Top tips for riding powder on a snowboard

As we’ve moved more off-piste in our winter camps over the last few years it has been interesting to work with riders to improve their powder riding. A number of factors come into play when you’re in powder and your success can come down as much to tactics as your riding ability. Here are a few tips to help you unleash some god like powder skills.

1 — Open vs closed turns

Big open turns — Hintertux

Big open turns — Hintertux

A lot of first time powder riders will treat the experience very similar to piste riding, in that they will complete a turn and then end it with a sideslip to control speed. This is commonly referred to as a closed turn that’s skidded. Its very ‘C’ shaped. This will kill your speed and flow and generally result in a toe or heel edge catch and you sink into the snow, unless you’re on steep terrain or you’re planning to come to a stop on a patch of suitable terrain. You really want your turn shape to look a little more like the picture on the left.

This is called an open turn. It will allow you to maintain speed and flow. If you feel you’re carrying too much speed, plan to use your turn shape to slow you down rather than going into a traditional side slip. For instance I might go a little more across the hill on one turn to slow me down naturally without killing the flow of the turn. Have a look at the powder line on the right of the picture (above). Just before the ended the run I made more of a traverse to help kill some speed. You can notice how much more snow I threw up. That powder slash at the end of the turn was also used to reduce speed by increasing the pressure against the snow. Its like speed checking in powder.

Open turn shape. Notice where edge change occurs and where snow is pushed — Hintertux

Open turn shape. Notice where edge change occurs and where snow is pushed — Hintertux

2 — Where and when to stop

This is really important. You’ll want to plan ahead and decide on a suitable place to stop. That stopping point should be a place from which you could continue to easily ride away from. That means not in the bottom of a flat section of powder, or in a bowl. You’ll want to come to rest on a small rise, or just before a small drop. A place that you can check out the next section of powder to plan your route.

The crew stopping at a point from which they can still ride out of the bowl — Mayrhofen

The crew stopping at a point from which they can still ride out of the bowl — Mayrhofen

Sometimes you may not make it to your planned destination as you may not have gone fast enough, or there is something unexpected in the way. If so, try and quickly look for an alternative stopping point that still allows an easy ride away.

The crew checking where to go next — Hintertux

The crew checking where to go next — Hintertux

3 — Speed

A lot of people will take it cautiously in powder. It’s a new experience, it’s out of bounds and the consequences of mistakes are far higher. That generally results in riders taking it easy, wanting to turn more and keeping the overall speed down. That can be a recipe for a lot of falls and some serious energy zapping times as you try and dig yourself out.

Stephen getting a powder cuddle — Mayrhofen

Stephen getting a powder cuddle — Mayrhofen

Plan your route down the slope and as mentioned pick a point for stopping. Be confident and attack the snow. You can take some epic fails in powder and get away with it, way more than you could in the park or the piste. Plus they look totally awesome.

Epic bail — Mayrhofen

Epic bail — Mayrhofen

4 — What type of turn can help

Think of riding powder like surfing waves. The board should ideally flow underneath you. I’m not going to get too technical as tons of people will have tons of opinions on it. I know for myself I use a predominately cross under/cross through turn. This is where the board moves more underneath my body and I limit the amount of rising in my body to assist in changing edge. My aim is to change edge close to the start of the ‘C’ or ‘(‘ shape of a turn, so I can hold an edge through the arc of the turn. You can see this in the picture below. Tom is just about the change edge. You can also notice the timing in the ‘open turn shape’ picture above.

Tom prepares to change edge across the fall line — Mayrhofen

Tom prepares to change edge across the fall line — Mayrhofen

I progressively push down with my back leg building pressure against the snow (trying not to fully extend my back leg), then I release that pressure by sucking my legs back under me as I change edge for the next turn. You can try bringing this type of turn into your riding by aiming to throw snow across the slope, rather than just down the slope in a traditional skidded turn. See the picture below for a typical powder spray.

Rich pushing snow out to the side of the turn — Hintertux

Rich pushing snow out to the side of the turn — Hintertux

This type of turn will require some work on subtle peddling (twisting) your board, so you do not need to rise much.

5 — Don’t lean back too much

A lot of riders think they need to lean back loads to get float in the powder. This combined with slow speed is a recipe for a burning back leg and a painful riding session. A decent amount of speed will mean you won’t have to lean back as much and you’ll get a natural float.

Judy showing us you do not need to lean back loads to ride powder — Mayrhofen

Judy showing us you do not need to lean back loads to ride powder — Mayrhofen

Your weight should only be around 65% towards the tail. But be prepared to adjust your weight both fore and aft (nose and tail) as the terrain changes and to save yourself if you’re getting sucked into the powder.

May riding strongly with only a slight bias to the back foot — Hintertux

May riding strongly with only a slight bias to the back foot — Hintertux

If you’d like to improve your off piste riding further why not join us on one of our winter snowboard camps in Mayrhofen, Austria. Visit us for more information.