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Dave Dubuque: Tips for those new to skiing in powder

By Dave Dubuque For The Spokesman-Review

Skiers in the Inland Northwest recently enjoyed their first real powder day, with local resorts receiving from 5 to 7 inches of our region’s trademark perfect snow on Christmas night.

Even more snow has been falling this week, creating perfect powder skiing conditions. If you’re newer to the sport and came up to see what all the fuss is about but found yourself feeling more worn out by the experience than exuberant, here are a few easy tips for finding your inner powder destroyer.

Don’t lean back. If you’re moving down a hill, backward is the shortest distance to the ground and, therefore, seemingly the best place to sit down if things get too crazy. When skiing powder, leaning back can also seem like the best way to keep your ski tips from diving into the snow.

These are both illusions.

Leaning back is a defensive way of skiing, and it’s actually more tiring and more dangerous than skiing from a centered or forward stance. In soft snow, leaning back locks the tails of your skis into a long arc that inevitably translates into more speed and less ability to turn or stop when you want to.

When you’re in the “back seat,” your quad muscles – which should be exerting most of their effort to absorb bumps in the terrain – now must pull double duty, holding your upper body up as you brace against your heels. And, as counterintuitive as it seems, taking a backward fall is generally much more dangerous than falling frontward, as backward twisting falls are the leading cause of tears to the anterior cruciate ligament of the knee.

You want to be on the offense. How do you do that?

It’s all about the ball of the foot. When you place your weight on the balls of your feet – specifically, the joint where your big toe meets the rest of your foot – you’re in a position to take charge of your skis. This takes a bit of faith in powder, and it may take a run or two to find your balance, but give it a chance.

Imagine that there are wheels located right under your toe, and that to steer those wheels, you lean them over with your knees. This will engage the shovels (front halves) of your skis, making them turn quickly and controllably.

It also lightens the tails of your skis, so that they can swing around easily, allowing you to control your speed. You might find your weight settling on your heel for a fraction of a second at the end of a turn, and that’s OK, but get back on the balls of your feet quickly.

It’s also all about your belly. If you’re new to skiing, you’re probably thinking too much about what your skis are doing. Think more about your belly.

It’s your center of gravity, and all it really wants to do is move down the fall-line (the line that a ball would roll down a hill) as quickly as possible. By keeping your belly pointed where it wants to go naturally, you’ll be able to link turns more easily.

Your core becomes a coiled spring, allowing you to pull your skis back down the hill and toward your next turn. If you let your belly point across the hill, you’ll end up shooting across the trail, forcing you to stop to make your next turn.

Put your weight on both skis. The softer the snow, the more important it becomes to weight both skis evenly. When you’re skiing in powder, you want to float in it, and an even weight distribution allows both of your skis to work together to keep you balanced as you float. Staying evenly weighted also helps keep your inside ski from getting a mind of its own and wandering off.

Look around for a decent set of powder skis. They don’t have to be the newest or the fanciest, but look for a pair of skis that is at least 100mm wide underfoot and features a bit of tip rocker (a tip that bends upward slightly). Skis with these traits plane to the top of the snow with ease.

Bring your enthusiasm. This is the most important tip of all. When you’re guided by an all-consuming lust for the untracked snow in front of you, you’ll find yourself naturally putting most of the advice mentioned above to work.

Head to your local mountain this week. If you haven’t checked the current conditions and forecast for this week, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Get up there and get some!

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