The secrets to skiing powder
If you haven’t seen the latest reports and footage coming back from Europe then you’ll be pleased to hear; it’s good news!
“Fantastic weather across the French Alps this week has provided good skiing and boarding all across the mountain, with clear skies and low temperatures allowing lots of lifts to open.
AUSTRIA Clear skies for the first part of the week afforded excellent visibility across Austrian resorts during the busy half term week. A dusting of the white stuff fell on Wednesday 20th February, with some snowy clouds still looming on Thursday 21st February. The fresh snow fall, together with low temperatures in all areas have left excellent snow conditions from mountain tops to valley bottoms.”
Also the guys at wepowder.com are stating there’s a great coverage of powder to be found throughout the European alps.
So now is a good time to consider what makes a ski suitable for deeper snow and how it can help you ski with ease and enjoyment!
Powder skiing and venturing off the pistes is all the rage at the moment with in-bounds safety at it’s peak, here’s a quick explanation of the characteristics that make a ski more suited (and easier) for heading off the sides and into the deeper snow:
Ski waist width - Almost all skis have some form and depth of arc running down it’s edge. A common term for this is a skis sidecut. Traditionally we measure this arc at the widest point of the tip, narrowest point of the waist and widest point of the tail. When deciding whether a ski is piste, all-mountain or off-piste orientated we tend to focus initially on the middle measurement of the sidecut. The wider the ski the more it will resist sinking down into fresher and softer snow we find in off-piste conditions; generally termed ‘floatation’.
Those who want to ski on piste most the time but have a reasonable amount of float in soft snow should look for skis around the 80mm mark. Skiing on piste as much as you ski off we recommend a waist approaching 90mm wide. If skiing in the deepest snow you can find is your aim then look no narrower than 95mm! Of course this is all down to personal preference and you can always demo a ski indoors to see if it responds nicely on harder snow/piste conditions.
Ski camber shape - Camber is the shape of the ski from a side view. Traditionally skis would sit proud of the snow at it’s waist with the tip and tail touching down. This meant that when you stood on the ski the tension in the camber would push down on the tip and tail creating a balanced amount of grip along the whole edge, not just directly under the foot.
When skiing off piste in softer snow what we actually need is almost the opposite of traditional camber with the ski actually resembling a surfboard effect. As we ski in deeper and deeper snow the ski edges no longer dig into a hard layer and we are essentially floating on the skis width. By shaping a ski in this surfboard style the ski becomes more manoeuvrable and easier to handle.
It’s worth noting that rather than just having the two extremes (traditional and a reverse camber), some skis use a combination of both. We still call the bow like shape underfoot traditional camber but any extra bend to the ski other than the actual rounded shovel is termed ‘Rocker’. This can just be found at the tip or it can be partnered also on the tail. More rocker and less traditional camber underfoot suggest the ski is better suited for deeper off-piste snow.
Staying safe on the piste sides
Avalanche safety is absolutely paramount the further you venture from the pistes, even when skiing within ski areas ignorance to the risks can have dire consequences.
Taking an avalanche course and using a local guide are sensible steps to take which will significantly lower the risk of being caught up in a slide, so will using common sense and listening to the information available in resort and online.
The following are the key safety equipment which you’ll need to either buy or rent if you’re serious about skiing off piste:
Transceiver - Probably the most crucial piece of kit when skiing off piste, handheld transceivers provide a means of both locating and being located should you or any of your group be caught in an avalanche.
Shovel - Some views on avalanche safety state that rescuing avalanche victims is only possible with a shovel (as opposed to victim recovery). The length of time to dig down into the settled snow can be dramatically reduced by one or more members carrying a shovel.
Probe - A probe is required for the fastest possible pin-point locating of an avalanche victim. This may not seem to important given the technology of the transceivers but it has been proven to halve the time it takes to rescue an avalanche victim.
Avalung - Although there is plenty of oxygen in the snow pack many victims will suffocate before they are rescued. This is principally down to their air supply becoming contaminated with CO2 from their own exhaled air. Either that or snow that has been melted by the victims breath refreezes around their mouth forming an impermeable ice-mask. The Avalung takes in oxygen from the front of the system and then expels the CO2 breathed out through the back. This ensures you get a steady supply of uncontaminated air and significantly improves chances of survival if buried in a slide.
ABS Backpack - When activated by the user the ABS system utilises compressed CO2 to inflate two integrated 85 litre airbags that keep the user on the surface of the avalanche and speeds up rescue due to their visibility. With a 95% success rate in real-world situations the ABS system is proven to significantly increase your safety margin in the backcountry.