SNOWMASS VILLAGE - The holidays are behind us, life has slowed down, and it is time to get back to what we do best: skiing.
Last year at this time, we had almost skied our 30 inches of snow to the dirt with no snow in sight. With the snowfall we received just before Christmas and the storms that dropped a little more before New Year's, the skiing is considerably better than a year ago.
We have had a couple of teaser powder days but haven't received the big one yet. We are patiently waiting for the day we can break out the wide bodies. There is nothing quite like floating through a foot or so of fresh, dry powder.
Modern ski technology has not only made carving easier to learn and master but the powder equipment today is absolutely awesome. Every skier should have a two-ski quiver, one for carving - all-around skiing - and a powder, off-piste ski. Powder skis are defined by the width under foot and the stiffness. Wide, softer with rocker and a short-turn radius is the right combo.
A few years back I was writing about 80-90 mm under foot as a wide ski. These days 80-90 mm is an everyday ski for many with the turn radius having been reduced by shape and a rocker tip. Today we are talking skis more than 120 mm under foot with turn radius of less than 20 meters, various degrees of rocker tip and tail, even skis with a bulbous shape sporting four dimensions. Honestly there are way too many choices (100s) for anyone to make an educated decision, so take the advice of your pro or local shop to help you come up with the right combination.
The dilemma is how wide, how much rocker and how long should you go. For most of our visitors who rent equipment, if you happen to be lucky enough to catch a dump while vacationing, trade the skis they gave you in for a pair of slightly rockered in the tip, camber under foot with at least 100 mm wide under foot. Length will vary depending on skier height and weight. You can go 5-10 cm longer depending on percent of rocker.
Forget the full rocker skis, you will not like them once the "pow" has been skied out and you're back on the groomers. Full rocker is great for the storm of the decade or heli-skiing deep snow every day but not for the average Joe. I have seen intermediate skiers on rockers tip and tail and full rocker (reverse camber) struggling when the only ski contact with snow is right under the boot. They looked like they were skiing on wine barrel staves.
For the local who most likely can have more than one pair, accompany a carving ski with a 105 mm or wider ski, with early rise in the cambered tip and turn radius less than 20 meters. That seems to be the tool of choice for the quiver.
With the introduction of wider formats and rocker technology skiing, the powder has been opened up to more riders, much to the chagrin of local powder hounds. Secret stashes will be protected even more so than in the past. Secret stashes might even become extinct inside the area boundaries. More and more people will be venturing into the unknown to catch a few thrills, and we unfortunately know what can sadly happen.
The safety aspects of powder skiing and where you choose to ski and ride are even more important than ever. With more people searching out the pow, turns will be harder to find, pushing riders to extremes to find a few turns. Risking your life is not worth it for a dozen turns.
Powder days and skiing untracked snow is what hardcore locals and savvy guests live for. Get up early and get out there, or you will be skiing crud. Have fun but have it safely, and please stay out of closed areas. Do not leave the area boundaries unless you are very familiar with terrain and the current conditions and avalanche danger is low. Do not ski alone; things happens to even the best skiers.
Shop small. See you next run.
Don Jewkes is a 36-year certified PSIA-RM level 3 Teaching Professional and local resident.