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Ski Tips: Powder daze

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PHOTO BY MIKE MCPHEE

Searching for the goods

Dan Egan EBS Contributor

One of my favorite things to do is to listen to the lift line chatter on a powder day. There is an energy level that swells as skiers and riders roll into the queue in anticipation of day ahead. The hardcore locals have the pole position in the front of the line, the die-hard guest are in the second wave near the front, the “wannabes” thought that 15 minutes to opening would be early enough and the vacationers who wander in at 9 are aghast at the length of the line.   

Here are a few helpful hints while searching for powder. 

Know your routes. I’m a big fan of repetition and ski the same routes over and over again. This pays off in many ways during and after storms. When you know and understand the terrain you are lapping it will also pay dividends and help you understand skier traffic and patterns of where fresh wind-blown snow and powder is deposited. 

PHOTO COURTESY OF WARREN MILLER FUTURE RETRO

Storm days are magic. These are the days you experience snow from overnight and potentially capture new snow during your day on the slopes, and if you have done your homework, you will be ripping a line you know well in poor visibility reaping the rewards of free refills along the way.  The other advantage to skiing during the storm is shorter lift lines—as the storm builds during the day, the crowd dissipates, leaving the dedicated few to arcing fresh turns till the “buzzer” goes off at 4 p.m.  

If there has been a storm overnight and the “powder frenzy” is in full gear as the day breaks, have a plan and stick to it. Don’t wait for others, stay focused on the basics: where you’ll park, what time you’ll enter the lift line—these days it’s an hour or so mandatory for front line access. Dress for the wait, make friends in line and most of all, listen to the chatter—you’ll glean a lot of intel on where to go and why.    

I have a few hard and fast rules: never leave good snow to find better snow, ski runs right off of the lift even if that means sacrificing vertical, and don’t go from one lift line to another. Remember while the cool kids are lining up for their dream black diamond run, you could be crushing pow in the trees, wide open trails and steep pitches holding deep powder pillows. 

The day after the storm is often my favorite. The frenzy has dulled a bit, the glades are still holding pockets of fresh and the mogul lines have filled in. However, the real magic for the “day after” the storm is locating where the wind transported the snow overnight. This is when your recon pays off—it could be the leeward side of a ridge, a vein of snow that develops in a gully or clearing in the woods. Knowing these stashes will dramatically expand your Powder To Turn, or PTT, ratio.

Now we turn to the calm after the storm, two or three days after the powder hounds have left, the parking lots have spare spots. The lift lines are back to normal, the sun is shining, there is time for a proper “cup of joe” in the lodge and the plan for the day is unfolding with a few close friends. Knowing the resort, the destination is the north by northeast, in search of cold dry snow left unaffected by sun and tracks.  

PHOTO BY JEN BENNETT

On these days, if you ride with purpose and understanding, that quality trumps quantity, you will be well rewarded for your efforts because the pitches still have pillows, the ruts are still soft, the bumps hold islands of snow and in the woods, soft snow awaits above clumps of trees or just below them.

As powder days are often far and few between these days, it is always nice to maximize the ones we have as while waiting on the ones to come.

Extreme Skiing Pioneer, Dan Egan coaches and teaches at Big Sky Resort during the winter.  His steep camps run Feb. 25-27, March 4-6 and March 11-13.  He is newest book, Thirty Years in a White Haze will be released in February, for pre-orders visit www.White-Haze.com  for autographed copies. 

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