Snowboarders have all the advantage on this one. Since they only have one tool to deal with – instead of four – it’s a lot easier to keep the hands warm. But regardless of how many boards you ride, these 10 suggestions will help you enjoy the coldest winter days.
- Consider mittens instead of gloves. Mittens are warmer and you don’t really need the added dexterity of gloves unless you’re shooting photos.
- Don’t hold onto your board for too long with either hand while walking to the lift or boot packing for some freshies. The cold board and the pressure on your hands both contribute to your hands losing heat.
- Don’t let snow get inside your gloves. It takes just a moment of inattention to get a pile of snow inside your gloves – and all night to dry them out before they’ll be warm again.
- Make sure you can put your board on without taking your gloves off. Practice everything with your gloves on, even when it’s warm, so that when it’s cold you already know what to do.
- Practice keeping your hands warm from the moment you put down the coffee cup. When you’re cleaning the snow off your car, getting your gear out of the shed, and even driving the car before the heater gets going – keep your fingers warm! Use a beater pair of gloves and keep your best ones dry for riding, but protect your fingers long before you get on the hill. You can quite often track your cold fingers back to a hurried mistake in the morning before you even got to the first run.
- Practice skiing without wrist straps. The straps restrict blood flow to your hands. Savvy backcountry skiers and Heli-Skiers don’t use them anyway because of the risk of catching a tree and injuring a shoulder, or even worse, in case of an avalanche or falling in a tree well your wrist straps will pin your arms down. (In fact, for safety reasons, CMH Heli-Skiing removes all wrist straps from their fleet of poles, and strongly suggests guests who bring their own not to use straps.)
- Let go of your poles every chance you get. Wrapping your fingers around your pole handles both limits the circulation to your fingers and conducts cold from the pole into your hands. When you’re standing in the lift line, waiting on the slope for your friend, or even sitting on the lift, position your poles so you can let go of them (tucking them under a leg on the lift works well) and ball your hands into a fist inside your gloves.
- Practice everything you do without taking your gloves off. Putting on your goggles, cleaning the ice off your bindings and boots, adjusting your buckles, putting things in your pockets, turning on your GoPro and even lighting a smoke (if you smoke you’re going to get cold hands even easier since nicotine is a vasoconstrictor.)
- Dry your gloves every chance you get. Be it in the helicopter, snowcat, gondola or in the lodge. Even if they’re still dry on the inside, go through the motions of drying them out. Experienced Heli-Skiers will carry a pair of thin liner gloves to wear during lunch, and stick their ski gloves inside their jacket while eating and drinking. Getting hot tea or soup on (or in) your gloves feels good at first – but later, not so much.
- Most importantly, don’t let you hands get cold in the first place. Once they’re cold, the most expensive gloves in the world will have a hard time making your hands warm again. Practice keeping your hands warm all the time. Once it becomes second nature to move your fingers to improve circulation, keep them dry, keep your jacket sealed over your gloves, and be vigilant to your hands at all times, you’ll be amazed how you can keep your hands warm even in the coldest conditions.
Photos of warm hands and big smiles in the mega-deep powder of CMH Heli-Skiing at CMH Gothics
and CMH Galena
by Topher Donahue.
You can always pick out the CMH Heli-Skier in transit; they’re wearing hiking boots or something sturdy on their feet for the winter mountain world, are wearing a technical jacket, sometimes have ski boots thrown over their shoulder, and tote a small carry-on for the plane; and they’re usually smirking a little over how much fun they’re about to have – or just had.
Travel with CMH Heli-Skiing is easy. Sure, the roads through the Canadian Rockies can close down during the biggest storm cycles, but we've been experts at mountain travel for almost 50 years. 99% of the time, you can roll into Calgary, turn off your travel brain, and enjoy letting us take care of delivering your ideal ski vacation.
But there area a few things you can do to that can help ensure that your trip goes perfectly:
- Contact CMH to discuss your best transportation options. The timing of your arrival and departure can make the difference between a relaxing ski trip and a stressful one. CMH Reservation agents are familiar with the itinerary options and can suggest the travel plan that will fit your schedule and give you the most enjoyable trip.
