Last updated on February 23rd, 2021 at 11:02 am
So you’re planning to give powder skiing a try this season? Ask any downhill skier and they’ll tell you it’s one of the ultimate forms of skiing.
This challenging and exciting form of off-piste skiing is not for the faint of heart. It requires experience, skill, and quality skis.
Powder skis are the big boys in the downhill ski family. Designed to float on top of deep snow, these skis are wide, with widths ranging from 115-125 mm. You can also find powder skis with widths slightly outside of this range, including 100mm and over 130 mm.
While these skis can blast through fresh snow without a hitch, they’ll be slow-going on groomed slopes. Your style of skiing, location, and size will help you determine the best ski width for your needs. If you’re looking to get your hand on a new set of powder skis, here’s what you need to know.
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What Are Powder Skis?
Have you seen those epic photos and videos of skiers blasting through loose snow on the mountainside? Powder skis are what make this sport possible.
Powder skis are similar to most downhill skis. They require bindings, stable ski boots, and have an hourglass cut.
The main difference is powder skis have a wider waist. The waist width is the width of the narrow part of the ski beneath the boot. The ski waist can range from 105 mm to well over 130 mm.
When wide “fat” skis started becoming popular in the early 2000s, manufacturers began to get carried away with the widths. You could find some skis over 140 mm, which is a massive width for a ski.
It wasn’t until the last ten years that ski researchers found the human leg can control only so much width. While you can still find very wide skis, they’re rare and will be challenging to maneuver and turn.
A wider waist will keep the ski floating on top of deep loose powder snow. Skis with a narrower width are ideal for groomed, icy, and packed conditions.
What Are Powder Skis Used For?
These big mountain skis are for slashing through deep snow in the backcountry. They’re also a great solution to skiing in fresh snow when you’re hitting the slopes.
The only challenge with powder skis is the wider width will make them harder to maneuver. They’re often a little heavier than narrower skis and will be much slower on groomed trails.
That doesn’t mean you can’t use them outside of fresh loose snow. There are more conservative options designed to give you the flexibility to ride in loose snow one day and packed snow the next.
The first step is learning how to find the right-sized powder ski to fit your needs.
Finding the Right Powder Ski Size
Like with any ski, your size and intended use are the factors determining what sized powder ski will fit your needs. Choose a ski that’s too narrow, and you’ll sink through the loose snow and have a slower cold ride.
If the majority of your skiing will be on loose powdery snow, you’ll want to gravitate to skis with a wider waist width of 115 mm and greater. Wider skis will offer you the support and floatation needed to prevent you from sinking too far into the snow.
Conversely, if you’re planning to do a mix of powder and groomed trails, opt for a narrower ski, ranging from 105 to 115 mm. This will give you more maneuverability and keep you above loose snow.
You must also choose the proper ski length. Powder skis are longer than regular all-mountain skis, generally around 10 cm longer.
Powder skis typically measure size by weight rather than just height. Longer and wider powder skis will have more surface area which offers you more floatation. People who have a heavier weight will need longer skis compared to those who weigh less.
If you’re a more aggressive and experienced backcountry skier, you’ll also want to consider a longer ski. The added length will make sending it off the cliffs easier and your ride faster.
Where do you plan on doing the majority of your backcountry skiing?
The mountains and slopes to the east tend to be icy with only a few loose powder days. You may want to lean towards a narrower powder ski as it will offer more control when the conditions turn icy.
The Rocky and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges have a much drier type of snow. They also have more loose powder regularly. For these backcountry adventures, a wider ski will be a better option as it offers more floatation.
Remember, if you opt for a wider ski, you’re giving up maneuverability. If you’re powder skiing in the woods, a narrower ski will make dodging trees easier.
What’s Your Ski Style?
You’ll be sinking into the snow to some degree when powder skiing. That said, how deep is too deep?
Some avid backcountry skiers believe sinking in waist-deep snow is an important part of the powder skiing experience. They seek out cliffs and sketchy lines in the backcountry of the mountains. If you have some powder experience and want to send it, opt for wider longer skis.
Then some only enjoy the powder after a good snow. They’ll do a few runs in the fresh powder before returning to the softer groomed trails. For this style of skiing, a narrower ski in the 105 to 115 mm range will work just fine.
There’s a third type of powder skier in between the adrenaline-junky and the casual powder skier. This skier has experience cutting through the powder and avidly looks for it long after the snowstorms. They look often look for potential powdery trails that others often overlook.
If you fall in this third category, you’ll want a reliable ski that can keep up with your creative style. A powder ski with a width of around 120 mm is the perfect size for your skiing style.
Find the Perfect Powder Ski
Are you still planning on hitting the powdery mountain slopes this season? Using a great pair of powder skis with the right width for your style will make it the ultimate skiing experience. You’ll find the powdery backcountry to be your favorite style of skiing.
There’s still more to learn about finding the right ski gear for your skiing style. Check out our latest Ski Gear articles to learn more great tips!