Powder Skis – Why fat is not all that

Skier in off piste terrain

I want to tell you a little bit about why I’m not such a fan of the wide ‘fat boy’ powder skis. And hopefully lead to your suitable powder / all mountain ski.

This style of skis first came about in 1988 when Rupert Huber developed the Atomic Powder Plus skis (originally by cutting a snowboard in half). More than a decade later, Shane McConkey mounted up some water skis, and went on to help in the development of reverse camber skis and rocker skis. The idea was that this would enable the skier to float above the deep powder, allowing more speed and more extreme riding.

All that sounds great! So why am I such a Negative Nelly when it comes to fat skis? Well; it’s all about the time and place, and if you’re realistic, how often are you going to be more than waist deep in powder?

My short love story with fat skis

As I completed my first ski instructor training and headed out to work my first winter, I convinced myself I needed a powder ski. I headed to the sports shop, and told the assistant about my needs: “I’m going to St. Anton for the winter, I need a powder ski”, “ah, St. Anton” he said, “then you need something big!”. He directed me to a pair of Armarda Norwalks, 189cm long and 116mm wide (underfoot). I knew nothing better, the price was good and they looked good. So I walked out of there carrying my new skis, and therefore at least +10 skill points.

Aramada Norwalk 189cm

To keep this story short, as an inexperienced skier (comparatively) I loved them because they looked great. I could survive deep off-piste, off-piste that I could not have skied using my piste ski.

The following winter, I had a couple of equipment problems. This led me to buy a pair of used 27m radius, 63mm underfoot race skis. Essentially these became my only skis and therefore, my ‘All-Mountain skis” for the majority of that winter. I used them every day in every circumstance, from teaching beginners to ‘shredding the pow’.

I believe that this really helped with my technique development, my for-and-aft balance really improved. Without it I would not have been able to turn in the deep stuff. In the springtime, the pistes get really chopped up and sticky. This meant that my initiation of each turn had to be well-timed and balanced.

Jack French St. Anton 2020, Snorkel please!

Eventually, I did finally get a real All-Mountain ski, the Black Crow Orb, 186.2cm long and 90mm wide. They were amazing in the powder, and still great on the pistes. I had two great options for skis, I could choose between a piste ski if I wanted to focus on my own technique. Or if I wanted an easier day without so much concentration needed, then I would take the all-mountain skis. When head out shredding the powder, I am really happy on either set. However, in mixed snow conditions, I take the all-mountains nine times out of ten.

Theres a time and a place

Don’t get me wrong, the fat powder skis have a purpose, but… I live and work in St. Anton in Austria, which famous for its 200km of amazing off-piste terrain. However, during each winter season, I would say an would be happy to have around 10 powder days (thats not including if you are teaching off piste). Of those 10 powder days, probably only once or twice that one would appreciate a deep powder ski. So why do so many people feel that a Fat Boy powder skis are an essential peice of equipment?

In the last five winters here in St. Anton, we have had many countless days where the powder was deep enough to hide my nipples if were to skinny dip in it. However, even in those conditions, I love to stick to a ski that’s between 80-100mm underfoot. To me, it’s all about the joy of dipping in and out of the powder, not just floating across the top, after all, what’s the point of two metres of powder if you’re on playing in 10% of it.

If you are Heli-Skiing in Canada or heading over to Japan then yes, perhaps you have justification in buying those 114 width J Skis. If you are dropping 15m cliffs for fun then you may need the 120 Bent Chetlers. Don’t get me wrong these skis are amazing skis, in the right conditions, perhaps my view would be reversed if I lived in Revelstoke Canada or Niseko Japan.

George Perry, St. Anton 2020, waist deep in a fresh snow pillow line (it was slightly heavier than powder).

So which skis should you buy for the powder?

Ok so if you have the budget to own five or more pairs of skis, then this is not such a dilemma, you can buy a dedicated ski for each condition. However most of our readers will be looking for a set up with two pairs of skis; a piste performance ski, and an everything else ski.

In my opinion, you should only buy the really fat (110mm and greater width) skis if you are regularly skiing in powder over your head height. Or dropping huge cliffs for your incredible freeride Instagram profile.

Skis around 105-110mm are great if you regularly ski in powder around waist-deep, but they really suffer on the piste, especially if its icy or bumpy.

My favourite bracket is the all-mountain skis of around 80-105mm. These skis are your swiss army knife of your toolkit. Piste, powder, crud, ice, moguls, slush. Great fun for teaching and tick all the boxes for free skiing too.

You should also consider if you want to go touring. A narrower lighter ski is easier to tour with. You should also avoid a really long ski so that you are able to perform a kick turn. It’s worth chatting to a professional in a sports shop if you are looking to go down this route.

And the last option? Just do everything on a race ski and quit complaining! With proper technique, you can ski pretty much any terrain on a race ski, you just need to be good, or get good quickly! It is one of the best ways you can force your technical abilities to develop.

Bodhi (below) is using a ski 188cm long and only 65mm width underfoot. At the time we were skiing wind crust on exposed faces and had thigh-high powder in the sheltered exposures.

Skier in off piste terrain
Bodhi Van Kuijk @bodhi_ski

Read more about Shane McConkey and his contributions in ski development. Powder Magazine has a nice article called The Catalyst: Shane McConkey https://www.powder.com/stories/classics/the-catalyst/

My Ski Servicing Equipment

Base service ski

Recently I released an article describing what I believe to be Essential Ski and Snowboard Servicing Equipment. Below is a quick run down of my ski servicing equipment.

