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.