Whether you’re a powder hound or love to ski fresh corduroy, nothing beats the feeling of your skis effortlessly cutting through soft, buttery snow. But let’s be real here—not every day spent at the resort or in the backcountry has perfect, Instagram-worthy snow conditions. For the past three weeks we’ve had a high-pressure system camped above the Wasatch—a weather pattern that offers beautiful bluebird skies and mild temps, but no new snow and challenging conditions—and it looks like it’s here to stay for the foreseeable future. The great news is there’s still snow on the ground! And even though it’s not waist deep pow, there’s certainly great skiing to be had.
Types of Snow Conditions
Utah’s famous lighter-than-air snow gets all the credit for obvious reasons. But for once, I’d like to direct the conversation toward the more challenging snow conditions we’ve all come across at least once. Everyone can ski like a pro in fluffy powder (i.e. hero snow), but skiing all kinds of more variable conditions is what really makes us better skiers.
If you’re a frequent backcountry skier, you’ve most likely found yourself on a slope with breakable crust. Aspects that are wind and sun-exposed develop a pesky layer of crust on top of powder. Sometimes that layer is thin and unnoticeable, and other times the crust is thick enough to support the weight of you and your skis. The real bummer happens when that breakable crust is about 1-2 inches thick, and every turn feels like your ski edges are being grabbed by little gargoyles hiding in the snow. It’s a truly humbling experience, and no better way to motivate you to keep building on your skills!
East coast skiers, rejoice! When conditions are icy, it’s your time to shine. Unfortunately for everyone else who didn’t learn how to ski on a skating rink, an icy slope can be intimidating. Watch out for ice on aspects that were once warmed up by the sun and now sit in the shade, as well as high traffic areas where most of the soft snow has been skied off. The best way to tackle an icy hill is to give your ski edges a good sharpening so they can cut into the slope easier with each turn.
Dust on Crust
Ah, the sneakiest of all. Dust on Crust consists of unforgiving crusty hardpack blanketed by an inviting couple of inches of fresh snow. It is commonly found at resorts that tend to exaggerate their snow totals. It likes to catch you off guard when you drop into a mogul field expecting the bumps to be soft and easy to jump from edge to edge, when in reality they’re hard as ice and extra crusty.
Back to the Instagram glamor snow. Imagine a video of a pro skier on an untouched backcountry slope, powder billowing up with every glorious turn. Looks awesome, right? Well, that skier probably had to work hard to get up to the top of that mountain, and then most likely had to bushwhack to get back to the trailhead. Bushwhacking through shrubs and brush is almost always part of the backcountry ski journey. Sometimes the only way to get home safely is to ski through some bushes and climb over a few logs—a great way to keep you on your toes!
How to Make the Most of Challenging Conditions
Improve Your Skills
If you are privileged enough to be able to ski regularly, unideal snow conditions shouldn’t stop you from getting out there and having fun. Skiing all types of terrain and conditions will inevitably make you a great skier! You’ll be able to hone your alpine skills and prepare yourself to get out of any tricky situations you might encounter in the future. Practice using your edges and get comfortable with jump turns on slopes that are slightly steeper than what you’re used to skiing. Mastering these skills will make any run fun to ski, rather than just a means to an end!
In addition to improving your off-piste skills, this is also a great time to work on your carving technique. Hit those runs early while they’re freshly groomed so you can really open it up and refine some old skills. Practice rolling your skis over on your edges, lower and lower with each turn. While you’re at it, channel your inner ski racer and work on different types of carving, from quick short-radius turns to long and fast giant slalom turns. Practicing these skills will boost your confidence on any type of terrain, so you’re ready to charge when it finally does snow.
Keep Those Ski Legs Strong
Your legs will betray you after you’ve taken a few weeks off from skiing, and the best way to keep them strong is to keep skiing! Don’t let the poor snow conditions keep you from maintaining your leg strength. If you’re even more motivated by fitness, supplement your skiing with a few leg circuit workouts every week. Squats, lunges, Romanian deadlifts (RDLs), and speed skaters are great exercises to keep your legs strong between ski days. And don’t forget to stretch! You’ll be able to ski from open to close on that next powder day, and your legs will thank you.
Learn How to Find the Good Snow
Another great way to take advantage of the lack of powder is to explore more terrain, figure out where the good snow is hidden, and know what time of the day is best to ski it. Even if it hasn’t snowed for weeks, chances are that something, somewhere is still skiing good.
When it comes to groomers, the best course of action is to follow the sun. Start on east-facing slopes in the morning, then switch to south, and eventually transition to west-facing runs in the afternoon. Your goal here is to let the sun warm up the snow just enough to soften it up a bit. On a cloudy day, a great strategy would be to stick to shaded tree runs—areas that don’t normally see a lot of sunlight and therefore don’t have a chance to thaw and freeze over. You’ll most likely find some soft crystallized snow on the surface, which is basically the next best thing to fresh pow!
There are plenty of reasons to get after it regardless of conditions. But if you need another reason to go ski—no matter what the snow’s like—how else can you appreciate the good snow without the bad? Just imagine how sweet those powder turns will feel after that day skiing breakable crust. Either way, skiing is fun no matter what, so grab your gear and go have a great time!
By: Olivia Reed, Content Writer