Instructor and national demo team member Joshua Duncan-Smith on how to improve your powder skiing

In the world of ski instruction, Joshua Duncan-Smith is right at the peak, and we can say with confidence that there’d be few people better qualified to help you navigate the deep Japanese powder that many of us travel half way around the world to ski.

Josh is a dual certified instructor and trainer, holding the top level certification with both Canadian (CSIA) and New Zealand (NZSIA) systems, and was also selected for the NZSIA Demonstration Team for Interski – a meet-up for the world’s best instructors.

He’s banked seasons all over the world, including several in Japan, and is an ambassador for Blizzard, Technica and the Jones Brothers.

That’s a long way of saying he’s worth listening to, so for anyone aspiring to ski powder, hoping to improve, or aiming to simply take their skills up a notch or two, this is for you.

We’ve broken down Joshua’s comments in the section below, but thoroughly recommend watching the full video above.


Key takeaway: Narrow your stance so that your ski don’t get tangled

Joshua says:

“The first thing is you’re going to need to do is narrow your stance to ski powder. The reason why you narrow your stance is because if you imagine you’re standing on powder snow, you’re going to sink. Now, as you sink, if your legs are wide apart [and you’re putting pressure on the outside ski] it might sink lower than the inside. And your skis might get all tangled up underneath the snow.

Narrow your stance when skiing powder

“So, legs together while you’re skiing powder means that as the skis sink, they sink together. So you’re able to keep your feet and skis working through the snow without getting crossed or tangled.”

Weight distribution

Key takeaway: More even weight distribution when skiing powder (60% outside / 40% inside)

Joshua says:

“It’s important to understand the weight distribution from outside ski to inside ski. In powder snow, it’s going to need to be close to 60% on the outside and 40% on the inside. This is because – again – if you’re pressuring one ski too much it will penetrate and sink deeper into the snow, and your skis have a higher chance of getting crossed or blocked.”

Engaging your core

Key takeaway: Engage muscles through your core and posterior chain

Joshua says:

“While you’re skiing through the powder it’s incredibly important that you engage the muscles through your core and down through your posterior chain. These are the muscles that go down the back of your leg. This set of muscles will act as a stabilizer – I like to call it an anchor – for the middle part of your body, so that you can have stability of the upper body while allowing the legs to work through the snow.”

Turn shape

Key takeaway: Open up your turn shape to improve flow and avoid getting stuck

Joshua says:

“It’s important that when you ski powder you’re adjusting your turn shape to give you the best chance to flow through the powder. On piste, we’re typically going to be making beautiful round C shape-like turns. But once we get into the powder, we’re going to have to stretch those out and they’re going to become thinner turn shapes, where there’s more distance traveller down the hill than there is across the hill. This is because the snow acts as speed control. So, you open up the turn shape to help you flow through the powder so you don’t get stuck.

Open your turn shape when skiing powder

“When you are skiing in powder you essentially have two arcs or two turns shapes. You have a lateral turn shape – similar to what you will have on piste – and you also have a vertical or down and then back out turn shape. You have to image that you’re bursting through the powder with each turn that you make. The more you finish or shape the turn, the more the powder has a chance to hold your skis and to really just stick you on the spot.”

Turning in powder

Key takeaway: Turn your skis as they come to the surface of the snow

Joshua says:

“When you’re skiing in powder it’s important to understand when the skis are able to turn. If you imagine that your skis are underneath 50cm of fresh powder snow it’s going to be very hard to turn or edge them – or do anything – they’re sort of locked underneath the snow. So what we need to know is when is the best time for our ski to be edged or to be turned. And it’s when they come out of the snow or they’re right by the surface of the snow.

“So what we’re going to think about here is introducing some hops to allow the ski to come up to the surface of the snow, and as the ski comes up to the surface and you feel a sense of weightlessness – as you will when you’re at the top of your hop – that’s the time to edge the ski, that’s the time to rotate or turn the ski to give you the most efficient way to create your turn shape in powder.”

Tree skiing

Key takeaway: Ski for the gaps and visually mark out your line two or three turns ahead

Joshua says: 

“Once you feel comfortable with your hops and where to turn in powder on gentle terrain, it might be time to ski some trees. Tree skiing in powder is awesome and an amazing experience. When it comes to tree skiing, there is a simple focus point or cue that you can think of, and this is that you ski for the gaps. Look at the gaps between the trees and you ski through them. If you visually mark out your line at least for two or three turns, and you look for the first two or three spaces between the trees, then this will set you up for success.”

Skiing powder in the trees

Advanced techniques

Key takeaway: Advance your powder skiing the same way you would on piste – through increased edging and speed

Joshua says: 

“How you advance your skiing in powder is that same as how you want to advance your skiing on piste. You look to create more performance from the ski. This is done through edging the ski, so trying to focus on increasing on edging movements – tipping or rolling movements of the legs – to get the ski onto a higher edge angle.

“Then what you want to do is to try and increase speed. Because the faster you go, the more performance or edge angle you will be able to create. Because the forces acting on you when you go faster allow you to move your body further inside the turn, aiding in the creation or development of the edge angle throughout each turn.”

Snow safety

Key takeaway: Take necessary safety precautions in the backcountry and get training in avalanche safety

Joshua says: 

“If you’re going to be leaving the resort boundary to go on a more backcountry powder adventure, there are a couple of things that are vitally important. One is that you have the appropriate backcountry gear. So, transceiver, shovel, probe, skins – if you’re going to need to walk anywhere over a long distance – and also having a travel plan. So, telling someone where you’re going, what time you’ll be coming back. Having a map for understanding the route your going to be taking and the line you’re going to be skiing.

“All of these things are trainable and I strongly recommend that you get training either with us at The Ski Co. or with your local avalanche safety provider on how to manoeuvre and navigate the backcountry in the safest way possible. Once you leave the resort you are going to be stepping into avalanche terrain, where it’s uncontrolled and where mother nature does what she wants. And nobody wants you to be putting themselves at risk.”