Compared to decades past, the pistes we ski nowadays are better prepared and maintained impeccably to make skiing easier. However, the mountains are the mountains, and inclement weather, snowfalls and all that brings make up part of an alpine winter season. We know that skiing in choppy conditions is what catches out a large portion of skiers. Good grooming does very little on the days and nights when the snow gods choose to throw down a metre of fresh snow. And whilst this is a powder skier’s dream, it also means that the piste becomes a bumpy and challenging affair for the rest of us.
So how do you do it? How do you make the leap from feeling comfortable on groomed piste, to feeling confident in how to ski in choppy conditions? Good question! Although you need to good piste technique as a base, building skills in unpredictable conditions takes a bit of mileage and perseverance.
How to Ski in Choppy Conditions
10 Tips to Tackle Challenging Snow
1. Keep moving and fighting for your rhythm
With less surety underfoot, you’ll probably make mistakes but movement and rhythm gets you out of those mistakes quick. Freezing and inactivity often leaves you to dwell on the mistake just made making a disjointed and mechanical descent.
2. Unless the slope is very steep, avoid making sharp V shaped turns
Think about a C shape rather than a V shape on the snow so that your tails always follow your tips and your skis run through the snow. Sharp V shaped turns are often a sign of a defensive skier and result in a clunky, laboured descent.
3. Look ahead & aim for your next turn
Tactics are everything. Particularly if the piste is bumping up, look ahead and aim for a target of where your next turn will be executed. It’s very much a case of forgetting the turn that you are currently doing – that’s old news! You should be skiing the next turn in your head before it arrives.
4. Use wide skis if the snow is choppy and fresh
More float is your friend and don’t underestimate the difference different skis can make. If deeper choppy snow is your enemy, then a ski with a wider waist will be your greatest ally.
5. If you are really stuck, then you can opt for ‘mountaineers turns’
(although this a bit of a slight to mountaineers)
When the snow is really sludgy or difficult a ‘step turn’ – literally lifting a ski up in the air and placing it into the snow to start the new turn – will often be an effective but not very elegant solution. If you value elegance then keeping a disciplined and neat parallel stance should do it.
6. Rehearse the action in your head
Try and record the sensations you feel when it is going well and pick a fixed point down the hill where you are going to ski to. Pick a number of turns – for instance, ten – and then try and make those sensations come to life.
7. Slow down the action
In difficult snow, having the ski running is a great advantage to avoid turning too quickly and sharply. Try and avoid getting your skis to the end of the turn in a flash. Rather, try and favour slowing the action down so that the skis reach the end of the turn quickly but not in a forced way.
8. Be positive, decisive and avoid hesitancy
Either the snow will bully you or you will bully the snow. Go for the latter and show it who is boss!
9. Pole plant
Pole planting sometimes seems like window dressing when skiing on the piste, the rhythm, balance and timing that it can give you makes you realise why using the pole is a necessity of skiing. Particularly when what you feel underfoot is a little unpredictable. How to pole plant well.
10. Spend some time in these conditions
It won’t happen overnight. Part of the process is familiarisation with the conditions and the sensations so logically avoiding it at all costs won’t help. Get yourself in there even if it’s only for a run and try and approach the challenge positively – it is something can be overcome.