Until you’re an expert skier (or snowboarder), it’s essential you keep your mountain adventures strictly on-piste, sticking to the marked trails which provide the perfect environment to hone your skills and build your confidence.
On-piste, you’ll always find smooth, compacted snow that’s ideal for practicing and perfecting your technique, clearly graded runs ensure you’ll never find yourself out of your comfort zone as you progress, and most importantly, regular ski patrols mean help will never be too far away should you need it.
While most mountain users will find plenty to keep them happy on the marked runs, many advanced skiers would argue that the ultimate ski experiences are to be found off-piste, and as you improve, you might well find yourself wondering what it would be like to push off into these wilder, un-manicured areas – normally marked with yellow or orange signs – that lie just off the main runs in most resorts.
Going off-piste is exciting, but you need to be more than just an expert skier if you’re venturing into areas that are rarely patrolled and never groomed. There are many hazards off-piste – trees, rocks and steep drops to name just a few – and with no ski patrol guaranteed to be close by if you get into trouble, it’s vital you have the equipment and knowledge to deal with any situation that might arise.
In addition to safety considerations, off-piste runs will often be covered in deep powder snow, so knowing how to powder ski – a technique very different from skiing on compacted snow, will be key. We’ll be taking a look at tips for powder skiing in our next blog, but putting safety first, we asked our friends at Nonstop Ski & Snowboard for their advice on how to stay safe off-piste.
Here are their top 5 tips:
Always ski with a buddy
Off-piste, even a very small problem like a minor accident or equipment failure can quickly escalate into a dangerous situation if you’re on your own. With this front of mind, the first rule of off-piste skiing is to never go away from the groomed slopes without ensuring you have at least one buddy with you.
Ensure you know where you’re going
Plan your journey and get as much information about the route as you can – ideally, have someone in your group who has skied the run previously. Make sure you know all aspects of the slope including its pitch, any hazards you’re going to encounter en-route – and where it ends up – you certainly don’t want to get ‘cliffed-out’ at the top of a 50ft drop or find yourself stuck in a gulley with no option other than a hard hike to get yourself out!
Always obey signs
Having said off-piste areas are not regularly monitored, you may sometimes come across a section that’s been closed off by ski patrol. Even if you can’t immediately see why it’s been designated off limits, you can be sure they’ll have done this for a good reason, so never ignore a sign or be tempted to duck under the tape.
Check the conditions & ski within your limits
Off-piste areas need to be treated with respect, and you should always check the conditions, assess the snow and determine any risks before heading out. Local ski patrol will have assessed avalanche risk, but you need to be absolutely confident that the slope you’re about to tackle is within your level of competence. Off-piste is not the place to test your limits – you need to know them and stay within them. Remember too that while the snow might look fantastic, this can sometimes be deceptive – if you’re not clued up on the terrain, you night not realise that a fresh dusting of powder is covering up some rock hard stuff just a few millimetres below the surface.
Ensure you have the right training & equipment.
In a resort, off-piste areas will at least be inspected by ski patrol from time to time and assessed for safety, but if you’re skiing in the ‘back country’, away from a resort, you’ll need to be even more prepared, and even more safety conscious. Back country skiing takes off-piste to a whole other level, and if it’s something you’re going to do, it will be crucial to attend an avalanche course where you’ll learn important skills, including how to use the three essential pieces of back country equipment; shovel, probe and transceiver.
If you’re an expert skier looking for excitement and some awesome scenery, there’s nothing like skiing off-piste, but it’s not something to be taken lightly. Like any other extreme sport, you need to follow the basic safety rules to the letter, and be careful to never underestimate the risks involved each time you set out – and never overestimate your own level of proficiency.
Nonstop Snow offer unique experiences in the mountains, delivering award-winning ski and snowboard instructor courses and coaching camps in powder destinations in Canada, Europe and New Zealand. www.nonstopsnow.com