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

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(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.

Posted on: October 14, 2011.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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

  1. Excellent advice Tim. Your book helped me transform my business. We sell ski and snowboard equipment and accessories. I checked out your pics from the trip. Looks epic. But send me an email and I’ll get you a guys pr of goggles instead of the ladies model you are wearing.

    Like

  2. I busted my right knee on a ski trip 2 years ago and have since been “dead afraid” of trying again, so much that last year I passed my yearly trip and am still afraid just by visualizing myself on the skis.

    I’ll be sure to use your tips this year though, I actually loved skiing for the most part (My boots? you guessed it, rented. I nearly cried one day from the pain)

    Like

  3. Sounds a little tougher than the transition snowboarding. I rode for a decade on the East Coast then moved to Utah. It’s definitely a different experience but it was pretty intuitive. Simply lean back more. A lot more. Deep powder is an incredible experience. Can’t wait to do it in the Southern hemisphere someday.

    Like

  4. My “first time” skiing was such a failure I didn’t even manage to actually move and spent the entire day struggling to get up only to fall again =( Second time I decided to pay for a lesson and ignore the embarrassment of taking a class with 5-year olds and within 5 minutes I was gliding in the snow!! Totally worth it.
    I’m still very hesitant about speed going downhill so maybe I’ll try some of your tips and see how they work for me.
    Nice article, reading it brought back fun memories =)

    Like

    • Give yourself the gift of two more lessons and you’ll be cruising in comfort! Private lessons may seem exhorbitant, but are definitely worth the investment for the focused attention you’ll get. I’ve been teaching people how to ski for years and my favorite thing to do is help new skiers get from walking on the flats to making turns with a smile on their face!

      Trisha

      Like

  5. Hi Tim,
    I’m the sports coordinator for Sprongo.com
    We are an online Video Analisys system that works over the cloud.
    If you ever watch ESPN. Our system allow you to view your videos.
    We started in race clubs around the country, now we are for all sports.
    I feel that you can enhance your abilities in a shorter way by watching your progression. If you ever read The Talent Code. Perfect practice is Better than just practicing. I think you can improve faster if you can compare yourself to an expert! Any question send me email.
    Gus

    Like

  6. Great info! Always wanted to ski, but never wanted to invest into the learning curve. I’m going to try these techniques sometime in December, either at Brianhead or somewhere else in Utah.

    So if y’all don’t hear from me after the holidays, send a Saint Bernard out with some Bulleit or Woodford.

    Like

  7. Hey Tim, cool article man. I love seeing people get out in the powder and have always dreamed about checking out Chile. I run a website up here in Canada dedicated to Catskiing and would love to mention your article. We get so many people asking us if powder skiing is hard and it is often a barrier to them even trying. I think your story is great and it may get more people out giving it a try.

    Oh, and if you are ever coming to Canada in the Winter, give us a heads up and we will arrange to get you out Catskiing!

    Like

    • Hola Todd, nice site, I have been trying to get up to BC for some cat skiing for a few years now. Some of our ski guides work up there. If you ever decide to come to Chile or Argentina for some powder, look me up. Hope you have a great season!

      Like

  8. I’m a ski bum getting my stoke on for the coming season here in Jasper, Canada (Canadian Rockies), so I figured I’d share my biggest tip…

    Look where you want to go … if you’re fixated on a tree, that’s where you’ll head. Keep your eyes on your line, and everything (hopefully) will work out fine! :)

    Excellent post Tim!

    Like

    • Yep, and look father down the hill than you think you need too, especially with more speed. Looking at your feet or close in front of you puts you in a weak stance similar to doing leg squats in the gym while looking down.

      Like

  9. Good tips (and the “x-factor” changed my yardsale-prone life). From someone who skied mostly on packed snow until a few years ago, my tip is the deeper the powder the more you should lean back. Tips up, baby. Tips up.

    But, that said, the waist deep stuff I faced at Wolf Creek, CO last year was simply too much. I tried. I failed. Man, did I fail.

    Is it ski season yet? ;-)

    Like

    • And if you can try snowboarding, definitely try that too. I used to compete nationally in slopestyle (jumps and half pipe) before I went to college… Truly fell in love with the sport! Here’s a fun lil video of my friend and I just doing our thing http://youtu.be/fnUvBCnglC4

      Don’t get broken and enjoy the pow pow!
      Tim

      Like

  10. Hey Tim, have you got anything similar on snowboarding?

    Glad to have you coming down to Melbourne! I know you enjoy a good cup of coffee, and we’ve got a great coffee scene going on here. I’m guessing you’ll be spending most of your time during the summit in/around the Central Business District, so I’ve saved a Google map of great cafes (IMHO) nearby, with some notations.

    http://g.co/maps/3gcuv

    If you are traveling out into the suburbs, I’ve got a list of some more. Feel free to email me if you want to try those out and I’ll send them too, but I have a feeling those in the city are plenty for you to try. Enjoy!

    Like

  11. Three years ago I moved from the Midwest to Tahoe and had to deal with powder for the first time. I was working as a ski instructor, so I had some incredible people teaching me and I learned to love it. I would agree with what you’ve said here (Especially about the boots — there is no need to be miserable.) and I’d add two things:

    1. Embrace the fall line. Do not be afraid to point your skis down the hill.
    2. Take a lesson. I ski 100+ days a year and I still have things to learn.

    Thanks for the post; I can’t wait for winter.

    Like

  12. You’re dead right about the reading newspaper stuff, driving a car with a big steering wheel works well for my kids. Volkl Mantras are perfect skis for powder but work well on piste as well.

    Like

  13. Great post! I’ve bookmarked that one for our first mini-retirement, hopefully next year!

    Melbourne sounds awesome too – love that city, you’ll have an amazing time.

    A bit of an aside, but if you get chance, and you haven’t already, maybe chat to Richard about his work with Ocean Elders. One cause they seem to be focused on is shark-finning. As somebody who swam with sharks, do you share the view that it’s tragic to see these endangered prehistoric creatures maimed and left to die? It would be awesome to see you throw your weight behind the campaign…

    As always, inspired and excited by what you write! :)

    Like

  14. Hey Tim,

    Looking forward to catching your gig in Melbourne. Have paid the cash to attend but the organisers aren’t telling us when you will be speaking. Can you give us an idea when you’ll be talking?

    Like

  15. Hi Tim, valiant effort on shredding and raging. You forgot one important asset to add to your pack: toe warmers. Without a quality toe warmer, how can you maximize scrunching ability? Still, all good advice. Thanks for getting me extremely pumped for the upcoming ski season! And…thanks for the hot toddy recipe.

    Like

  16. I’ve just finished reading your book and was inspired to give my own website a bit of a push. I wrote an article and published it to my site yesterday. Today was my first visit to your blog and I was surprised to see your post on the same topic as mine, off-piste skiing (albeit from a different angle). Hopefully I’ll be doing the same in the not too distant future. It looks like an awesome experience!

    Like