If you learn to snowboard on the east coast, you are probably very familiar with icy, hard pack, and “loose granular” snow conditions. But you probably aren’t all that familiar with riding actual snow…ok, maybe a few inches here and there, but actual powder…like a foot or more is a whole different thing.
we knew there would be plenty of snow on the mountain when we have to shovel out our car at the hotel
Riding in pow for the first time is like being a beginner snowboarder all over again. It is not the same as riding the hard stuff. It feels like you are floating and surfing on fluffy happiness. So it’s definitely worth learning how to get it done.
The first time I encountered copious amounts of snow was on a trip to Utah my first season riding. Day 1 in about 9” of fresh snow, I did ok. I got the surfy happiness feeling but fell- a lot. I am a prolific turner and if you turn a lot in fresh snow you will get very tired and likely fall-a lot. That wasn’t so bad…it doesn’t hurt when you fall in fresh snow. But when an additional foot fell overnight, I was in a little trouble. The visibility was really tough that next day and I couldn’t tell where the groomers were. So I ended up in close to 2’ of snow falling OVER and OVER again. It is not easy to get back up in so much snow because you have nothing to push up against…you just keep sinking into the snow. So it’s tiring. When I could get up and go a few feet it felt great. But then I fell, again and again and again…
Over the past couple of seasons, I have gotten much better at riding in 6 or so inches of snow. That is my wheelhouse. More snow than that and I still don’t quite know what to do with it. We had another powder day last year of about 9” and I ventured onto the ungroomed trails where it looked all bumped out already. It was amazing how you could charge right through the fresh little pillows that were forming on the trails. I even spent time in the trees (the blue runs in the trees…I need my space to flop around and not hurt anyone). It was lovely. Powder is so quiet.
Last weekend we hit a mid December storm in the east and were looking at 14” of fluffy white stuff as an early Christmas present. As I followed Mark and Dave down the first ungroomed trail, I quickly found myself in over my head. I fell, and fell, and fell, and fell some more. The snow was already full of tracks and bumps and was not the pristine, untouched goodness you see in the shred flicks, or in the backcountry. So you need some different strategies.
Here are some tips for riding in powder and avoiding some of the pitfalls I have encountered
- Fasten that pow skirt. You will get snow in places you didn’t know existed.
- Weight your back foot when you ride. This keeps your nose up and keeps you floating on top of the surface rather than plowing through it.
- You can set your stance back to make it more natural to ride on your back foot and to help take some of the pressure off of your leg from actively having to weight that back foot.
- Bouncy, bouncy…try bouncing up and down as you ride…it will help you turn by pulling your legs up, weighting your edge and extending your legs. Then you can pull your legs back up, switch edges and extend again. You don’t need to try to dig your edges in like you do on hardpack…it is more fluid and more subtle.
- Bend your knees! Getting low will help you absorb bumps and soften landings if you pop off of little snow mounds. This will also help you keep your balance as you get tossed around.
- Snow will slow you down. So be careful if you are approaching flatter areas. You will need to keep your speed up to get through these areas. It is really hard to skate in pow too (your foot just sinks) so try to avoid that.
- When you fall, it’s often easier to get up on your toe side. Rolling over might be in order.
- If there’s a lot of snow in on top of your board when you get up and you are having trouble getting going…you might need to clear some of the snow away so you aren’t trying to lift up all that snow as you take off.
There is a learning curve to riding pow if what you know is ice and hard pack. That’s ok. Go easy on yourself and try to have fun. It can be very frustrating to feel like you are starting all over again. The good news is that it doesn’t hurt when you fall! If the snow is already getting tracked out, try making a couple of turns, find a track to ride in for a couple of minutes…then try making a couple more of your own turns. Eventually your own lines will grow longer and you will be looking for tracks less and less. Also give yourself a break…mix in groomed runs with the ungroomed runs so that you don’t get too tired or discouraged…this will remind you that you do know how to ride, but like with anything new, you just need to practice.
Look for the snow on the sides of the trail where less people tend to go and you will probably have a smoother ride. Riding pow means having strong legs so if you are not in decent shape you will know it pretty quickly. Stay relaxed, let gravity take you through your turns- do not fight it. If you need to dump speed do it with small, quick, successive turns. Try not to plow through the snow, this will take a greater toll on your legs.
Once you get the hang of it, there’s no other feeling like snowboarding in powder. Even though I’m still learning, I have had those little tastes of surfy goodness that make me crave the next snowfall so I can get out there and practice.