- Carry your ski boots on the plane. But don't leave them in the luggage bin! Many million-foot guests of CMH will carry their ski boots as their “personal item” on the plane. If your luggage doesn’t arrive, which is thankfully less common in this age of computerized luggage tracking, you’ll at least have your boots. Borrowing some ski clothes is easy, we have plenty of skis and snowboards, but ski boots fitted perfectly to your feet are the one thing that would be more difficult to replace quickly.
- Fill out the lodge luggage tags as directed. When you get to Calgary, or wherever you meet the CMH concierge, you’ll be directed to put your name on a luggage tag labeled with the lodge of your destination. This is because we have 11 heli-ski areas and we want you to arrive at your area with your gear. We’ll deliver your luggage to the door of your room in the lodge, but to do this we need to know it’s yours.
- Use CMH transport when possible. While renting a car and being on your own schedule is tempting, we can do more for you if you travel with us. If roads do close, we sometimes arrange a helicopter transfer from a different location, and if you’re somewhere else in a private car, you’ll miss it.
- If your schedule allows, give yourself a little extra time to catch flights after your trip. Many of our European guests need to catch an evening plane out of Calgary on the last day of their trip. We arrange an early flight from the lodge to accommodate them, but it is far more relaxing to fly the following morning and have the last day of your trip to travel stress-free and reminisce about the ski paradise you just experienced.
- Travel light-ish. Remember that some of our areas are helicopter access only in the wintertime, and everything you bring will need to be flown into the lodge. You should bring whatever clothes and personal items you need to have a comfortable stay, but don't bring the kitchen sink - we supply those already.
Photos of Heli-Ski travel, CMH Cariboos style, by Topher Donahue.
Heli-Skiing is different from other kinds of skiing in a number of ways. The obvious ones, like the volume of untracked powder you get to shred each day and the vast selection of ski terrain at your ski tips, speak for themselves.
Once you get out in these mountains, with a helicopter as your ski lift, a few other differences become obvious – like the clothes you wear in a ski resort aren’t necessarily optimal for Heli-Skiing.
Finally, talk to your fellow Heli-Skiers. CMH Heli-Skiing guests are an experienced lot. It’s not uncommon to be at a CMH Lodge with guests who have as much Heli-Skiing experience as some guides. They are a wealth of wisdom in how to get the most out of your precious time in the unique world of deep powder heli-skiing.
- Close the gap. I’m not talking about gap jumping. I’m talking about the gap between your jacket and pants. While the low-riding pants and high-riding jackets look great in the lift line, there are no lift lines in Heli-Skiing. This fashion statement acts more as a snow-melting system in deep backcountry powder. Even if you don’t fall, the deep powder will quickly fill your pants, melt down your leg, and eventually make it’s way into your boots. You don't want that water in your boots - you never know where it's been. Ski guides prefer high top pants with suspenders or snug belts and long shirts that will stay tucked in all day.
- Don’t wear white. Even if you’re extra attentive to staying close to your group, when skiing in the trees wearing white makes life more difficult for your tree skiing buddy. We ski in pairs in the trees, and a flash of colour is easier to keep track of than a flash of white in a white world. In a worst-case scenario, if you do get separated from your group, the helicopter pilot will be called upon to find you from the air. I’m sure you can visualize what a white skier in the middle of some of the world’s snowiest mountains looks like from the air…
- Under-dress, then add a vest. The helicopter is heated, and there is usually not much waiting around, so you don’t need to dress like you would for a long, cold chairlift ride. However, Canadian winters can be quite cold and there are occasionally delays, so you want to dress warm enough. What to wear is a debate every Heli-Skier has every day. My favourite piece of Heli-Skiing kit is a light vest with synthetic insulation. I can wear it at the beginning of the day to stay warm, and then stick it in my pocket or in the tiny pack provided for each CMH guest. Wearing too much is a common mistake made by Heli-Skiers. This results in excess perspiration which fogs up your goggles, dehydrates you, and detracts from your enjoyment of the world’s greatest skiing.
- Monitor and adjust your temperature. If you feel that you are about to get cold, make sure you put on your hood, zip up your zippers, tuck in your sweater and loosen your boots at the pickup to increase circulation BEFORE YOU GET COLD. If you’re getting hot, take off your hat and vent your jacket BEFORE YOU OVERHEAT.
