our article in Yodel
Tips for off-piste
For many, light fluffy powder is the heady reward of the season or holiday and what keeps us sane after the storms have passed in the mountains.
I’m not trying to scare or deter people from this exciting side of the sport but thinking of the deaths in the Chamonix valley every year I have to start with a warning: if you venture off the beaten track, do your research – there are no foolproof ways to totally eliminate the risk of avalanche. You can minimise by:
• Never underestimating the power of nature
• Carrying the correct equipment
• Doing avalanche awareness courses
• Seeking local knowledge of where the dangers are
• Taking a qualified guide or instructor
Here are a few myths that need busting:
1. If there are tracks or the snow is well packed it’s safe! In my time (30+ years) I have seen a pisted blue run and a black bump run slide away to full depth – back to the grass below
2. Carrying the correct equipment will save you! If you get buried under any depth of snow, your knowledge and equipment will NOT save you – it will be the knowledge and ability of your companions that will, so guess what? Best guidelines, ski in groups of 3 minimum. For ultimate safety descend one at a time with your friends watching, NOT skiing/riding all at the same time.
3. You have to lean back in powder! This leads us to some good technical and tactical tips:
• Consider how the skis copy the angle of the slope on piste. Off piste the tails will generally be under the snow so to the untrained eye the skier looks further back.
• In any snow you need to “find centre” and be able to micro-adjust – slightly forward to slightly back – via good balancing skills as your skis or board will be acting like dolphins! Just leaning back may get you down the slope but your legs will ache.
• If you depend on seeing your feet or skis, then you will struggle off piste because you cannot see them. Practice looking ahead – not at the snow directly in front of you but well ahead and off to the side – use your whole field of vision to notice everything, including the obstacles and stunning views.
• Use the shape or geometry of the ski – get used to the turn that has been manufactured into your skis and learn to tighten/influence this subtly. Look at your tracks, are they smooth, skilful S-shapes or clumsy Z-shapes?
• Remember skiing off-piste feels completely different, so take time and use slopes that will allow you to develop the skills necessary for going to more challenging slopes.
You can practice all this on piste, and many resorts have areas where the snow is deliberately left unpisted to allow you to try it all out somewhere not too intimidating. Your friendly ski/telemark/snowboard instructor will know the best place for you!
These are a few pointers to set you up but Joe, Ed and Andi have plenty more! See you on the slopes! STAY SAFE