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Are you ready for the off-piste?

Anne Cathrine Lind Ceni - Wednesday d. 23. August 2017

When the snowflakes fall as big as your fist and lay like loose powder, you will ask yourself if the snow really is whiter on the other side? If you ask us, we will definitely say yes. But in order to go safely on the off-piste you will need some pre knowledge.  

We would like to tell you some basics for off-piste skiing. Mostly it’s just amazing but it’s also risky for both yourself and for the others who are out on the piste at the same time as you. It’s enough that you make a wrong turn and suddenly you put yourself or the others in danger by causing a rolling avalanche. Our main advice is; be careful, follow the warning signs, observe and respect the avalanche risk, never go out alone, never go without avalanche equipment and never with someone who didn’t bring their avalanche equipment or who lacks the knowledge of how to use the equipment. If you suddenly find yourself in an avalanche and covered by 2 meters of snow, then it doesn’t matter how many friends are with you if they don’t have or know how to use the equipment to get you out from the snow.

Keep in control

Before you go off-piste you should first of all feel comfortable in all the slopes, including mogul piste. The slope and the foundation can vary widely in one and same field, so it’s important that you master all levels and uneven surfaces.   

Know the track you are going to go

When choosing your first tour on the off-piste, you should have seen the whole ride, eg. from the lift station. Alternatively, if you go with a more experienced off-piste skier, then he or she might know a route free of cliffs and other difficulties. An area with forest is usually safer than an open field, the trees help to bind the snow, reducing the risk of avalanche. Start by going where it is not that steep. There the avalanche risk is lower and you are going to practice in deeper snow.

Correct equipment for a safer and more comfortable ride

For an easier access to the off-piste, it obviously helps to bring the right equipment. There are special off-piste skis and snowboards that are shaped to cope with getting in deep snow. The skis are wider than usual skis. Snowboards are often wider at the front and narrower at the back plus the bindings are usually located further behind on the board.

Everyone who goes off-piste should always bring the following equipment: Helmet, avalanche transmitter, shovel, probe and preferably a first aid kit. If you don’t know how the equipment is used, you should not go to the off-piste. It’s like jumping into the ocean to save someone who’s drowning but you don’t know how to swim. Go through all equipment to make sure that it all works 100% and that everyone is fully aware of how to use it before you go off-piste. 

The best thing you can do is to participate in an avalanche course. Many ski areas have on-site courses that you can sign-up to and participate in. The course takes a couple of hours and includes both theoretical and practical learning. The theoretical part gives you knowledge of how an avalanche is formed and what factors increase the risk of avalanche and how you should act on the mountain. The practical part teaches you how to use your avalanche equipment. If possible, the course leader will also go through and demonstrate different snow layers to show how easy the packed layers of snow divides.

Weather and snow conditions are crucial

Going off-piste is really beautiful and gives a high dose of adrenaline. In the midst of all the euphoria, it is incredibly important to be aware of the risks in every turn. Everything from dumps, cracks, stabbing stones and stumps hiding in the terrain. Just because an area is completely snow-covered and untouched by others does not mean it’s safe for you to go there. It is important to keep track of the weather and snow conditions. It is the weather and the temperatures that have been under the season and the prior days that form the basis of the snow you see on the surface. In short, the snow underlay is often divided into different layers. When the layers are “broken”, it is released from the layer below and then it loosens. Then it is an avalanche.

Always go off-piste with someone

If your friend is going first on the piste and a layer loosens so that an avalanche starts, then you and your friends can go to a safe place, alert and help your friend if needed. If you all go at the same time and end up in an avalanche, you have no one who can help you or who can call for help.       

A mountain guide can take you to all the favourite spots of the mountains

Are you a beginner in the off-piste or experienced but in a new area that you do not know? Then book a mountain guide. Not only for the sake of safety, but also because the mountain guides are incredibly experienced in the area. They know exactly where it is safe and good to go for different snow and weather conditions. You simply get the best tour for that particular day and time, in a safe way. It saves you time, unexpected difficulties and maybe even your life.

Marked off-piste trails, a treat for you as an early riser

If you go without a guide, the off-piste trails are marked on the piste map. If you are the first one up, you have a good chance of having a couple of really good rides without even having to look for trails or expose yourself to unnecessary risks. Of course, these rides are not 100% safe, but when the nature is in control it’s nowhere completely safe. However, the risk of an avalanche on the marked trails is less than if you are driving into unknown terrain.  

Surfing on the snow

When you feel safe and secure, we get to the fun part, the ride itself. It is important to find the right balance and dare to be soft in the body where the knees primarily should act as your shock absorber. Keeping a low speed in loose snow is nothing to recommend. Dare to find the optimal speed that you feel comfortable with, if the terrain is giving you the opportunity to speed up, then you will end up feeling the magic of surfing the snow. In order to maintain a good flow in the ride you should turn smoothly. Don’t let the skis / boards press too much in the snow, then there is a risk of stabbing or losing the balance. Keep the weight on both skis. On the board, you hold the weight on the back leg so that the nose does not get under the snow. And now it’s just training, lots of training. You are probably going to fall and surely get snow here and there, but it all comes with off-piste.   

Those days where you get the feeling of softly bouncing down the mountain filled with adrenaline and total happiness will stay with you as a clear memory for a long time and the feeling will remain in you forever. It is absolutely wonderful.


Written by Anne Cathrine Lind Ceni

+43 720 230850