(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)
Powder snow is one of several types of snow that skiers will come across on various mountains and in different atmospheric conditions. It is relatively soft, untouched, newly fallen snow. Powder snow can be heavier in coastal and high humidity areas. Lighter, drier powder snow, such as the snow that can often be found in America’s Rocky Mountains and in Japan, is preferred by skiers.
There are several reasons skiers prefer this type of snow to other types such as crud, crust, corn, slush and ice. Its smooth surface gives a feeling of floating and weightlessness that comes from gliding effortlessly over the snow. Chopped powder snow, where previous skiers have carved tracks through the snow, will not allow the same smooth ride. Packed powder, probably the most common type of snow in skiing areas, gives a reasonably smooth ride, but the sensation of floating won’t quite be there.
Worse still is crud snow. This results when many skiers have already passed through the snow, churning it up and creating tracks, divots, and wet, slippery patches. This snow type is difficult for most skiers and is mastered only by the more experienced skier. It is harder to ski on. Knees have to be kept well bent and a slower skiing speed is required. A skier is more likely to fall and must be constantly alert rather than just gliding along carefree.
A smooth ride is possible with crust snow but the soft, easy ride is missing. Sometimes the crust that forms over the top of softer snow breaks. Here, a skier can ski through the crust but the ride is often bumpy as the crust might vary in thickness or break in certain spots but not in others. Uncertainty is created in the skier’s mind if they don’t know whether the crust will take their weight.
Manoeuvring in powder snow is easier than in other types of snow. Skiers can turn, slow down, and stop more easily in powder snow. A skier tends to dig into the snow when turning, resulting in better balance, a smoother arc and more control. Speed restraint is easier as the soft, sinking snow acts as a natural brake.
Crud is far bumpier, making it difficult to perform decent turns. Slush and ice are quicker and more slippery, meaning that extra effort is required to make turns. Slush is partly melted snow and is more difficult to ski on as wet snow is heavier. As with crud and crust, a skier has to ski more aggressively for the same result and will get more tired. Ice, or icy snow, is harder and more slippery, making it more difficult to control moves. Skiers have to keep their movements smooth, slow and subtle, and they can’t slow down or stop as quickly.
Powder snow is preferable for trying out new things. It is more suitable for any jumping or aerial work as it is softer to land on. It acts as a cushion in crashes. This type of snow is best for those aiming to break their speed record or attempting new tricks. The harder types of snow are more likely to cause impact injuries when landing or crashing.
Not everyone prefers powder snow and there are certainly some disadvantages with it. Soft powder snow is not all that common and skiers might not be able to get the experience needed to master it. Skiing in powder snow can be disconcerting as skiers cannot always see their skis and feet. This type of snow does not present a solid surface to stand on and a skier can feel unbalanced and insecure. The deeper and softer the new snow, the more disturbing it can be to the novice skier. It is easy to sink into the snow if skiing too slowly. There is a tendency to ski faster on powder snow and take more risks but a skier can hit rocks and tree stumps. Skiers have to lean back or risk digging the ski tips into the snow and falling flat on their face. Twisting injuries are more usual in powder snow.
Despite these disadvantages, powder snow is still preferred by most skiers. After experience is gained on this type of snow, skiers find it easier and more satisfying than skiing on other types of snow. Its smooth surface gives a feeling of floating and weightlessness that comes from gliding effortlessly over the snow.