The Heli-Ski Blog

Can I learn to ski powder on hardpack?

Posted by Topher Donahue on Mar 19, 2010 3:12:00 PM

I had a simple question:  Can I learn how to ski powder while skiing in-bounds on hard pack (on piste) at the average ski area?

For the answer, I tracked down Roko Koell, inventor of the CMH Powder Masters program, a third generation mountain guide, and former coach of the Austrian women's downhill team.  Here is Roko's answer, pulled from his vast collection of cutting-edge instruction methods:

Learning to ski powder on hardpack?  It doesn’t seem right, does it?
Skiing powder, floating effortlessly down the virgin powder slopes of majestic mountains, riding the ultimate high of the nirvana of the “king’s class” of skiing. Down and up, in and out, the act of penetration bottomless - this is freedom and the stuff skier’s dreams are made of.  This is skiing powder.

It is also an unfortunate fact among skiers that this is a feeling most people think they are too inexperienced to master.  

If you are one of those people, one of the millions of skiers who think they can’t ski powder-but don’t know how easy it really can be, then you are a perfect candidate to use the tools below to become a member of the club of powder enthusiasts. 

Skiing movements, for both hard pack and powder, have to be established, refined and perfected. But new movements are learned best in an easy and consistent environment: on familiar hard pack, wide open slopes, and consistent snow and weather (visibility) conditions.  Staying with what you know will  allow your mind to be free, uncluttered and focused solely on the movement instead of worrying about terrain obstacles like trees, dips,  bumps and the various forms of deep snow.

Skiing well in deep snow requires experience, but it is experience in ski technique and in motion patterns.  The basic skiing techniques (like traversing, side-slipping, side-stepping, snow-plow, stem turns, kick turns, getting up after a fall etc.) need to be established, and automated. 

It is crucial for skiing powder to be able to perform short turns, and solid pole plants as they automatically promote the equal weighting of both skis, giving you rhythm and enabling  you to link a series of turns together. Bad habits need to be eliminated BEFORE you wonder off beyond the groomed slopes. Bad habits just result in frustration, a loss of skiing self-confidence, fatigue and misery.  CAN YOU RELATE?  Bad habits are responsible for the nasty myth that skiing powder is only for expert skiers.

You can PRACTICE this on hard pack!
In a days worth of skiing in a ski resort we make about 3000 turns.  We prefer a certain turning radius, comfortable (similar) speed and familiar skiing movements (personal technique). We ski very one sided, too much the same almost all the time.  To elevate your skiing to the next level you need to change your rhythm, your turning radius and your skiing speed. Practicing this on hard pack makes you a much more versatile and “ready” skier and establishes motion patterns within your brain and muscle memory, which pay dividends in fun when you venture off-piste.

Here is one exercise that perfectly prepares you for skiing powder: Short turns on hard pack!! 

Make short turns with strong pole plants, get out of your comfort zone, refine the vertical up and down movements (this is your platform when in powder) and rhythm, and is an excellent way to establishing more equal weighting of both skis (balancing).  The shorter the turns (Slalom turns), the more both skis are weighted equally!!  The more equally both skies are weighted, the easier it is to balance in deep snow and to build solid platforms at the end of every turn.
Then add pole plants too your short turns. A proper pole plant acts as timing for your turns, promoting the linking of turns and makes your skiing rhythmical and harmonious.

If you have established these rhythms on hard pack (piste) your transition to skiing powder will be much easier and faster. Your muscle memory will remember these motion patterns, and after a bit of practicing these movements get more and more established and eventually automated within your skiing movements.

And finally, this will help your powder skiing:
Walk instead of drive for shopping, errands around town.  Is a great and efficient way of training in daily life.  Instead of using elevators or escalators, walk the stairs.  Don’t overdo it and wear proper footwear for the exercise.

Then, get off the piste and join us in the world’s powder skiing epicentre!

Photo by Topher Donahue/


Topics: First Timers, CMH Experts