Backcountry skiing is all about deep powder. If it wasn't for the powder, nobody would bother spending two hours slogging up a steep slope under their own power for fifteen minutes of skiing. But the snow makes it all worthwhile...
The snow came early this year in Nelson, my adopted hometown. When we went backcountry last Wednesday (December 5th), the basewas already at 180cm (6 feet). In the picture above, at the mountain ridge 400 metres above our starting point, I'm standing. I clipped out of my skis for a picture and fell straight down. I'm not touching bottom here--the base at the ridge was probably in the 220-250cm range. The top three or four feet is the dry, light, fluffy stuff--the snow dreams are made of.
With that much snow, I started scoping for my favourite aspect of alpine skiing: cliff-jumping.
Picking a cliff
When picking a cliff to jump, the most important factor to consider is the landing. You want it steep, long, unobstructed, and covered in deep untouched powder. If it meets this criteria, you can totally screw up and still walk away without injury.
Cliffs always look easier from below than from above. I chose my cliff while hiking up, and it looked sweet... Perfect height, steep powderfield for a cushy landing, and a nice long runout. But it was much more intimidating standing on top. As you can see from the picture, I couldn't see the landing, I couldn't see the rocks or obstacles, and I couldn't tell how high it is. I just had to go for it and hope my estimation from below was accurate.
It's best if you have no obstacles in your approach. Mine was pretty clean--I just had to start with a jump-turn, about 20 feet above the lip, and then run in. You want to be nicely balanced for lift-off, with your hands and poles forward. This cliff is about 25 feet high.
A little jump right at lift-off helps. At this point, it looks like I'm pretty well centered.
This is a mild drop. My speed will be manageable at landing. 50- to 70-foot cliffs are apparently much scarier--your speed is quite high at landing. Jumping off cliffs of 100 feet or more has you at terminal velocity upon landing.
This is where I'm starting to go wrong. My knees are tucked up, like they should be, but my weight is too far forward. My arms are flailing to try to get my body position more upright. If I land like this, I'll plant in the powder, do a double release and flip head over heels.
When you're landing in deep powder, your weight needs to be on your tails so you don't get stuck in the crater you create when you land. Apparently, my weight wasn't on my tails. But it was still big air, and I had a heck of a time.
Winter in Canada is great.