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Powsurfers - Catch the Backcountry Swell

By Michael Hibbs on

Written by: Martin Goldman

Photos by: Andrew Miller

It’s simple really, a person, and a plank floating on water. Frozen or liquid, it doesn’t really matter.  Snowboarding and skiing have always been influenced by surfing. It’s just the closest sensation to riding bottomless pow we’ve found. But some may say we’ve overcomplicated things. We went from standing sideways on sleds down powdery slopes, to adding bindings to the mix. Then we invented splitboards, to chase powder in the backcountry, adding complexity and equipment year after year in a continuous effort to catch that same, simple, surfy sensation.

But as we’ve refined our equipment have we lost something along the way? Has all of the innovation and fancy gear obscured the basic simple beauty of a great turn in fresh snow? That’s where powsurfers have entered the picture, providing a pivot back to simpler times.

When you powsurf it’s the closest thing to a true surfing experience to the mountains. Instead of a wetsuit, we wear waterproof outerwear, and instead of paddling out to the break we snowshoe back up the run, but the fundamentals are still there. A simple board, with someone balanced on top of it, finding flow. As snowboarding gear becomes more complicated and expensive, there’s something magical about bringing the experience back down to its fundamentals. You just need a powsurf board, some snow, and a hill.


Powsurfs, also known as noboards, come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, with different rocker profiles, and hulled shapes. For folks just dipping their toes into riding without bindings, your local snowboard shop is a good place to start. They’ll often have someone knowledgeable on powsurfs, and they can point you in the right direction and help you figure out what board will work best for your uses.

If you’ve ever snowboarded or surfed before, you’ll adapt to powsurfing easily. You initiate turns in the same way, smoothly weighting your feet and pivoting with your hips. There’s much less precision and control than on a snowboard with high backs, you’re not going to be edging through any hard turns, but that’s sort of the point. Powsurfing forces you to slow down and return to the fundamentals, focusing through each turn. Instead of joining the rat race at the ski resort, bumping elbows with a bunch of other eager skiers and riders, powsurfs push you to slow down and focus on the process. They help you highlight and savor the best sensation in snowboarding or surfing, the turn. 

You don’t need perfect conditions to have fun on a powsurf, instead, you can make just about any amount of soft snow work. If it hasn’t snowed lately, stick to flatter slopes, but after a big dump, you can tackle steeper, longer descents, with more snow to slash into with your turns.

 

One of the best things about powsurfing is that it doesn’t require a particularly long or steep slope. You just need some fresh snow. That means you can even make turns on your local sledding hill, or breath new life into low-angle backcountry zones. And that makes it perfect for days when higher avalanche danger keeps you out of bigger terrain. It’s still important to pay attention to the snowpack and make sure you’re aware of avalanche hazards when you’re powsurfing, but generally, you’re not putting yourself out there in the same way you would be skiing or snowboarding.

Of course, once you’ve surfed through those powder turns, you’ve got to get back to the top. Unlike splitboards or the ultra-rare splitsurf, you won’t be skinning on your powsurf. Often the transportation of choice is a set of snowshoes and collapsable poles. Others will just set a boot pack back to the top, or come prepared with approach skis. Some powsurfers even set up snowmobile laps to get even faster runs.

 

Along with the simple experience that powsurfs offer, they’re also much more durable and simpler to maintain than a splitboard setup. There are just fewer parts to break. You can get your snowboard waxed at a local shop, or just grab some all-conditions wax and apply it to the base every few days, otherwise, they should be good to go with no other maintenance for years.

 

Powsurfing takes snowboarding back to its primal roots. It eliminates the complications and distractions and forces you to just focus on the experience. As our lifestyles become more and more fast-paced, there’s something magical about slowing down and experiencing the mountains more simply.

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