It's Deep--and It's Definitely Playable

The Downhill Report, December 1996

It's Deep--and It's Definitely Playable

There's a fine line between floating and floundering. Now you can cross it for once and for all.
By Michael Finkel

Powder skiing, like healing crystals and the defensive line of the 1977 Minnesota Vikings, incites normally rational types to dreamy, highly metaphysical praise. Witness extreme-skiing diva Kristen Ulmer: "Skiing powder is life's most exquisite passion." OK...

Even so, skiing well in powder is better than thrashing around in it, so we talked Ulmer down long enough to glean the following nuggets of technique. Ulmer, who lives in northern Utah's snow-blessed Wasatch Range--where she notches about 50 powder days each season--advocates three essential skills.

Necessary skill one: stance. "All neophyte powder skiers tell me the same thing," she says. "'I heard if you lean back and wiggle your hips, it's easier to ski powder.' Wrong! That's a good way to eat powder. Never lean back--you give up all control and your skis go spastic." Instead, the ideal powder stance, she says, is compact, with weight slightly forward and legs close together. The skis then create a broad, idiotproof surface that will remain buoyant even in the deepest fluff.

Skill two: proper weighting and unweighting of the skis. Unlike hardpack skiing's traditional left-right action, deep, champagne powder requires an up-and-down motion that's a distant relative of the breaststroke in swimming. Think of Amanda Beard bobbing through an Olympic-size pool. Now add ski boots. To rise through the powder, your hands should drive forward while you press your toes upward against your boots, to keep your tips up. Then release the tension and plunge in again.

And finally, skill three: rhythm. "A long powder ride should induce a trancelike feel," Ulmer says. "It should be soothing, effortless, metronomic. If you get to the bottom and feel like you've been through a blender, well, you did it wrong."

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