Powder skiing is an extremely popular form of the sport. The whole idea of powder skiing is to find snow that has not been disturbed by other skiers, wind or anything else that would pack it down. Whether it is at a ski resort or in the backcountry this highly sought after form of snow has made powder skiing a multi-million dollar industry.
Powder snow is deposited in a thick layer during a snowstorm or a blizzard. The wind, temperature and humidity all have an effect on the quality of the snow deposited. Generally the cooler the temperature, the dryer the snow and the better it is for skiing. Snow that is deposited at temperatures below -15 is often referred to as cold smoke, since it blows up in the air like smoke as a skier goes through it.
Powder skiing is practiced in both the treed areas and in the open alpine. It really depends on the day to determine where it is best to ski. During a storm when the light is low it is best to stay in the trees since it is the only place where you will be able to see. Going into the alpine on a snowy day is light standing inside a ping pong ball, nothing but white light. When the sky is clear and blue then it is time to venture into the alpine and enjoy the wide open slopes and bowls.
Powder skiing can occur anywhere there is snow covered mountains and access to them. In North America powder skiing occurs across the continent. The interior of British Columbia is world famous for its fantastic powder snow skiing. There are dozens of tour operators that provide nothing but powder skiing to select groups of clients.
Around the world there are many famous resorts where one can get more then their share of powder skiing. The Alps, Andes, Himalayas and many other mountains ranges hold the ideal terrain and conditions for unbelievable powder snow. Many countries throughout the world have recognized the potential of their winter terrain and have developed some of the areas to drive winter tourism.
For the hardcore dedicated skier the ultimate in powder skiing is helicopter or snowcat skiing. For those with a deep pocket they can pay several thousand dollars to stay at a backcountry lodge where they are generally part of a very small group, with guides that lead them through the mountains to find the best of the powder snow. Western Canada is the birth place of this type of adventure. Skiers are either flown from run to run by helicopter or driven by snowcat, either way each run is in undisturbed, virgin powder. The big draw to this type of skiing is the exclusivity. There are less then 40 people in a mountain wilderness many times larger then most ski resorts.
When skiing at a public resort the powder snow is often limited to the morning right after a storm. When the lifts open for the day there is a huge line of eager skiers waiting to turn it into packed moguls. Unless there is a prolonged storm the powder is often gone within a couple of hours of the lifts opening.
There are some higher risks associated with skiing in the powder. The main threat is avalanches. As the snow falls during each storm it forms layers. If the bond between two layers is weak the upper layer slides off the lower one. This can have catastrophic effects as some of these layers are many meters thick releasing 1000's of tons of snow. Trains, bridges and entire villages have been destroyed by avalanches. Any professional tour company will have certified guides leading their group to help reduce the risk from avalanches.
Powder skiing is a strenuous activity. The deep snow can make getting around much more difficult. Any skier who wants to learn how to powder ski should take a lesson or two so they can fully understand the basic techniques. Powder skiing is really very simple and quite effortless once you understand why the techniques work. Once you have been bitten by the powder skiing bug there is no going back. It becomes a feeling that is deeply routed in the mind of any powder skier.