The off-piste you want to conquer this season could be some of the best riding of your life. As the snow arrives in huge quantities this week, we thought it would be a good time to share our top tips for staying safe out there.
- 1 inch of snow does not make for great off-piste skiing!
Remember yesterday when you were out and it was icy and you could see all the rocks and holes? Well they are still there, just hidden under a few inches of snow now! The snow has been slow arriving this season and whilst the pistes have been kept in good condition, we need the base layer to build up in the areas that have been bare up until now. So take it easy and wait a little. Don’t be tempted to just follow a pair of tracks off the side of the piste – you don’t know where they might lead or what is around the corner.
- Get insured
Before you even think about heading outside the piste-poles, make sure you are covered for it. Your standard health insurance policy’s usually do not cover this. Those of you working in the alps this winter with health-insurance as part of your contract will not be covered for off-piste skiing. If you have taken your holiday insurance for the week you should always check to see what exactly is covered.
Look into getting full personal cover from ski insurance specialist MPI Brokers – these guys are run by keen skiers and offer the most comprehensive cover for all mountain-based eventualities. Read more about them – and some extra safety tips from pro skier Chemmy Alcott here. Or head to your local lift-pass sales point and get the Carte Neige coverage. This can be purchased per day for about 2.70€ or for the season for about 60€ for seasonnaires from the club de sport. This covers you for any medical attention needed should you need assistance when off piste.
- Get a guide
And by this we don’t mean your mate who worked here last year! Go to your local ski school and speak to them about the conditions. They are the best people to tell you what the current snow is like, what the weather is going to do today / tomorrow / avalanche risks etc. They know everything about these mountains, often having grown up on them. Which also means they can take you to the best places!
- Off piste ski half days start from 220€ for 3 hours for 2 people from TDC The Development Centre in Tignes, Val D’Isere and Sainte Foy.
- Evolution 2 based in La Rosiere, Tignes, Sainte Foy and Val D’Isere offer off piste lessons and guiding.
- Check out FreeFlo Ski, who specialises in backcountry tours and women specific courses in Tignes and Val D’Isere.
- Local legend Thomas Berthier knows his way around loads of off-piste secret spot in Tignes, Val D’Isere and Sainte-Foy.
- Alpine Logic are specialists in this field and are based in Tignes.
- If you’re heading to Val D’Isere get in touch with Alpine Experience who are the guys in the know there.
- Get the safety gear
Make sure your mobile is fully charged and easily accessible. Load it up with all the numbers you might need: friends, accommodation, local authorities etc. We’ve collected some essential numbers for you in our Resort Guides for Tignes, Val D’Isere, La Rosiere and Sainte-Foy.
Never EVER go anywhere outside of the piste markers without the basic safety equipment. Standard equipment is: a shovel, a probe, a transceiver and a suitable bag to carry all this in. Don’t put yourself or others at risk by not carrying one of these items with you. If you are getting serious, there are ABS airbag packs, which are non essential, but increasingly popular with many regular backcountry riders. All of this can get pricey so renting with your local ski school can be a good way to start. If you are heading out with a guide, often the equipment comes as part of the package. Under no circumstances should a professional offer to take you off piste without the proper equipment.
If you decide you want to invest in your own equipment head over to our directory and check out our favourite ski gear shops who have great options and can offer helpful advice when picking out your own kit.
Which brings me on to point 5…
- Know how to use the safety gear!
No point shelling out on a guide or equipment if you have no idea how to use it. So again, speak to the professionals. Talk to some instructors, have a look online, find a Youtube video and get outside and play hide & seek with your transceiver. Might sound lame but if that avalanche hits, you need to know what to do. That phrase ‘all the gear, no idea’? Don’t be that guy!
There are brilliant courses you can do with groups like Henry’s Avalanche Talk which will take you through everything you need to know. Read this article by Snoworks about off piste safety – Snoworks also offer off piste courses and specific safety and mountain awareness courses. Contact them for more details. Courses and talks like these will educate you with valuable knowledge that will help you to understand and recognise dangers that you might otherwise simply not even know exist.
- Dress properly
If you’re heading out on a day of powder hunting, you are going to be working hard! Gliding through the fresh powder uses quite different muscles to the piste riding you are used to. You are going to work up a sweat, even if its wind chill -20. One of the hardest things in life is digging yourself out of a powder hole! So the key to staying warm and keeping temperature regulated? Layers! Layer up. Then you can add/take away as you need. Also look for good materials like merino wool base layers really help regulate your body temp. Your super skinny denim sallopettes might look awesome, but odds are they aren’t that warm or waterproof. Make sure your outer layers are up to the challenge.
Lastly a helmet. ALWAYS take your lid with you!
- Don’t just look good, feel good!
Make sure your board or skis are properly set up for what you are doing. If you’re usually found hanging around the park or cruising the blues, you might find your board needs setting up a little differently or you might benefit from a different set of skis. You might even want to hire some different kit for the day – fatter skis, extendable powder poles, for example. Find some great ski/snowboard hire options in our Directory here. Again, if you’ve got a guide taking you out, they can help with this and dole out some advice.
- Don’t hit the snooze button
Yes those extra 10 minutes in bed after last night’s après are tempting but your body will thank you if you just get up and eat some sensible food. Think slow energy release things like porridge and bananas. Also think about taking some snacks with you for the day. I always find the little kids packets of dried fruits are perfect for sticking in your sallopette pocket.
You will also ride much better if you take some time to warm up before heading out. A few simple stretches will make all the difference. Same goes for when you get back. Before you hit the beers, just take some time to stretch it out. If you’re staying somewhere swanky use the sauna, steam & hot tub. You can always have a beer in the tub!
- Get some mates!
You’ve heard that expression – ‘no friends on a powder day’? Rubbish! That buzz that you get after nailing an empty untouched powder field, well you’re going to want to share that with someone. You definitely don’t want to be on your own if you get into difficulty. Make sure you’re with people who are the same level as you, or at least have an awareness of every member of your groups ability. Nothing worse than taking someone with you who cannot hit the things you want to, or feeling pushed to ski or snowboard somewhere you don’t feel confident– it’ll ruin both your days. Get people you know and trust – people that can keep you safe and also have a blast with!
10. To film or not to film?
People are divided on whether they Go-Pro every run of the season or finish the holiday with just drunken pics of après. Whichever way you lean, it doesn’t matter! If you want to get film and photos of your day just make sure its charged up!
Biggest tip of the day – HAVE FUN!!