Powder day tips for novice skiers in Steamboat
What if the steep and deep isn’t for you?
February 25, 2012
Powder day tips
■ Follow proper skiing form: weight even on both skis, feet apart, knees bent. Combine that with smooth turns.
■ Stick to the side of runs to avoid the chopped up snow in the center and to use the trees to provide depth perception on a low-light day.
■ The Tomahawk area isn’t as steep and can make a sweet destination for inexperienced powder skiers.
■ Recently logged terrain at the bottom of the mountain, especially near Swinger, can be perfect for novices and children.
Whatever you do, don't say it loudly, not here in Ski Town USA. Definitely don't say it in front of anyone with a beard thick enough to attract icicles.
For some people, powder skiing is not fun.
A mother and daughter from New York sat down heavily early Tuesday afternoon, happy to have found a spot in a crowded Thunderhead cafeteria and to have a break from skiing.
"It was tough out there," the mother said.
It was the day after The Day — Monday's 27 inches — but with nearly another foot of fresh snow on top of that, it still was one to remember. She glanced outside the window, where the snow was coming down as though someone were shoveling it off the roof, and she sighed.
"I sure hope tomorrow's better," she said.
The skiing on Monday and Tuesday was so astounding that some locals surely still are bragging to friends on Facebook. For beginner and many intermediate skiers, though, the ski area's 4 feet of snow in three days was a departure from the groomed runs they know and can handle.
Those days don't have to be a waste for the non-expert skier, however. By following a few tips and picking the right terrain, a powder day can be sweet for everyone.
How to ski it
The key to good skiing on a powder day is the same no matter a skier's ability.
"The way you do it is to ski like a racer," said Billy Kidd, perhaps Steamboat's most famous powder hound.
"You keep your feet apart, knees bent to go over the bumps, hands out to keep your balance," Kidd said. "You make round smooth turns, never sharp turns. If you make a round, smooth turn, you slice right through the powder, but if you try to make a sharp turn, like beginners do, the skis won't skid sideways, and you'll end upside down."
Kidd long has led a free 1 p.m. intermediate clinic at Steamboat Ski Area, and between hearty handshakes and tales of Olympic glory, he mixes condition-specific tips during a run from the top of the gondola down Heavenly Daze.
Textbook technique will help in low-visibility situations, common to powder days, Kidd said, explaining that the balance on both skis, feet wide, knees apart and wide-turn attack will be able to cut through icy patches and piles of powder.
"Beginners hate the difference in snow texture because they're skidding sideways all the time," Kidd said. "Make a round, smooth turn, hit a bump, use your knees like shock absorbers, and with your hands out, you'll keep balanced.
"You shouldn't have one technique for the steep, one for the powder, one for your blue runs. Have one way to ski."
Another tip for difficult conditions: Stick to the edges of the runs. Because the snow there often hasn't been skied as much, moguls don't develop. Also, the trees on the edge of the run can help add depth on a flat-light day.
Where to ski it
Expert locals rush for the top of the mountain and to the steep and treed terrain that goes from fun on a normal day to exhilarating on a powder day.
That's off limits to beginner and most intermediate skiers, however. To many, deep powder can act as a natural brake, but instructors said overly difficult terrain can destroy a day of skiing faster than a rainstorm.
"If they're used to blue-blacks, take them on easy blues so they're under-terrained," ski area instructor Mike Contois said. "They will start to enjoy it and get in turns while getting the sensation of standing on both skis."
So, where to go? Contois pointed to the intermediate havens accessed from the Sundown and Sunshine chairlifts. Tomahawk, for instance, is a popular blue run in the area, and several potentially sweet but easy powder day runs branch from it. Cub, Pup, Buckshot, Ramrod and Baby Powder all offer enough steepness to maintain momentum and the snow-holding capacity to elicit a "wahoo!"
Longtime instructor Nancy Gray, meanwhile, said some terrain opened up by the recent clearing of beetle-killed trees can be perfect.
She said the area between Vagabond and Surprise on the lower portion of the mountain is awesome on powder days, as are the areas around Swinger, near the bottom of the mountain and just above the base of the Thunderhead Express chairlift.
"All of those areas that are cleaned out, they're a little less steep, and they're super fun," she said.
Contois emphasized that people should take breaks and should take their time. A blue run that was sweet and fast yesterday doesn't have to be miserable just because it's now littered with push piles and the afternoon's remnants of the morning's ecstasy.
"Make a challenge like that fun instead of letting it be frustrating," he said. "When you get down to it, we're just all out there sliding down a mountain. This is supposed to be fun."
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com
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