Hard packed or icy snow is unforgiving. Not only does it demand better control than softer snow, but also it makes for a harder landing if you do lose control and wipe out. Especially if you learned to ski on the powder and packed powder more common at ski resorts in the Western states of America, learning to ski hard packed snow requires more focus on edging and less on pressure to control turn radius.
Skis with positive, or traditional, camber perform better on hard snow and racecourses than skis with rocker or flat camber. When skis with positive camber are placed on the ground unweighted, only the tip and tail touch the snow. When you turn the skis on edge and weight them, the full length of the inside edge digs into the snow, which allows you to carve turns without slipping or losing edges.
Hard snow demands stiff skis. The flexible, easy-turning powder skis many people favor for skiing the soft powder and packed powder of Western resorts lose edge contact and chatter on hard pack, making them difficult to control, especially at high speed. Although stiff skis hold edges and are far more responsive than soft ones, they are more sensitive to skier technique, demanding precise edging and balance. If you are skiing hard pack on stiff skis, minor lapses of attention or sloppiness in technique lead to major wipeouts.
Width and Length
Skis for hard packed snow are narrower than skis for softer snow, making them quicker from edge to edge. This enables you to initiate new turns faster for better control of speed and direction. A slightly longer ski has more edge to grip the snow than a shorter ski but is also harder to turn.
Edges and Bases
The sharper the edges of your skis, the better they grip the snow. Just as you can't cut steak with a butter knife, you can't hold a turn on hard pack with unsharpened or extremely bevelled inside ski edges. If you tune your own skis, sharpen your skis daily, using a .75 degree bevel on your inside edges for solid all-around hard snow performance. Use an all-temperature or hard snow wax on ski bases. If you don't maintain your own skis, get your skis sharpened professionally after every two days of skiing hard pack.
Carol Poster began writing professionally in 1974. Her articles have appeared in "Outdoor Woman," "Paddler," "Ski Magazine," "Women's Sports & Fitness," "Dance News," "Show Business," "The Athenian," "PC Resource" and "Utah Holiday," among other publications. Poster holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Eastern Washington University, as well as a Ph.D. in English from the University of Missouri.