How to ski in powder, compact, slush or groomed snow

“Do you think about how you turn?” asked Ray, my British ski instructor. We were halfway through our warm up run on Cahilty and 5 Mile, one of the most popular green runs in Sun Peaks Resort.

Honestly, I don’t think too much about the mechanics of skiing anymore while going down 5 Mile. And I don’t think mine is an unusual case. After you’ve done it for what seems like a million times, it’s not unusual for people to just glide down 5 Mile without even thinking about what they’re doing.
But put me on top of an intermediate run, like Cruiser, and my answer will be a resounding “Yes”.

It turns out that not thinking about what I’m doing, even on a green run, isn’t a good habit when skiing.

“We become lazy,” said Ray, pointing out that even good skiers do fall on 5 Mile simply because they become careless. Not only that, skiers could be missing out on a perfect place to master a technique by taking green runs for granted. Green runs are great for practising new skills because one doesn’t have to worry about steep terrain and can just concentrate on nailing the technique first before heading out to more advanced runs.

So Ray used this opportunity for me to revisit the technique I’d call “pedal and waltz”.

“Skiing is like riding a bicycle,” he explained. “When you want to turn, you push down on one pedal and slowly ease off on the other. This also means that the leg doing the pushing will extend slightly as the other bends a bit.”
The waltz part becomes handy in keeping a consistent rhythm going. By playing an internal metronome similar to the three-quarters beat of a waltz, you can easily keep track of your speed and frequency of turns while skiing.

With these techniques down pat, we detoured through Burfield Outrun to avoid the slushy snow at the bottom of the 5 Mile, and then proceeded down the lower part of Broadway. On a regular ski day, I would’ve made it down that run in a cinch, but this wasn’t a regular ski day. Spring always brings with it irregular weather, and today, that meant skiing through variable ski conditions. As a result, this particular bit of Broadway may look pristine on the surface, but had the consistency of wet sand when I tried to ski on it.

Our next run was Cruiser. Ray said I’d be skiing from one extreme to another today and he was right. At the top of Cruiser, we enjoyed plenty of fresh dry powder with groomed but compacted snow underneath. Closer to the bottom of the run, the snow started to feel progressively sticky. In some ways, it felt like learning how to ski again because I really had to concentrate on controlling both skis and keeping them from sliding in opposite directions.

Surprisingly, being able to ski in unusual conditions relies in the same mechanics that different ski instructors have taught me all along. The trick is simply to keep the legs active, adjust the turn shapes to maintain speed and keep the skis together especially in powder or sticky snow.

What this experience taught me is the importance of knowing how to adapt to changing ski conditions. Skiing at Sun Peaks where the snow is usually pristine and powder days are more the norm than the exception, I think I’ve been spoiled. But to be a really good skier means learning to ski in any type of snow, so I worked on achieving that today. Who knows, soon I’ll be able to compete in the Top to Bottom’s race? For now, I’m glad that with my ski instructor’s help, I managed to ski well in more challenging conditions.

To book your ski lesson, contact Sport School at 250-578-5505.

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