Here in the northeast US the mountains don’t gain enormous elevations so there’s less snowfall. Plus, the moisture from the Atlantic Ocean tends to keep things on the wet side, so the snow gets packed down really fast. But in any given winter we can see numerous storm cycles come through and they produce some of the best riding conditions…. if you know how to ride powder. Here are some things to think about on your first powder day.
Gear: Breathability and Sealing Out Snow
As you learn to ride powder you’ll be working hard in the deep snow to keep your nose up, and maintain your speed, as they go hand in hand. So you don’t want to overdress or you’ll baking to death in that 100 gram insulated puffy. Get a jacket that you can layer under and open the pit zips to dump heat.
Snow gets everywhere and especially down your pants, so hook up that powder skirt and if possible attach it to the belt loops on your pants. Many apparel companies use snap or zipper systems that keep your top and bottom working as one piece. The best option is to be wearing bib pants!
Also get a balaclava or neck gaiter that you can pull up. If there is a lot of snow, and it’s light and fluffy, it will fly up into your face and you’ll end up choking on it. You may not even notice it due the pure elation of riding pow, but covering your face will prevent that from happening.
Boards: directional taper and rocker
There’s riding 5 inches of powder and then there’s riding a foot or more. Snowboards are made for intended styles of riding and conditions. Boards that ride powder will have a directional and tapered shape where the nose is longer and wider than the tail. This allows the tail to sink more easily and that keeps the nose up with you not having to over exert yourself. This is called “float” and boards that work well in powder all have some aspect of float.
Another way powder boards get float is by incorporating some form of rocker or uplift in the nose. The design forces the snow under board so that it rides on top instead of dipping down below the surface. Rocker boards also turn more easily and are quicker from edge to edge than heavily cambered boards that offer better edge hold. Edge hold is not an issue in powder because the snow is so soft and easy to carve into, so the rocker makes riding in powder a lot more fun when you’re just starting out.
Powder riding is a blast but you need to continually pay attention to the fall line and your speed. When the snow is packed down and hard you can usually make it to any point on the mountain as long as you have a little down slope in front of you. But in powder, you need a lot steepness to generate enough momentum to get you through the flat areas.
Powder slows you down so pay attention to where you plan on going and look for the steepest sections of the slope to carry you through if the trail flattens out toward the bottom. Trudging through deep snow on foot (known as post holing) is slow going and exhausting.
Also, standing back up after falling down in deep powder can be quite the challenge. Sort of like swimming in quicksand. Sometimes it’s easier to flop over onto your belly and try to push yourself back up using your hands and arms. Beware this is not a foolproof strategy. It may require some trial and error to get your method down.
Take these tips with you on your first powder day. Remember to pay attention to ski area boundary markings if you are riding in the trees, and always ride with friends. It’s great to have your buds around to help you out if the going gets rough. Most of all enjoy!