Winter 2011/12 was one of the best in years for consistent powder snow conditions and providing many opportunities to get away from the crowds beyond the pole markers and search for those elusive rhythmical short turns.
The Mountain Tracks team have put together a series of articles to get ready for next season by helping you to improve your confidence, perfect you powder turns and adapt to become a true all-mountain skier!
There are few sensations in skiing as magical as ‘porpoise-ing’ down an endless powder field, snow particles flying in all directions!
This first article will give you the basic skills to begin perfecting short turns in uniform light powder snow.
Get ’em together
First things first: when it comes to soft snow conditions, bringing your skis closer together can make all the difference. On the piste we are now used to skiing with a wider ‘hip width’ stance which allows for a more stable platform, increased range of movements onto the edge and the ability to balance on the outside ski. Try this in soft snow and you may find your skis flying in all directions as one disappears and the other emerges in front of your face!
A closer stance however allows you to become more ‘2 – footed’, creating a single platform from your 2 skis, balancing more equally on your feet, and making turning and pressure control movements more simple. This can be counter intuitive initially as you try to balance on a soft surface, but persevere and your balance skills will improve. You will have to use your adductors to bring the skis closer together. Think about squeezing the air out of a ball you are holding between your feet. Your skis will now be at a similar height in the snowpack and this can hugely aid your lateral (side to side) balance.
It is a common misconception that you have to lean back in powder snow. For sure, when you take your stiff, narrow race or carving skis into deeper snow, they have a tendency to ‘submarine’ at the tip. However, with the new breed of off-piste skis that are usually around 85mm or more underfoot, they will easily float and with the right movements the tips will become buoyant (especially if they have a ‘rocker’ construction) when you need them to be in all but the heaviest of snow. The buzzword is to be ‘stacked’ and make movements through the centre of the ski and foot. Imagine that you will still be able to stand up if your skis are ripped off of your boots!
This is great fun and often provides the eureka moment! In your stacked close stance position, find a gentle slope of powder that you can straight run confidently, but not go too slow. Now begin to stretch and bend your legs, using all of your skiing joints (ankles, knees and hips) whilst keeping your centre of mass over your feet. Make this movement ‘bouncy’ by being a little more poppy with the movements. You will find that the skis begin to rise and fall in the snow or porpoise. The skis are no longer constantly held within the snow - they come up for air!
Often you will find a natural cadence or rhythm taking over - you will use this rebound moment when the skis emerge and unweight to help with turn initiation. This is all very different from the pressure management movements you might be used to when carving on piste, which are normally one footed and create a more even pressure on the outside ski throughout the turn.
Who’s counting? Time to turn
I’m sure everyone has been told by an instructor at some point to look down the hill and not turn your body with the skis. Well, this is an essential component to allow you to form short powder turns and ‘flow’ down the mountain. The key ingredient to turning the ski is leg rotation. Imagine you are standing on top of 2 balls and try to twist your legs to point your feet to the left, then the right whilst keeping your shoulders stationary. As you do this ensure that your hips and upper body remain as calm as possible.
That’s it! It is worth practicing this skill on piste with skiddy short turns before heading back to the pow. Once there get back to bouncing and as the skis rebound and unweight, use leg rotation to pivot the skis into the new turn. Continue the movement to complete the turn.
Plant, plant, plant….
The final ingredient at the moment is the pole plant. Without it, things can be very tricky – instructors often ski without poles during drills to really up the difficulty level and push their skills. The pole plant has a host of positive effects. That third point of contact and feedback from the hill really aids balance – make your pole plant strong. The plant also helps create a rhythm to the run – say boom every time you plant left, bang when you plant right and create a beat. The plant also comes at a critical time as the skis change direction.
Make sure you plant at the junction or ‘transition’ between turns. Finally, the pole creates a block to stabilize the upper body as you rotate your legs into the new turn. Imagine during the turn, you have wound your body up as you rotate your lower body whilst keeping your upper body facing down the hill. Now stabilize the upper body through the plant and the lower body will naturally uncoil. This torque effect or ‘anticipation’ makes leg rotation a cinch.
A final word of caution: make sure you have big baskets on your ski poles. If conditions are really good those skinny aerodynamic numbers won’t stop until they find bedrock!
That’s it for this article. Next time we’ll look at control of speed and line, and get ready to adapt our technique to take on different snow types and pitches.
BASI Ski Instructor - Mountain Tracks
IFMGA / UIAGM / IVBV
The IFMGA / UIAGM / IVBV symbol is the logo of the International Federation of Mountain Guides Association.
Nick, Olly and Matt are all fully-qualified UIAGM Mountain Guides and members of the British Mountain Guides Association.
The International Ski Instructors Association is the world body for professional ski instructors.
The ISIA was formed in 1971 and there are currently 39 member nations representing the very best in ski instruction around the world.