How to ski powder in Japan – tips from an instructor who knows

Max Raju getting the Nozawa powder.

Powder. You love it or you hate it. You’re either cutting through waist-deep snow, hollering as you get the deepest turns of your life. Or, you’re tumbling head first into a mess of white, floundering about and getting snow into every crevice of your being. Every. Single. Crevice.

The thing is, nearly every skier and snowboarder has experienced the difficulties of riding powder. You learn powder the hard way – or do you?

In Japan, the land of powder, there are people who specialise in skiing and riding powder. Known as powder hounds, they chase the deep snow for seasons on end. They live and breathe floating through ‘japow’. Sometimes, these people are instructors. And if you get a lesson from one of these people, your struggles will be short-lived.

Max Raju in Nozawa Onsen is one of these powder hound instructors. He’s currently in his 11th winter season, working as the Operations Manager for Nozawa Onsen Ski School. A fully certified New Zealand Level 3 ski instructor, he’s back skiing japow for the 5th year in a row.

Here are his tips on how to become a better powder skier.

What’s so special about pow?

It’s the feeling of floating that you get. You’re totally weightless while hurtling down the mountain and it doesn’t hurt if you fall.

Skiing through powder is literally like skiing through clouds.

What level skier do you need to be to learn powder skiing?

You should be a confident parallel skier, who is comfortable on blue runs.

What’s a typical first time powder lesson?

I’d head to some mellow terrain with a similar pitch to what they’re used to. Nozawa is great because it has some easy green and blue runs with powder on the sides so you can cut into it, try it out, but still get back to the groomer.

From there we’d work on stance. Most people have a habit of leaning back when they get into powder snow, but instead, we want to keep the same stance and just pull our toes up to bring the front of the skis out of the powder.

What comes next?

Rhythm and vertical movement. The motion of skiing powder is very specific. It involves popping out of the snow like you’re on a pogo stick, which gets the skis out of the snow, making it easier to start the new turn.

After that comes upper body stability. You want very minimal upper body movement – the torso shouldn’t twist or turn.

I tell adults to imagine they’re holding a margarita in each hand. Poles are out, arms are stable and you don’t want to wobble around and drop those margaritas! If I’m teaching kids I’ll tell them to imagine holding tacos instead.

Do kids struggle more in deep powder?

Kids don’t separate their upper and lower bodies as much as adults. They also tend to be a little more aft (weight on the heels) but this changes as they get older. That’s just normal for them so we don’t focus as much on stance.

Kids are smaller and lighter than adults so you’d think they’d have a hard time but I’ve seen 5 year olds absolutely shredding pow. It’s got more to do with strength and confidence than size and weight.

Is there any difference between males and females skiing powder?

Not at all. In very high level skiing women ski a little differently because they can have more anterior tilt in their hips (the top rotates forward) and their femurs angle inwards more, but these can often be compensated for via correct boot fitting and technique. But in general, women and men ski powder the same.

What are the most common mistakes with riding powder?

Leaning back and turning with your shoulders. Not going fast enough can also be a problem as momentum and rhythm are key to keeping your skis up out of the deep snow. There’s a point where you need to go “Screw it, I need to ski faster!” Speed is definitely your friend in powder.

Why is Nozawa Onsen in Japan the best place to learn to ski powder?

The snow here is super light and fluffy – and it’s pretty standard to get 10 metres of it a season. We have such a great progression of terrain for powder riding at Nozawa, from mellow runs with powder on the side to the real steep and deep terrain.

We also have a strong set of return instructors who know the mountain well, are highly experienced at teaching powder skiing and can get the best out of the mountain.

Why do you keep coming back to Nozawa?

Nozawa is such a fun town. It’s the perfect mix between a traditional Japanese town but still with western conveniences like an English-speaking ski school.

I also come back for the terrain. Nozawa has it all – trees, steep groomers, beginner friendly slopes and everything in between.

When you’ve explored it all then you can take a Nozawa backcountry tour. Our backcountry terrain also has great progression and is incredibly under utilised. Very few people run backcountry tours out there so you can go all day without seeing other people and easily get fresh tracks all day.

How you can learn to ski through clouds for less

If you also want to learn to ski through clouds, then book a lesson at Nozawa Onsen Ski School.

They’re offering 10% off private ski or snowboard lessons booked through this link for March 1 2020 to April 15 2020.

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