Palmer Hoyt in Morningside at Steamboat Ski Area.

Larry Pierce/courtesy

Palmer Hoyt in Morningside at Steamboat Ski Area.

Steamboat Springs experts offer powder skiing and snowboarding advice

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Avalanche danger considerable

The avalanche danger for the Steamboat zone is considerable according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. The rating is for areas on, near or above treeline and on west, northwest, north, northeast, east and southeast aspects. In all other areas, the danger is moderate.

Considerable avalanche forecasts rank third on a scale of 1 to 5 with one being low and five being extreme.

In considerable avalanche conditions, people are encouraged to use cautious route selection and conservative decision making. In this category, natural avalanches are possible and human-triggered avalanches are likely.

— It was 18 years ago Thursday.

The conditions were ripe, and snow had blanketed Seattle.

Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Snowboard Director Jon Casson strapped on his snowboard and attacked powder for the first time.

It wasn’t Steamboat powder; it was dense, Northwest snow. Still, it was powder, and that first time in knee-deep snow is blithering ecstasy.

“That’s where I found the magic of snowboarding,” Casson said. “The first two turns I made in powder, I was like, ‘I want to keep doing this.’ When you get to that point, there is no feeling like it.”

Ah, powder. There certainly is nothing like Steamboat's Champagne powder. It’s what the ski industry markets its image around. It's when Ullr looks down and descends billowy white pillows, late risers press glass, grown men revert to their adolescence and indecipherable bro terms become acceptable speech.

There has been no shortage of powder days this month.

Steamboat Ski Area reported 15 inches in 24 hours Thursday afternoon with more on the way. With 82.5 inches of snow in December — Steamboat’s ninth-snowiest December on record — it officially is powder season.

But what to do? Longtime locals and experienced skiers and snowboarders know how to attack the powder. But what about newbies or those who might not be confident skiing powder?

Here are some tips from local experts about how to attack those white swells of goodness.

Tips for skiing

Follow the hands: When it comes to powder skiing, a lot of people think about weight balance. Another big thing is your hands. Keep them forward and high.

“A lot of people make a turn, and their hands get behind them,” said Jeremy Cota, a U.S. Freestyle moguls team member. “Keep your hands forward. It helps you keep your weight forward."

Vision: Pick a line and be aware of the terrain. Know what type of snow you’re skiing — whether it's light and fluffy or heavy and crusty. “There are bumps and rocks you might not see on a groomed run,” Cota said. “Keep your vision up and hands forward, and you’ll be fine.”

Ski with a buddy: It’s always important in powder to ski with a friend.

Speed is your friend: Don’t ski out of control, but a little speed in powder makes it easier to turn. “The faster you’re going, the easier time it is,” said David Lamb, a former U.S. Ski Team member. “More speed get tails in and the tips above the snow. It makes it a much easier time.”

Check your equipment: Make sure all the snow is off your boot and your bindings are set correctly. A ski lost in powder could be gone for the season.

Tips for snowboarding

Once you have a good stance and feel balanced on a snowboard, you are ready for powder.

Shift weight toward the back: Snowboards are natural in powder, but when riding, shift the weight toward the back foot, forcing the nose of the board up. “From there, let it rip and have fun,” Casson said. “That’s the best. The more you let the board do the work, the more weightless, effortless and free you feel.”

Don’t edge too hard: The key to carving in the powder is to stay light on the edges. “Use the base of the board to make turns,” said Maddy Schaffrick, a member of the U.S. women’s pro half-pipe team. “Stay on top of the board. If you lean too far on the edges, they will sink.”

Stay away from the flats: Snowboarding powder is great. Getting stuck is not. Schaffrick said to keep an eye on the terrain and make sure there is a slope to snowboard on, so people don’t have to unstrap and hike.

One for everyone

As Casson and most locals can attest, one key to skiing Steamboat powder has little to do with skis, snowboards, balance, weight distribution or terrain.

“In Steamboat, ride with your mouth closed,” Casson said. “You’ll choke on the snow.”

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com

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