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January 31, 2014
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Copper Mountain Resort ski instructor offers tips for taking deep powder turns

With the snow getting deeper by the hour the last few days, it might be time for a little crash course on carving turns in the thick stuff.

They might not admit it, but a lot of skiers out there find snow above the knees a little intimidating at times. And not without reason. Ask any ski patroller or slopeside clinician and they’ll likely tell you that they see more knee injuries the deeper the snow gets.

Earlier this season we talked to Vail Summit Orthopedics’ Dr. Rick Cunningham about ski injuries, and he said there is a clear parallel. “We can almost predict the type of injuries we will see with conditions. Harder-packed snow tends to cause more fractures, and deeper snow leads to more knee injuries.”

With that in mind, the Summit Daily spoke with longtime Colorado ski instructor Jonathan Lawson of Copper Mountain Resort to get some quick tips on handling powder.

First and foremost, it starts with getting out of the backseat — or not leaning back too much.

“People think leaning back in powder is the way to do it, like water skiing,” Lawson said. “They’re nervous that the tips are going to dive down.”

That’s not to say there aren’t times when you can lean back. If you find you’re about to hit a deeper section than the one you are on, Lawson said, it’s OK to put a little more pressure behind you. “With snow of uncertain depth, being back a little bit is not a bad thing.”

But generally speaking, people overdo it. It might go back to the days of straight skis, but today’s wider skis are designed to have more float.

Keeping out of the backseat also substantially reduces the risk of major injury. If a skier is leaning too far back, the amount of pressure on the joints and leg muscles is dramatically increased. Should a person fall in that position, he or she will be more susceptible to hyperextending joints.

Bad form can also lead to more rapid fatigue.

“If you’re skiing right, your bones are being used for support, and your muscles are being used to turn,” Lawson said. “If you’re not, if you’re leaning back, you’re supporting yourself with your muscles and you’ll fatigue quickly. Fatigued muscles lead to crashes. When you’re tired you’re more susceptible to injury.”

Generally, a skier should be on top of his or her skis with an athletic stance — meaning legs slightly bent and weight over the center of each ski. The skis shouldn’t have trouble in deep snow with the proper stance. If they do, it might be time for an upgrade to a more powder-friendly, wider and rockered pair.

Next, Lawson said, he often has to correct students on the difference between skiing a groomer and skiing in powder. The difference is in the amount of pressure applied to each ski while turning.

“You’re closer to even from foot-to-foot pressure,” he said of skiing in deep snow, “where as in carving (on a groomer) you might have 90 percent on your outside ski.”

The best example would be competitive downhill skiers. When they are charging down a hill, they put almost all of their pressure on the outside ski to really lay down an aggressive turn.

But in powder, Lawson said, “pushing on the outside leg, that ski sinks and the other one floats.” And the result: “you get spun around and crash.”

To correct that, skiers should apply pressure to each ski more gently when turning than they would on a groomer.

Lawson also suggested a narrower stance in powder to make shifting pressure less dramatic. And when you do feel a crash coming on, it’s usually best to go with it — assuming your not headed toward a tree or a cliff. Falling can be one of the best ways to prevent injury. It’s often in trying to recover that the skier ends up twisting or turning something in an unnatural direction.

Another tip Lawson suggested was that skiers shouldn’t be afraid to point their skis downhill more when the snow gets deep.

“You can take a more direct line down the mountain (in powder) than you normally would. With really round turns a skier slows down too much. Momentum is your friend in powder skiing.”

Think of a ski movie or a postcard showing a powder day. The lines weave in tight S shapes down the hill. It’s impossible to go as fast as on hard-packed snow, so a straight line down a steep hill can still be pretty safe.

While these tips may help, Lawson closed with what may be his most important lesson: “One of the biggest mistakes on a powder day is to ski groomers”

They might not admit it, but a lot of skiers out there find snow above the knees a little intimidating at times.


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The Summit Daily Updated Jan 31, 2014 09:29PM Published Feb 1, 2014 04:51PM Copyright 2014 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.