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The need for speed for powder perfection

Chris Fellows
Photo by J. SelkowitzA NASTC student skis deep powder at Sugar Bowl.
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The No. 1 tactical error in powder is a miscalculation of the speed needed to plane the skis through the fresh snow. The new, wide body-powder-specific skis go a long way in helping skiers float through powder, but at some point you have to get comfortable at high speeds ” that is, if you ever want to tap the skis’ full potential. The following speed tactic ideas can be practiced on your next powder day.

Ski straight down the fall line without turning. It’s like being pulled up on water skis when the skis begin to plane on the water. This usually works best on moderate pitches that are open and void of obstacles.

Look ahead. Speed is relative and if you are looking ahead you can put the forward movement into a manageable perspective.

Ski behind someone faster than you in powder. This tactic will give you a moving target to ski toward and a rabbit to chase for increased speeds.

The truth is, powder technique only comes together when mixed with a healthy dose of old-fashioned momentum.

If you catch yourself focusing on your skis or on the snow directly in front of you while skiing, you are apt to loose all sense of real time and speed. What I mean is that you will feel as if you are moving faster than you really are. Try to shift your focus down the mountain and choose a more distant target line of descent. This tactic will help align your perception of speed with reality. It is a strange feeling for students to have their skis under the snow and many of them worry about what is going on down under in the clandestine world hidden to the human eye. Getting over this unfounded fear will help them lift their heads and enjoy the scenery around them.

Practice straight runs down moderate powder slopes that will gradually transition into a flatter slope. Rolling terrain is another excellent place to feel speed increase and decrease in powder while in a straight run. This type of exposure will safely increase your tolerance for speed in powder. After skiing these slopes without turns, try them while making shallow turns and focus on the changes in speed as you turn. Acceleration and deceleration are natural sensations in powder skiing, so get comfortable with the slow-down phase as you turn your skis across the hill and expect the speed to increase as you guide the skis back into the fall line. This will help you get comfortable with steering the skis in powder at a faster speed.

Ski directly behind someone who skis faster to see how long you can keep up. Count how many turns you can make in their “speed comfort zone” before you have to bail out. Watching another skier does wonders for focusing ahead as well as picking up tactical cues that will help you maintain flow and rhythm.

Powder Skiers should stay light on their feet when speeds pick up, avoiding the urge to “slam on the edges” to control speed. Speed control is achieved by the turn shape and the snow resistance. Heavy enough snow can provide enough resistance to bring you to a dead stop at any speed. Expect the snow resistance to be a part of your speed-control tactic. Add in a light but proactive guiding of the skis and you will experience a manageable speed in the steep and deep.

Chris Fellows and his wife Jenny are the directors of Truckee’s North American Ski Training Center (NASTC) and Chris is a member of the PSIA National Demonstration Team. Chris will be writing a weekly column all winter. He can be reached at ski@skiNASTC.com or 582-4772.


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