This is what it’s all about – the White Stuff! No more weaving down the piste trying to avoid the crowds and the fat lady in the lilac shell suit, because this is freedom man, this is the ultimate. That’s roughly how it was explained to me the first time I was encouraged to go off piste skiing in fresh powder snow. It was exhilarating, demanding, and quite unlike anything I had been used to.
Before you try it, you must answer this question: Are you prepared to become a complete beginner again? Yes? Well, read on. You may get the hang of it within the hour. It may take you a little longer, but as long as you read this next section carefully and slowly, and act on it, you will be able to ski off piste in powder snow. Before going out and trying it, I strongly recommend that you read the article on Avalanches. This is not to put you off, but to give you an idea of what is safe to ski and what is not.
To succeed in powder snow you must ski gently, and you must feel what you are doing. You have to be spot on with your balance, because the snow is always trying to snag the outside edges of the skis wherever you try to turn them. You seem to be stuck in tram lines, and then if you do manage to somehow turn, the tips of the skis sink down, stop dead, and throw you out the front.
I’m going to be sexist here. Girls seem to get the hang of powder snow quicker than boys. They are much more gentle with the stuff and this is one of the secrets to skiing powder. Go lightly and treat the snow with the same respect you would give to the spider you gently finger out of the bath tub.
Off piste skiing is just about the only situation where I would recommend shorter, softer tipped skis than you may be using. This is where a pair of the wide modern skis should come in really useful, perhaps 15 cm (6 inches) shorter than your usual ones, but try your normal ones first.
Now for business. The following two exercises are the first stage and quite important, so don’t skip them.
Find a slope of fresh untouched powder snow, steep enough to run down at a steady pace. Don’t worry too much about the people coming past you with beards, shouting at you to stop spoiling their special bit of angel poop.
With your weight slightly back from the middle of your instep and equal on both skis, carefully bounce up and down. The skis should be about 4″ apart. You should feel as if you are bouncing up and down on a trampoline, as the snow compacts on your down movement. This trampolining effect is what makes powder skiing such magic. The snow needs to be at least
knee deep, otherwise you won’t get the bouncing effect.
Let me just repeat where your weight should be while learning deep snow technique. It should be slightly back from the middle of the foot, that is towards the heel. I do not think it a good idea to encourage you to sit well back on the heels of your skis while trying to ski the deep stuff. Your skis are more liable to accelerate, and you will not be able to anticipate the next turn properly, so forget about leaning back! As you begin to get the hang of powder skiing your weight should move forwards to the middle of your feet.
Now repeat this exercise, but this time do alternate left and right pole plants as you run slowly down the slope. (No turns yet!) Feel that your balance is right. The distance that your body goes up and down is important. As you go down to put your pole in, your head should be almost level with your hand! That’s a long way down. Remember the driving analogy while doing this; keep both hands rigidly in front of you and face down the hill.