Chances are, even if you’ve never experienced it yourself, that you’ve heard quite a bit about off-piste skiing, and not only how dangerous it can be, but just how much fun it is – when you know what you’re doing.
Yes, off-piste skiing can be dangerous, and yes, you do need to know what you’re doing, but if you want to experience something really magical, then don’t the pros outweigh the cons?
What It Is
Off-piste skiing, also known as backcountry skiing in the US and other parts of the world, is skiing that takes place on unmarked or unpatrolled skiing areas that fall inside, though often outside, the boundaries of a ski resort.
This is therefore very different in a number of ways from alpine skiing, which usually takes place on what are known as ‘groomed trails’ that also benefit from regular ski patrols.
Off-piste skiing should not be confused with ski touring, because off-piste skiing still regularly includes the use of ski lifts, as well as a number of other means of accessing the slopes, including helicopters and snowcats.
Many experts point to the recent improvements in the design of off-piste ski equipment that they believe are responsible for increasing the popularity of this exciting alpine sport.
Off-Piste Skiing and Danger
One of the drawbacks to off-piste skiing is the danger that accompanies it. Naturally some parts of the world are more dangerous than others, still, there are a number of natural dangers that you have to be aware of, which include avalanches, exhaustion due to the physical nature of off-piste skiing, weather conditions, cliffs, rock falls, as well as tree wells, also known as ‘spruce traps’, which is an area of loose snow that forms around the trunk of a tree enveloped in snow.
Although off-piste skiing can be fraught with danger, this adds to the excitement of the sport, though you need to be completely aware of what you are doing, and understand the conditions and how they can affect you, particularly avalanches which account for at least one fatality every month in the US.
Nevertheless, if you are feeling adventurous then an off-piste course may be for you, and there are many excellent off-piste courses that you could enrol in, especially in Canada’s famous Whistler Blackcomb ski resort, one of the most famous ski resorts the world over, and one renowned for its off-piste runs.
Off-Piste Skiing Tips
If you are new to skiing then the following tips are not for you – off-piste skiing is not for the beginner, but only the most experienced skiers, so cut your teeth on the beginner slopes, get comfortable and confident, and consider enrolling in a good off-piste course so as to develop the skills you need to take on those wild black runs with confidence. And of course keep yourself safe and out of trouble at all times.
- Learn how to transition yourself from on-piste to off-piste skiing
There are a number of differences between on-piste and off-piste skiing, and you need to learn how to make the transition between the two. This is a reason in itself to enrol in an off-piste skiing course, of which there are many of note, especially in the major ski resorts, like Whistler Blackcomb.
- Learn the rhythmic up and down motions off-piste skiers use
The rhythmic up and down motions that off-piste skiers use to propel themselves through the snow are very important to master. Deep powdered snow offers a great deal of resistance, so you need to get into a rhythm that you can use to increase your speed.
To get started, begin with your ankles, knees and hips comfortably compact, but not too tight, then gradually extend your body upward, simultaneously flexing and extending your ankles, knees and hips. Don’t however, let your body become fully erect. The trick is to create a rhythmic up and down motion.
- Learn how to ski fast – really, really fast
Using the abovementioned technique will help you to increase your speed, and this is where much of the fun in off-piste skiing lies – in going as fast as you can down a great big slope.
As mentioned above, there is a great deal of resistance to deep snow, so you need to be going really fast to plane over it, rather than getting bogged down in it.
- Never ski off-piste alone, always go with a friend
Because of the dangers associated with off-piste skiing – avalanches, weather conditions, cliffs, rock falls, tree wells, etc. – you should never go off-piste skiing by yourself. Always go with a friend.
It’s also advisable to tell someone where you are going, and how long you plan on going for, so if you don’t arrive back home after a wild day out on the slopes, a rescue party can be dispatched to that particular area.
- Be aware of the snow and weather conditions
As you will learn all about snow and weather conditions on an off-piste skiing course, this is therefore another reason to enrol in a good course. And never set off if the weather conditions look dangerous, after all, it’s better to miss out on a day on the slopes than the rest of your life.
A few people have perished so far this year, most of whom would still be alive if they understood the snow and weather conditions better.
- Make sure you have the right equipment
Along with off-piste skiing gear, each person should be equipped with a shovel, a probe and a transceiver. This equipment could save your life.
Off-piste skiing can be dangerous, but that’s part of the fun! Jokes aside, you have to know what you are doing when you ski off-piste, so enrolling in an off-piste skiing course at a good skiing school will definitely help you to stay safer when skiing on some of the most formidable slopes that the wonderful world of winter, with all that good powdered fun it brings with it, has to offer you this ski season.