Photo: Christian Egelmair
Top Tips for Skiing Off-Piste
Issue 34 / 17 April 2020

Top Tips for Skiing Off-Piste

Discover the backcountry with our top tips for off-piste skiing

Alicia Bryan

Off-piste skiing, also known as backcountry skiing or freeriding refers to skiing in areas that have not been piste bashed or groomed. Off-piste skiing often takes place in unsupervised locations outside the ski resort boundaries, with no signs to show you in which direction you must descend. When skiing off-piste, careful planning is needed in order to follow a safe and suitable route, avoiding cliff edges and crevasses, as well as facing deep snow, steep slopes and narrow chutes. Giving a whole new dimension to skiing, off-piste skiing is a great way to discover the untouched beauty of a ski resort with some of the best powder skiing on offer, so enjoy the challenge of backcountry skiing before heading back and unwinding in the wellness facilities of your luxury ski chalet.

1. Hone your technique

When it comes to off-piste skiing, you are likely to experience many snow conditions, so confidence and persistence is key. Keep centred on your skis to maintain your balance applying equal weight on the toes and heels. Maintaining a steady rhythm is important when exploring the backcountry and pole planting is the key to helping you keep a consistent rhythm whilst improving your stance. When faced with narrow sections of off-piste such as chutes and gullies, you might not be able to turn over a long area, which is where hop turns are useful. Get low on your skis and pivot them as you jump to turn; this technique will enable you to make a 45 to 50-degree turn no matter what the gradient is. Finally, when skiing off-piste, don’t be afraid of speed, if you ski too slow you might just find yourself fighting against the deep powder while speed will facilitate turning and help your skis reach the surface of the snow.

2. Never ski off-piste alone

If you're planning on spending the day exploring the backcountry of a resort, it is very important to ski in a group or with someone who is of a similar skill level to yourself. There is safety in numbers when skiing off-piste, as the areas you are skiing will not be patrolled. Plan a route suitable for your ability level and always let people know where you are planning to ski so that should you come into difficulty, the resort guides know where to look. If you are wanting to explore the backcountry but are not confident on the layout of the resort or whether the weather conditions are suitable, off-piste lessons are available with a professional mountain guide or suitably qualified instructors. With extensive knowledge of the resort, they will be able to take you to the best spots and tell when the best time to ski them is.

3. Always review the snow conditions

Always make sure you check the snow conditions before setting out to explore the backcountry. There are five levels of avalanche danger to bear in mind when looking to uncover the Alps; these include low, moderate, considerable, high, and very high. Conditions can change throughout the day which is why it is so important to have the right avalanche equipment including a transceiver, probe and shovel. Further weather conditions to consider when skiing off-piste are the wind, visibility and temperature. Ideally, you should be looking to set out on a day with high visibility and low winds.

4. Make sure you have suitable equipment

As stated in the previous tip, off-piste skiers should always be equipped with an avalanche transceiver, probe, shovel. An avalanche transceiver should be worn by anyone skiing in the backcountry to help locate those buried in an avalanche. Should a member of the group get buried in the snow, a shovel can be used to dig the person out based on the location given by the transceiver, using the probe to establish how deep the person is buried. Avalanche airbags are also worth considering; by pulling on the toggle of an avalanche airbag as the avalanche heads towards you, the bags will fill with air bringing you to the top of the surface and stop you from being buried. For further safety tips, many ski resorts often put on avalanche talks and training sessions, ideal for skiers looking to explore the backcountry safely.

5. Ensure you have the correct insurance

When choosing your winter sports insurance cover, make sure you choose one that includes off-piste skiing. While some companies will cover off-piste skiing, others will add an additional charge to cover backcountry skiing. Always check your insurance policy for a full definition of winter activities included in the policy.

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