Top Tips for Skiing Off Piste and Powder

Ski Photographer, Michael Truelove Shredding in Serre Chevalier:


How do I ski powder? How is skiing off piste different to on piste? Do I need fat skis to freeride? Check out these tips from ski instructor, James King, to ski powder like a pro...

Mistake #1: Leaning Back Too Much

Tip: Stay Centred

If you ask the majority of skiers, ‘how do you ski powder?’ you will be amazed (or not!) at the amount of times the response is, ‘you lean back more'.

Leaning back when skiing powder is a common mistake that’s going to make you tired very quickly. With your legs fighting to keep your body upright, the strain put on your muscles will cause fatigue and lactic acid build up, which will certainly not help your technique.

With your weight behind the centre of the skis, you will also find it difficult to turn and are likely to fall backwards at the first bump you hit.

When skiing powder, it’s important to keep your weight centred over your feet. This means that you should feel pressure spread evenly over the sole of your foot. In doing this, your body should remain centred over the skis.

When you ski with your weight over the centre of the skis, you will find the tips of the skis will naturally rise above the snow due to flex in the ankle joint – without the need to force this by leaning back.

Mistake #2: Turning Across The Slope

Tip: S-Shaped Turns

ski tracks

When skiing powder, you find that the deep snow will act as resistance against you. This resistance will naturally help you to control your speed.

With the snow helping to control your speed. this means that it’s less important to get the skis facing across the hill as when you learnt to ski. It’s now necessary to use an ‘S’ shaped turn, rather than a ‘C’ shaped turn.

It’s a common sight to see people turn their skis across the slope, only to find they come to a complete stop as their skis get stuck in the snow. This regularly leads to wasted energy trying to escape from the heavy snow, or even falling down the hill.

It’s important to adjust your line to be more direct – using the snow to help you control your speed.

Mistake #3: Stance Is Too Wide

Tip: Skis Closer

Skiing powder becomes a lot easier if you can get your skis to float closer to the surface of the snow.

The best way to get the skis to float better is to increase the combined surface area of the skis. If the surface area is larger, your body weight will be spread over a wider area – meaning less chance of indivdual pressure causing the skis to sink into the snow.

The most effective way to increase the surface area is to keep your skis closer together, allowing your weight to be distributed evenly over both skis.

Skiing with a narrow stance will also keep your skis at the same depth in the snow. If your stance is too wide, it’s possible for one ski (usually the ‘outside ski’ when turning) to sink lower than the other, making it difficult to transition into the next turn.

Mistake #4: Adopting A Rigid Posture

Tip: Keep Flexible

Correct posture is all about using your ‘skiing joints’ (ankles, knees, hips) to absorb pressure, maintain balance and react to situations.

The ideal posture never changes from what you learn on your first day skiing.

It’s important to maintain good flex in your joints – known as the ‘ready position’. This flexibility within your ‘skiing joints’ will allow you to remain balanced over the centre of the skis – even with the terrain constantly changing under foot.

Remember; although the surface might look like smooth and fluffy powder, it can sometimes feel like mogul skiing due to the surface underneath.

Keeping your posture relaxed and flexible will allow for greater stability, responsiveness and control.

Mistake #5: Wrong Skis

Tip: Fat Skis

Although an expert level skier can do powder on practically any skis, today's fatter waists and rocker have made skiing powder a whole lot easier.

Powder skis are designed to be much wider than regular piste skis. with the additional width allowing for a larger ski surface area. This, in turn helps you to float on top of the snow more effectively.

If you use narrow piste skis, they will sink much deeper in to the snow. This means that for every turn, you will need to raise the skis a lot further to release them from the snow – making turning a lot more challenging.

Using ‘powder skis’ can make skiing deep snow much less tiring…and much more efficient.

Mistake #6: Skiing Terrain Beyond Your Ability

Tip: Start with Sidecountry

ski tracks

Skiing powder requires a level of technical ability. It also requires a skill set that is ready to cope with many different types of terrain, scenarios and conditions.

Skiing powder also brings with it a heightened risk element with the possibility of avalanches.

Start by going out early after a night of snow to ski the powder on the piste if it hasn't been groomed, progressing to sidecountry, the deep snow beside or between pistes (see tracks dropping in off the Crete drag in Serre Chevalier, above). Only when you can ski this confidently should you think of slackcounty or backcountry, ie taking skins to access powder areas away from the resort.

It’s also advisable to take a guide or instructor who knows the mountain well. This will not only lessen the risk as in avoiding potential avalanche terrain but also mean finding the best powder stashes along with some valuable advice on perfecting your powder skiing skills.

Remember for going into the backcountry and even doing off piste in resort you need safety equipment including transeiver, probes and shovel plus, if possible, an airbag (available to hire from ski rental shops). And always beware the Heuristic Traps

Main image: Ski Photographer and powder pro, Michael Truelove shredding Montagnole in Serre Chevalier