- Wear a hard shell rather than a soft shell or an insulated jacket. While insulated jackets and soft shells are great at the ski area, they don’t allow enough versatility for a week of Heli-Skiing. In a typical week of Heli-Skiing in Interior British Columbia, you’ll see both brilliant sunshine and heavy snowfall - sometimes in the same day. Even the best soft shells tend to get wet easier and stay wet longer than hard shells.
Photo of a well-executed wet-sock-grab at CMH Bugaboos by Topher Donahue.
Ski technology is red hot. It allows the pros to ski big mountain lines like tow in surfing helps surfers to charge the biggest waves. It gives old-timers (and their knees) an extra ten years of skiing. It made skiing a sexy game in the terrain park and turned skiing cool again.
But in the world of deep powder heli-skiing, is the modern ski technology always better? And are there ways to ski better and safer on the fat, rockered skis that are so much fun, but tend to go so fast?
To find out, I tracked down Dave Gauley, the Assistant Manager at CMH Cariboos and a former ski pro famous for making smooth, casual turns on outrageously steep lines. Here’s what he had to say:
“Fat skis are a bit of a double edged sword, especially for the beginner to intermediate skier. They make it easier to float through almost all snow conditions - except for a few. Most notably in Heli-Skiing is the snow you run into when several lines converge to a shared pickup. Hard packed, bumps, chopped up snow, etc. You are cruising along easily in the pow... then whabam! It's suddenly a bit of an epic to control those big skis in the chop. Strained knees, back etc. are possible if you’re not ready for it.
“This kind of snow on fat skis requires a different approach. What I do is when I see a section like that coming up, is to realize the run is over and I just eat up the vertical by skiing slow with big round turns.
"The other problem with fat skis is the increased speed they generate. Skinnier skis sink more, so the snow pushing off your body slows you down. Not so with the fats.
“For beginner powder skiers, you need to vary the shape of your turn to keep your speed managable. To slow down, let your skis come around a bit more in the turns and come up with a way to dump speed if need be. I use a scrub technique of a quickly throwing the skis sideways like a partial hockey stop to loose a lot of speed quickly - not always easy in the trees. Try to anticipate, and always looking ahead will really help out. Many times in the trees I will straight line sections to get to an open area where i can then dump some speed.
"Another consideration is the weight of these new skis. A pair of K2 Pontoons is pretty darn heavy, probably almost twice the weight of a pair of the Heli Daddy's we were using ten years ago. Combine that with the increased speed, you have quite a bit of potential torque on the knees.
"Overall, you can't just saddle up and rock a pair of fatties. A completely different approach, and set of eyes for the terrain is required to do it effectively."
For another perspective on the double-edged sword of fat skis, I talked with Lyle Grisedale, the shop tech at CMH Revelstoke. Lyle had this to add:
Fat Skis - I have mixed views on the really big fat skis especially for weaker skiers. They are an asset for weaker skiers in that they are not as deep in the snow and can be turned more easily. On the other hand, when you are not so deep in the snow you also go faster - not good for a weak skier on a steep tree run. Because of the speed, these skiers have to work the ski harder in order to slow down, which is tiring.
If guests are struggling on the fat skis, I often take them off of the fat guys and put them back onto the Heli Daddys or another mid-fat, which are easy to turn and easier to control speed. On big wide open slopes and glaciers, the big fats are fun to rip on, doing fast big turns with little effort involved to turn them.
Rockered Skis - I am not a fan of rockers for weaker skiers. Sure they make skiing easier, but for weaker skiers the rocker causes them to be back on their heels, which is hard on the quads. Also, for skiers who learned to ski 20 or 30 years ago ( a majority of our guests) they where taught to use tip pressure and other skills, and it is really hard to get any tip pressure on rocker tips and this is frustrating for carvers. Technique must be adjusted to a more swivelling or smearing of the ski type of attack. This works well, but is a big adjustment for a carver.
