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Ski guiding in Meribel France with British ski instructors
Ski guiding in Meribel France with British ski instructors
Ski guiding in Meribel France with British ski instructors
Ski guiding in Meribel France with British ski instructors

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Coping With Powder Snow Conditions

Posted on
February 4, 2016
Coping With Powder Snow Conditions

Hi everybody, Martin from Méribel here, your favourite blogging ski instructor! I reckon it's time for another article on how to improve your skiing. Before I start this article, let me say that any standard of skier can benefit from reading it. Although the photos show people skiing the powder, beginners and intermediates will still be able to relate to the content. At the beginning of last month I wrote an article titled 'Coping With Poor Snow Conditions', click here for the link. Thankfully, since then the snow conditions have improved significantly. To the point where I have been lucky enough to deliver several ski lessons in powder, and have also photographed fellow ESF colleagues. It was a privilege to ski with them; they at the time were being filmed (videoed) for a future marketing campaign. Some of the instructors were in uniform, others were dressed as holidaymakers. See photo above and below.

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Doesn't the snow look gorgeous, and the skiers look pretty amazing as well. So how do most other skiers on the mountain deal with deep powder snow? Before I answer this burning question, I must point out that realistically it isn't often we get the opportunity to ski on (in) this type of snow. One would argue that we have limited time in order to practise the technique for powder skiing. True. Or is it?

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Remember last month's article, when discussing how to deal with poor snow conditions, I came out with the phrase 'separate the wheat from the chaff'? I really hope this doesn't sound negative in any way, or even patronising, I'd rather not be on the receiving end of any online 'haters' out there. However, being able to ski off-piste competently really is a few levels above those who are on the 'intermediate plateau'. Again, I hope this doesn't sound negative. Sound technical skills are required in the powder. This is great news for those skiers that have this foundation to start with on the piste.

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In a nutshell, our balance is being tested more in the deeper snow. This is because there is a lot of resistance between the thick, deep fluffy snow and our skis and lower legs. This extra resistance will in turn test whether we are balanced correctly. Ah, there is that word again that's been written about at length in previous blog posts - balance. To an extent, if we are slightly out of balance skiing on a piste, we can get away with it. If we have that same 'area of improvement', ie weakness in balance, off-piste then .........

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There will only be one outcome, normally ending with a soft landing. Any 'areas of improvement' with our balance will become more exaggerated in the powder snow. Our neutral stance, ie how we stand over our skis, will have an important impact on our balance. If our stance is stacked and aligned, then we will have a much better success rate at staying balanced. If our neutral stance is slightly out, the risk of losing balance increases significantly.

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Some skiers tell me they find it very difficult to turn their skis in powder, ie change direction. In certain snow types it can be challenging indeed, especially if the snow has been affected by temperature and/or wind. Quite often the main factor making it hard to turn in the powder is due to the skier's stance and balance. There are different ways of steering our skis in powder, but I think for the moment I'll move on from this subject otherwise the article will get super theoretical. Instead, how about I share some different information with you. I'm very aware that it is important for me to try and find out what is going on in my client's mind. Someone who I have skied with regulalry over the few years is Judy. In fact I first met Judy whilst running an 'introduction to skiing off-piste' course. We skied together a couple of weeks ago, and I asked her what was going on in her mind at the start our first day.

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"I was stood at the top of the first pitch, and was really worried that I wouldn't be able to turn. I hadn't skied in snow this deep for a number of years. I ended up trying very hard to force the turn, which resulted in falling over. I over analysed everything in mind, and became really cross with myself. Then after a couple more falls I got so exhausted."

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Isn't that interesting? So far during this article I've mainly spoken about technical areas; ie our neutral stance, balance and steering and how our performance is affected when off-piste. And yet, most of what Judy described above is psychological, and completely understandable. Her psychological state dominated her performance, mainly due to lack of time skiing in deep powder snow. However, Judy did continue to say in the same conversation - "But then the second day we skied off-piste, my technique felt much better, which in turn helped give me more confidence."

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I think that confirms what we all suspect, more time spent in these conditions helps with confidence. But, only up to a certain point. Because don't forget, if we have 'areas of improvement' on piste, we will still struggle in the deep powder no matter how much time we spend in the stuff. Chris, who is Judy's fiancé, is a very balanced skier, and has been lucky enough to have had lots of practice skiing in powder over the years. The perfect blend, and here is the result.

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Doesn't he look great? By the way, I'd like to thank Judy for being open and sharing her thoughts with us. This also brings me back to when I skied with my ESF colleagues recently. One observation I made was how relaxed and at one they were with the powder snow and the mountain. The terrrain we were skiing in wasn't hardcore and bonkers like the freeriding videos we are sometimes exposed to. But even so it was far away from pistes and lifts. The mixture of their skills, and experience, really showed as they floated down the mountain.

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So how can we improve our chances of skiing well in powder snow? Granted, we can only control the controllables with the weather and snow conditions. We have to wait, have patience, and take our luck when the fresh snow arrives. However, I believe it is important to double check our skills when skiing on piste. Have a trained eye take a look at how you stand on your skis, check that your neutral stance and balance is serving you proud. Fine tuning our stance and balance can give us so many benefits. It is whilst skiing on piste that we can make these improvements, which in turn will help accelerate our enjoyment when we do get to ski in the fluffy stuff. And what a buzz it is, the skiers dream.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article taken from my experiences on the mountain recently both with clients and colleagues. If you haven't had the chance to read a previous post about ski technique, click here for the link to catch up. If you are coming out to the Alps over the school holiday period, it looks as though the snow conditions will be very good for you. Quite a lot of fresh snow is forecast over the next week or so, with lower temperatures again. Perfect timing. Feel free to share away on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn by using the social media icons. You can also leave a comment below, it's simple to do. Have a great week everyone. Martin.

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