My Servicing Equipment

So what do I use? Like most toolkits, my ski servicing equipment was acquired on a budget. It consists of a mixture of brands. I’m happy with what I have, but I would also change some of the tools if I were to buy everything again. You may notice that the list does not include every tool I recommend in my Essential Ski and Snowboard Servicing Equipment article. This is because I usually borrow the items I don’t own (I recommend making friends with some ex racers!).

Clamps: I have the Holmenkol EasyPro clamps, I got them cheap on eBay 2nd hand. They are only two parts so are relatively light for traveling. I that you can put your skis at 45°, it makes any edge servicing really easy. I do not like them however for scraping and brushing I find they do not hold my skis well enough.
Link: https://www.holmenkol-shop.eu/rain-sport-de1/ski-snowboard-vices1/skivices-alpine/holmenkol-ski-vice-superpro-easy

Sidewall remover: I don’t have one, I borrowed a friends when I needed it.

Edge Stone: A friend gave me an old one. Something like this from TOKO will be perfect.  https://www.toko.ch/en/wax-tools/tools/product/show/universal-edge-grinder/

Edge Tune and File: I bought these together while working in resort, I got the Holmenkol edge tuner “Semi Edger”. On the whole it works ok, I would recommend changing the file to a longer WC style edge file. The good part of this tuner is that it can take longer files and diamond files easily (up to a width of 5mm). It can be adjusted from 85° to 90°, so you only need this one edge tuner if you are travelling light.

Link: https://www.holmenkol-shop.eu/rain-sport-de1/edge-tuner/side-edge1/holmenkol-edge-tuner-semi-edger

Rubber Bands: I use wrist bands from a bar give-away, something like these charity ones..

(image found on google, I hope no-one complains)

Diamond File: I have a Holmenkol World Cup – Medium (600 grit), I got this one because it was in an end of season sale (-50%!). I’m very happy with it, but I’m sure other brands are good too.

Link: https://www.holmenkol-shop.eu/rain-sport-de1/files-diamond-files1/diamond-finishing-files/holmenkol-diamond-file-world-cup-medium-k-600

Brushes: I have two TOKO brushes, the cheaper smaller ones without straps. I have the nylon one and the horsehair. I use the nylon one most of the time (for cleaning and finishing). The horsehair one was cheap and I only ever use it to finish my race ski (not really necessary but it makes me feel warm inside).

Waxing Iron: I got mine pretty cheap from Decathlon. Its a Vola Wax Mousse.
I’m really happy with how it works. The only negative is that the analog temperature dial makes it hard to heat the iron to an exact temperature. If you are using racing wax which requires a specific temperature, you might be better with an iron with digital temperature adjuster.

Link: https://www.vola.fr/fr/sport/accessoires/fershousse/fers

Wax: For everyday use I use whatever non-fluoro all in one or training wax I can find. If you can buy in bulk its much cheaper. For my Austrian Landes exam (race speed test) I would have used a performance wax too, but I ended up renting a ski, and thats another story.

The End.

That concludes the round up on my ski servicing equipment, I didn’t bother telling you about my scraper, I thought it a bit unnecessary. Don’t forget to read my article on what I believe to be Essential Ski and Snowboard Servicing Equipment.

Buying Skis for Anwärter


Buying ski equipment can be a very expensive task. I hope to guide you on buying not only the right skis for anwärter exams (Austrian level 1, more or less equivalent to international level 2), but also skis that will be suitable for you throughout your first season / seasons.

Buying the right Skis for Anwärter

Normally buying skis is quite a personal thing, but for ski instructor exams and teaching you will need the right tool for the job. The Anwärter is mostly focussed on turning you into a beginner instructor, you will re-learn how to snowplough and ‘plough-steer’. The Anwärter also has some performance ski testing of short and long turns.
Although it is possible to pass your exams and work using your park skis, none of your fellow students, or your own future students will appreciate the spray your twin tips are flicking up as they follow close behind you.

A more appropriate choice would be a good race carver. Usually a turn radius of around 16-20m depending on ski length. They are aggressive enough for the performance testing but still manageable enough for the snowplough.
My personal favourite for price vs performance is the Rosignol Hero Long Turn   TI. HERO-ELITE-LT-Ti
This ski is suitable for Anwärter level. It is also stiff enough to take off piste and aggressive enough for your Landes 1 and 2 exams.

Some other alternative race carvers would be:

  • Head WC Rebels I.Spead
  • Fischer RC4 Worldcup RC
  • Atomic Redster G9
  • Völkl Race Tiger GS
  • Salamon X-Race SW
  • Nordica Dobermann GSR RB EVO
  • Blizzard WRC Racing WC Piston


Length really does depend on your ability. At Anwärter level you should be buying a ski length that reaches your eye level from ground or higher. If you can handle higher then it will pay off for your Landes exams. It is important to buy a ski you can handle though so don’t ever reach.

Where to buy

Although you will find some cheap prices online, if you have not tried these skis before it is quite a risk to buy online. If you are not able to test any before you begin your anwärter, do a ski test while you train. Often you will get a small discount if you are a ski instructor or training to be one. If you are on a low budget then ring ahead to a ski shop, you might be able to rent some ski’s and even purchase the rental skis at a good price.

If you are doing a pre-course to prepare you for your exams it is worth checking with them before buying. They may be able to recommend equipment for you and sometimes have a deal with a local ski shop giving you good discounts.


If you have any queries or anything to add then please do so below.
Happy buying to you and good luck with your course!