Interestingly, when CMH moved to mid-fat skis, staff spaces decreased as the guests could stay out longer before getting tired. Last winter I found that people were getting tired because they are going too fast on the fattys and are working too hard to control speed and to turn using techniques that are not the same as the techniques that they use on groomed runs.
The people who most enjoy the big fats are the younger skiers who are stronger, fitter, and less fearful of going fast."
Lyle offered these tips to help enjoy the pleasures of a fat ski while minimizing the work and leg strain:
- On steeper treed terrain, make lots of turns to keep speed comfortable.
- Use a good athletic stance with the hips above the feet for quick reactions to changes in terrain and snow texture.
- Upper body should be facing down hill most of the time, but don’t over rotate your shoulders or hips or the fat skis will run away on you.
- Avoid the back seat, otherwise the skis can't be controlled and manoeuvred optimally.
- Equal weight on both skis with a little more pressure to the outside ski produces the best results.
For skiers of all abilities who want to improve and would like their CMH Heli-Ski week to include both epic amounts of powder skiing as well as customized instruction in powder skiing technique, the CMH Powder University programs offer a new-school curriculum for all types of skiers and snowboarders.
Photos of fat ski powder harvest by Topher Donahue.
There are a lot of Heli-Skiing options out there, from Chile to Russia, Alaska to Nevada, but not all are created equal - so how do you know what’s the right Heli-Ski trip for you?
Since Canadian Mountain Holidays invented the sport of Heli-Skiing, we’ve pretty much answered every Heli-Ski question you can imagine. To get an idea of the most important questions that any skier or snowboarder should ask before booking a Heli-Ski trip, I spoke with Becky Champion at CMH Heli-Skiing Reservations.
Becky said, “At CMH Heli-Skiing we’re transparent about these kinds of things, but maybe not everyone else is...”
She then gave me this list of questions that you should ask any Heli-Ski operator before you book:
How do you charge for vertical?
- Some operators will have lower price tags, but then you'll usually ski less vertical or get less of some other part of the Heli-Ski package.
- Others offer “unlimited vertical”, but then limit their vertical in other ways, by "calling it a day" early, etc., or else by charging a high rate that covers a full day of helicotper time no matter how much you ski.
- Flying a helicopter is so expensive that "unlimited vertical" is not the fairest way to charge. At CMH Heli-Skiing we have a base charge for a set amount of vertical, and then charge extra above the guarantee. Many other reputable operators use this system, and it has proven to be the fairest way to charge for Heli-Skiing. When conditions are great, you can opt to ski more and pay more, but if you decide to take a day off, or if flying or skiing conditions are limiting the program, you’re not paying for “unlimited vertical” when you're not skiing.
How much vertical do you end up skiing on average? A lot can be learned here. One-day Heli-Skiing is often squeezed by the safety practice, equipment setup and other things, so the best value is often a multi-day trip.
What’s included and what’s not included? For comparison, CMH Heli-Skiing includes:
- Radio for each guest
- Avalanche rescue equipment (shovel, probe, transceiver)
- Excellent food
- Comfortable lodging
- Skis and poles
- Snowboards (limited availability and style - please call to reserve)
- Transportation to and from Calgary for most trips
Am I a good enough skier?
All Heli-Skiing requires a solid intermediate-level resort ability, but some areas are better suited for first timers. Just ask and be honest with your abilities. Typically, many women tend to underestimate their abilities while many men tend to overestimate their abilities.
What kind of terrain do you ski?
Some areas, like those in Alaska, only ski above treeline and are unable to ski during storms but are famous for steep skiing in the springtime. Other areas, like CMH Heli-Skiing and other areas in BC, are most famous for deep powder skiing in both the alpine and in the trees from December through April.
What kind of equipment and clothing is needed?
CMH Heli-Skiing has comprehensive Heli-Skiing equipment suggestions online. While our equipment suggestions are optimized for deep powder Heli-Skiing, these pages contain valuable information no matter what kind of skiing you’re planning to do.
What is the cancellation policy?
Hopefully, you’ll never have to cancel a Heli-Ski trip, but impossible weather or your own schedule complications do arise, so it’s good to know what will happen if you cancel as well as what happens if your operator cancels your trip.
