Powder Skiing 101: A Course for First Time Heliskiers
By Lyle Grisedale, Shop Manager, CMH Cariboo Lodge
Its your first time heliskiing. You're excited for certain and maybe a little worried about the skiing. Will you be able to do it? Will you be able to keep up? Will you slow down the group?
As the Aussies say “No worries mate!”
You don’t have to be a great skier to enjoy skiing deep powder but our brand of deep snow is a little different than what you usually ski at a ski resort. At a ski resort you are usually skiing on a groomed surface under the snow and it is pretty easy. In CMH’s world there is no groomed surface under the snow so you will need to make some adjustments. Here are a few tips to make your fist heliski trip a worry free and exciting experience.
Select the Right Ski
Choose a pair of Atomic Heli Daddy. These skis have a soft, easy flex, are easy to maneuver and will give you predictable ski performance in all snow conditions. After a couple days skiing you can try some of the other models we have. Its best not to select a ski with a rockered tip for your first day. Sure these skis turn easily and float well but they can also cause you to be a bit 'in the back seat' which can be hard on the thighs and will make your first day an exhausting one. After skiing a couple of days if you feel you want to get a bit more aggressive by all means take some of our other skis out for a test drive.
One of the most common things first time skiers do is have too much weight on the outside ski in the turn. That is because most resort skiers are used to skiing on harder surfaces, especially if you come from the east side of North America or Europe where icy conditions are more of the norm. In deep powder when you weight one ski more than the other the weighted ski goes deeper into the snow. Now you have two skis each on a different level in the snow, making for very difficult skiing and a lot of very hard work. Equally weighted skis will stay on the same plane and are easy to work with. Sometimes in challenging snow conditions you might have to direct more pressure to the outside ski but always keep the weight even.
Sitting back to keep the tips up; a real myth! One of the greatest challenges for first time heli skiers is not being able to see their skis. Get over it! This is the greatest skiing on earth! Your skis are just extensions of your feet, you don’t need to see them you need to see down the run the beautiful scene unfolding around you. The skis CMH provides are made for powder skiing and are soft enough that the tips will not dive, unless you get too far forward. To avoid getting too far forward keep your head up and look down the slope several turns a head of where you are. (Ever done a forward flip off a diving board? What do you do? Tuck you head into your chest and look down, the rest of your body rotates around your head and you flip. Same thing happens when you look down in deep bottomless powder.) Also sitting back is really hard on the thigh muscles. Keep your hips over your feet and let your skeleton hold you up, not your thighs. Use those muscles for steering your skis.
Face the Fall Line
Its best to ski smoothly without jerky or aggressive motions. Your skis are under the snow and have resistance all around them and if you try to force them around in a turn with a jerky or aggressive motion you create more resistance. The skis slow down but your upper body does not and you are soon digging yourself out of the snow. Be patient and get used to facing into the fall line (straight downhill). If your stance and weight are correct the skis will come around into the turn. Be smooth and subtle in you motions while in deep powder.
You also want to keep your upper body as motionless as possible. The more you move it around the more likely you are to loose your balance. Let your legs do all the steering. The same goes for your pole plant. Try to use only your wrist to bring the pole forward into position for the next turn. Using the whole arm causes your shoulders and upper body to over-rotate making it difficult to get the next turn started.
Look at the Spaces, Not the Trees
At CMH we do a lot of tree skiing on sometimes very steep terrain look at the spaces between the trees not at the trees and you’ll be fine, ski behind an experienced heli skier for your first few runs to get the idea of tree skiing and then start picking your own line as skiing in others tracks can cause you to go faster than you may want to. Plus it is all about making your own tracks!
My final tip is to smile. All the way down. Whoop and holler as much as possible! This will help you relax. Remember this is some of the GREATEST SKIING ON EARTH! Have fun.
Lyle Grisedale is a long time CMH employee who wears many hats.This winter you can find him in the Cariboo Lodge as relief Shop Manager and ski tech. Lyle taught skiing for 25 years, and ran his own ski school for 10 years, he has Level 4 certification in the Canadian Ski Instructors’ Alliance he is also a level 2 coach in the Canadian Ski Coaches Federation. He really, really likes skiing powder! In the summer, you can find Lyle guiding CMH Summer Adventures guests around the Bugaboos.
Photo: Lyle Grisedale heliskiing in Revelstoke by Jorg Wilz.