The basic technique Doug uses is to unweight the inside ski on the turn slightly and only carve his turn with the outside ski. Use your big toe to guide the outside carving ski by basically pointing the toe along the path you want your outside ski to follow. The inside ski just floats along for the ride unless you need it to check your balance. This technique works for any snow conditions (hard pack, crud, powder) any type of ski and at high speeds and significantly reduces the physical effort required to ski (at least for me). Also, your weight should be centered over the balls of your feet. If you look like you are sitting in a lounge chair when you ski, then that is not good.

    Cheers – Because powder was meant to be enjoyed, not feared.

  32. Here’s my tip: Don’t chicken out. Seriously, the ONLY time I’ve ever effed myself up on skis was when I lost my nerve. Even if things go wrong when I’m still feeling confident I have the wherewithal to fall to the side or stop in a dorky, yet safe manner.

  33. hey man i’am 14 and i can not seem to grasp the bloody concept of staying up on the top of the powder and keep a moderit bloody pace thanks koda

  34. Wow, I am a 64 year old east hard pack and ice skier. I really did terrible on two west trips last season (Vail and Jackson Hole). Wish I would have read this before I went, sounds really logical! If I get out west this year I’m trying this. Thanks for the post! Incidentally I did take my own boots but rented skis. I really have no choice, built in sport orthotics and lift because my right leg is .75 inches shorter than my left…..custom fit.

  35. biggest thing slow down , let the ski come back to the fall line, from each direction, did I mention slow down, it is a rhythm, a slower rhythm than carving on the groomed, like riding a bike once you get it you got it. of course you have to find it first. just keep looking for the rhythm. and good luck