Becky concluded with the biggest question: What will the weather be like? And then answered with a laugh, “If we could predict the weather, we’d be charging a heck of a lot more!”
While knowing for sure what the weather will be like is impossible, there are weather and conditions tendencies within each area and Heli-Ski region during a particular time or season. Your operator should be able to give you at least an approximate idea of what kind of skiing conditions are possible in their area during a particular time of the year.
The CMH Heli-Skiing Reservations agents are a wealth of information, and with the widest range of Heli-Ski options on the planet, our agents work magic when it comes to matching skiers and snowboarders with the right Heli-Ski trip for their tastes, abilities, time and budget. Give ‘em a call at 1-(800) 661-0252.
Photo of CMH Gothics by Topher Donahue.
“Probably 75 or 80 percent of our guests are wearing helmets now anyway.” says Todd Guyn, a 17-year veteran heli-ski guide and the Mountain Safety Manager for CMH Heli-Skiing, while explaining the new CMH policy that makes helmets now mandatory for guests attending the two most aggressive Powder University programs: The Steeps, and Steep Shots and Pillow Drops.
It only makes sense. Any skier or snowboarder who signs up for these heli-ski programs that, conditions allowing, will take them into challenging alpine couloirs, jumps, and steep trees, is probably hoping to launch their cranium down some of the wildest lines they've ever dropped into.
Todd has some suggestions for helmet fit and design specific to skiing and snowboarding in the backcountry:
The first, and most important thing to consider, is that wearing a helmet can hinder your hearing. CMH guides have reported several cases of guests not hearing instructions because of their helmets - and listening to your guide’s instructions is far more important for your safety than any helmet or physical safety device.
To avoid blocking your ears, Todd suggests wearing helmets with earflaps that can be removed - and remove them for heliskiing. To keep your ears warm, wear a thin balaclava or headband instead of the heavier ear pieces that come with helmets. This configuration also has the advantage of making it easier to ventilate and cool your head on those warm days and allows for wearing hearing protectors in the helicopter.
Second, if your helmet has a large brim, make sure it is detachable. In the event of a fall, tree well or avalanche, the brim can pack with snow and catch on things, pulling the chin strap dangerously tight around your neck - not good. Even better, use a helmet without a brim.
Third, make sure your helmet fits properly. Take your goggles and the hat or balaclava you will wear riding when you go helmet shopping, so you can be sure to get the right fit for you.
Finally, a surprising warning for all you helmeted hard-cores out there:
Dr. Jasper Shealy, who has been studying skiing and snowboarding injuries for over 30 years, is sited in the Canadian Ski Council’s 2009 report, “Helmets and Ski Safety Facts and Stats". The article reads, “Although it has been demonstrated that wearing helmets can be effective in reducing the severity of head injuries, Dr. Shealy believes that the increased use of a helmet can alter behavior of the user, leading to increased injuries.”
The report states, in no uncertain terms, that “Helmeted skiers and boarders tend to ski faster.” and concludes with a word for the wise: “Helmet use is only one part of an overall program of risk reduction, such as skiing and boarding responsibly.”
In our discussion about helmets, Todd made it clear that he feels strongly that the safety benefits of wearing a helmet while helicopter skiing and boarding vastly outweigh the issues, provided the skiers and snowboarders can hear their guide’s instructions and that skiers and snowboarders make decisions with the understanding that no safety device can be expected to replace good judgment when playing in the mountains.
'Tis the season for reflection, so in that spirit, here is a quick snapshot of our most read blog articles for 2011:
- No surprise here. With such amazing ski conditions in 2011 (the likes of which haven't been seen in these parts in decades) the photos from our guides, guests and pro shooters in the field were very popular. February topped the list with 5 Best Heli-Skiing Pictures of February 2011.
- With ski movie fans from around the world looking forward to the release of the seasons upcoming new flicks John Entwistle's post on The Best Ski Movies Ever? proved popular yet again.
- Skiers and Heli-Skiers of any age or ability are always looking for some ways to get ready for the upcoming ski season. Becca Blay's post from August on how to Get Fit for Your Heli-Ski Trip NOW! outlined a concice and easy to follow fitness program for any level of skier. It's never too late to start! (Especially with New Year's Day right around the corner!)
