A Thirst for Powder Snow
January 11, 2018
Words: Nat Segal/
Photos: Reuben Krabbe / Guy Fattal
It's an infatuation that drives a whole industry — but where does our thirst for powder snow come from and how do we get our fix?
...“As skiers toe the line between control and chaos. To those who master it an epic run is a transcendent journey, until the grade evens out and you slide to a stop.” — Porter Fox, DEEP
About a month ago I found myself re-evaluating my love for skiing and where it is taking me. For nine years I have been traveling the world, chasing winter as a competitive freeride skier. I used to be able to justify my loose lifestyle – never living in one spot, bouncing between continents and friends – by having a clear focus. First it was competing in international events, then it was creating a documentary film – making something bigger than myself.
After being so focused on specific goals, part of me had forgotten what it is about winter and skiing that I am so addicted to. Usually as the calendar rolls closer to December my thirst for powder snow and fast turns is unbearable. Instead I was questioning my compulsion to seek them.
As I was booking my flights to the Great White North from my hometown of Melbourne, I asked myself, “What would happen if I missed a winter and stayed home in Australia for the summer?
"My drive to chase winter isn’t founded on winning events or filming ski segments, it comes from a love of wild open spaces."
The next morning, I woke with a clear mind. Of course I was going to book that flight. I live for moments in the mountains. My drive to chase winter isn’t founded on winning events or filming ski segments, it comes from a love of wild open spaces.
This epiphany, however, led to more questions: “Where does this obsession come from, and why are we all so addicted to the idea of that perfect powder turn?”
An avid watcher of ski films might assume that every day is a ‘powder day’ but, like anything good, a perfect powder day doesn’t happen regularly. We wait and watch for the right weather patterns to form and for temperatures to drop. And then the hunt begins.
Like any passion, powder skiing can be all consuming. The minute you hear of a storm your brain switches into war mode. Strategies are texted or arranged over drinks at a bar. Alarms are set to early hours of the morning and gear is laid out so nothing will be forgotten. It’s like a fire drill – the more you practice, the more natural it becomes. But no matter how experienced you are, you always go to bed with butterflies in your belly.
Everyone approaches a powder day differently. Some will camp in the lift line, preferring to sleep on concrete than miss that epic first turn. Others, the more experienced, will play their hand with skill, silently swooping into the lift line just in time, coffee in hand and a relaxed smile on their face.
In the moment, so many of these reactions make sense. It’s exciting, it’s a powder day and we are only humans. But in retrospect our addiction borders on insanity. I wanted to understand it, so I did some research. It was in a chapter of Deep by Porter Fox, in the wise words of Delores Lachapelle, that I found my answers.
Dolores, one of the pioneers of powder skiing, likened the activity to a spiritual experience, where the play of gravity between your skis and the snow allows skiers to transcend themselves and become part of nature. “There is no longer an “I” and snow and the mountain,” she philosophises in her book, Deep Powder Skiing, “but a continuous flowing interaction.”
Things started to make sense. In our modern world, sports like skiing help us to come back to nature, to be engulfed by it, even if it is only for a few brief moments. These moments in time are priceless, mainly because that feeling translates into something so many of us are constantly in search of — a feeling of weightlessness. Nothingness. Simply put – freedom.
Time slows down. The only sound you can hear is the snow moving under your skis. As you finally reach the apex of speed and motion you feel like you could almost be flying.
Powder skiing transforms into a mediative practice. It keeps you sane, energised and passionate. It’s no wonder we can’t get enough.
Of course, when it comes to chasing any addiction, there’s a healthy limit. There's a time at the end of the day when our legs can no longer punch through even the softest snow and our tummies rumble for fuel. We might have scored the ‘best run’ we’ve ever had, or experienced a truly spiritual moment. While knowingly (or not), we all start the day seeking transcendence, only a special few will return enlightened. Maybe that’s what creates our thirst?
"Time slows down. The only sound you can hear is the snow moving under your skis. As you finally reach the apex of speed and motion you feel like you could almost be flying."