The fattest of the fatties (>113mm) are true specialty sticks, meant for when the snow is so deep even a 108mm won’t float high enough. This reality won’t keep some folks from sporting them every day, but this is lunatic-fringe behavior as hauling a barge around on hard snow is no picnic for the knee joint. If you live in the West it makes sense to own a Powder board as a second pair; if they’re your only pair of skis, we hope you also own a helicopter. Even though the performance of these skis depends largely on their shape and surface area, there are still large behavioral differences among models. One particular divide occurs along the carve/smear schism, models that still retain a preference for a directional, arced turn versus rides that want to pivot and slide sideways down the hill.

Some ski makers seek a compromise between the ability to drift and the capacity to carve by reinforcing the support underfoot while rockering the tip and tail so they’re barely detectable. (The presumption is that powder will fill the void between the loose tips and tails.) Whether the baseline is rockered end to end or maintains a measure of camber, all Powder skis find a way to keep the extremities from interfering with a quick foot swivel, which may or may not result in a change in direction but which should at least scrub some speed.

One reason most Powder skis are made easy to swivel sideways is that they’re naturally not so nifty flipping edge to edge. They’re made to be buoyant, not nimble. Since getting them up on edge is a chore, they don’t lend themselves to technical skiing even if they’re capable of it. All of these models make powder skiing easier, but not all are content just poking their way down the hill.

Once a ski is over 114mm wide at the waist, any pretense that it’s somehow an “all-mountain” ski is piffle. A Powder ski’s only purpose is what’s in its name. Can one be skied on hard snow? Of course, any tool can be misapplied. But Powder skis on slick, hard snow are hard to steer, limited largely to a controlled skid. Even if the skier is comfortable with this concept, if he can’t steer accurately on crowded slopes, he can’t ski safely.