- A few months ago we started a photo forum on Twitter for skiers to share their favourite ski photos with us and other skiers around the world and we call that #Ski Fotos: A Photo Forum for those Passionate about Skiing. Snowboarding pics are welcome too!
- We learned that you are not only curious about great ski movies and ski pictures but along with how to improve your fitness level, skiers are also interested in improving their skiing skills. 4 Tips for Tree Skiing was a popular read so no doubt you'll be interested in our upcoming series on Powder University.
A couple of other articles were popular with our readers as well. Skiing Interactive posted a chart comparing the size of many of North America's ski resorts. Slide two of the screen compared all the resorts in North America to the CMH Heli-Skiing terrain. The comparison was quite eye-opening!
What was your favourite post? What topics would you like us to cover in the new year? Feel free to leave us a note in the comment section below!
It was in CMH Gothics. It had been snowing for weeks. The snow was cold, light, white, deep perfection. Everyone in the group was skiing really strong and having the time of their lives.
I was skiing a sweet fall line along the edge of a patch of trees when suddenly something hit me in the side really hard. I was knocked off my feet, flew through the air, and tumbled into the snow.
After getting up slowly, I checked to see if I was ok. I was slightly dizzy and my shoulder throbbed, but considering the force of the collision I felt lucky. Then I tried to figure out what happened. Lying in the snow next to me was my ski buddy, a good skier who was in the Gothics as a ski model to help with photos. We had collided at high speed but he was also uninjured. We were both lucky.
In talking about it later, we realized that neither one of us had seen the other until the moment of collision. It wasn’t like one of us had been trying to scoop the line or cut the other off. Afterwards, I thought a lot about what had happened and what had caused the collision and what could be done to prevent collisions.
What caused the collision:
- Different perspectives of the fall line. You always feel like you are going straight down, even when you’re angling slightly to one side.
- Terrain. My friend had been skiing in the trees next to where I was skiing in the open. He turned into the open at the exact second when I arrived there.
- Speed. While you may have a good handle on your own velocity, when you combine it with someone else’s speed the sum is a velocity that is beyond our ability to react.
- Perception. The great thing about heliskiing is that it feels like you have the mountain to yourself much of the time. However, there are other people on the mountain, always nearby.
How we could have avoided the collision:
- Slow down at transitions. As I neared the trees, a natural bottle-neck, I should have anticipated that other strong skiers would likely be arriving there at similar times, and my friend should have slowed down when moving from the trees into the open where other skiers would almost surely be skiing.
- Give each other more space. We left the top of the run skiing right next to each other, so it is no surprise that we ended up near the bottom in the same place.
- Check blind spots. We were both wearing helmets and goggles, which was lucky because our heads slammed together with alarming force, but helmets and goggles also block peripheral vision. If either of us had checked our blind spots at the transition, we might have avoided the crash. With snowboarders, a common excuse skiers give for collisions is that "snowboarders have a blind spot". Well, skiers have blind spots too, a big one on each side.
- Take it easy near other skiers. The snow had been so good that we all felt invincible. There are good times to let it rip and times to take it easy. We should have been taking it easy.
I’ve seen dangerous collisions in both trees and on wide-open slopes. Every time it is a similar story – two skiers start perfectly in control, but the pattern of two skier’s turns gets closer and closer, until they meet violently, way more quickly than either skier anticipated.
Although not the culprit in my collision, most of the collisions I’ve seen have been when someone approaches the regroup and falls or runs into a skier who is standing still. Speed in the mountains is deceiving – begin stopping about twice as far above of the group as you think you need.
Photo of skiers giving each other space to play in CMH Cariboos.
by Becca Blay
There is nothing like a great day in the trees! Here are four quick tips that can help you to maintain your strength and balance while heliskiing in the forest at CMH.
Always look ahead and pick your line, then commit.
You can’t go wrong when you choose your line and stick to it. Of course, it is important to be able to navigate when obstacles appear, but if you continue to ski the line that you choose originally, you will flow easily.
This is extremely important in order to conserve your energy. If you don’t tense your muscles, your body will remain calm and loose, conversing your energy to enjoy a longer day out there.
Be dynamic and think like an athlete.
Always remember that you are fit and healthy…when you get tired, think about being dynamic and you will feel a new sense of energy through your legs. Mind over body, it works!
And above all, be safe.
Stay with your tree partner and always listen to your guide.
And to inspire you, here's a great video showing some of the fantastic tree skiing we have here at CMH Heli-Skiing in Revelstoke:
Or experience it first hand and join us this winter for the ski trip of a lifetime! Contact CMH Reservations for more information at 1.800.661.0252.
There are few people in the world who can truly break down the complex world of deep powder skiing into manageable concepts. One of those is Roko Koell, the mind behind the CMH Powder Intro program, an Austrian Level 4 Ski Instructor, and former coach of the Austrian Women’s Downhill Team. I asked him about the most fundamental elements of skiing well in deep snow, regardless of skiing ability.
First, Roko explains that there are two stages to deep powder skiing, the first is a strenuous method he calls 4-wheel-drive skiing where you do not turn parallel, but rather force the turn with a snowplow or up-stem ski technique. This is how we all first learn to ski in the deep powder.
The second stage is more dynamic and seemingly difficult, but once you feel it powder skiing becomes physically much easier – eventually effortless. The interaction between your skis and the snow provide the power so your legs and the rest of your body can relax and enjoy the incomparable thrill of deep powder skiing; what Roko describes as, “The sensation of slow motion speed, the full-body experience of penetration and the exhilaration of weightlessness.”
To experience this second stage, Powder Nirvana, here are the seven crucial concepts:
1. The basic skiing movements are the same as for hard pack, or on-pisté skiing. The difference in deep powder is that there is no solid platform in the snow, so you have to build one with your skis. The solid platform has to be generated due to the fact that the skis float within a soft uneven and inconsistent mass of snow (causing resistance against skis, boots and lower legs). This makes the turning of the skis more challenging, requiring more assertive and prolonged turning movements.
2. Balance on both skis. Weighting both skis more equally and performing vertical up and down movement builds a solid platform underneath the feet within the soft mass of snow. From the platform we created during the compression, we can push off upwards and free the skis of the snow’s resistance and initiate the next turn at the point of near weightlessness - like a basketball player shooting a jump shot at the weightless apex of the jump.
3. Proper skiing speed is crucial. Not excessive speed, but "proper" speed - like riding a bike - that gives you both balance and momentum. This not only improves your balance but, even more importantly in powder skiing, this causes the skis to float up towards the snow surface, freeing the skis from the snow’s grasp which makes turning easier by reducing the snow’s resistance against your legs, boots and skis.
If you are not comfortable at proper speed in deep snow, you will not be able to build a solid platform and balance will be a continuously frustrating and physical exercise. You still can make it down in powder, but you will be limited to skiing using the strenuous 4-wheel-drive skiing techniques.
4. The timing is slightly different, a bit delayed, from the abrupt transitions of skiing on hardpack. Because your skis are penetrating down into the soft mass of snow and floating within it, you must ski with more patience within each turn and prolong those skiing movements you already have within your muscle memory.
5. You do not need to physically lean back in powder. When we lean back we tend to freeze our muscles, resulting in a rigid, strenuous position rather than flowing, athletic movement. Having said that, there is an exception. In very deep or very heavy snow a “slight and sensitive” backwards transfer of the weight helps to bring and keep the ski tips up.
6. Once you gain just a little experience and adjust to more equal weighting of both skis, a springboard will appear underneath your skis and give you a more solid platform. Now you are over the hump. Suddenly balancing becomes much easier and you can ski without hesitation and with dramatically improved confidence.
7. Finally, keep turning. Continuous turning provides the up and down motion and makes control possible. Skiing a series of linked turns will put you in control of your skiing speed in any terrain no matter how steep.
What kind of powder skier are you? Take it to the next level with a one-of-a-kind CMH powder skiing program. For the skier who wants to heli-ski but is afraid of the demands of heliskiing in powder, your dreams will come to life with a CMH Powder Intro. For the agressive, strong powder skier who wants to take it to the next level, check out the CMH Steep Week.
Photo of approaching Nirvana in the CMH Monashees by Topher Donahue.