Exploring more of the mountain in natural terrain is a whole new level of fun compared to groomed pistes, but it comes with an increased level of risk and a different style of skiing.

What is Off Piste Skiing?

Off piste skiing is essentially what the title is; skiing outside of the pisted area. This can be anything from going off the edge of the piste for a short while, to skiing complicated terrain far away, where the level of risk is amplified by new dangers which are controlled in resorts.

Skiing off piste is inherently dangerous to those who do not know what to look out for. And even for those who do, risks can only be mitigated, not removed completely.

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Equipment

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Skiing different terrain requires different equipment.

Off piste skis differ slightly to traditional piste skis, whereby they are typically wider, have a greater rocker at the front as well as different types of camber to assist with the varying terrain (powder, ice, crust, as well as slope angle).

Bindings are fairly similar, unless you are doing any ski touring in which case the bindings will be quite different (pin bindings).

Likewise with the boots; they are fairly similar, however some off piste boots will have a ‘walk mode’. If you are doing ski touring then the boots will have a walk mode as well as ‘pin inserts’ to allow for the pivoting movement.

Poles may have wider baskets so that they don’t sink in powder.

Depending on the course, ice axe, harness, rope, ice screws and crampons may be required.

Safety equipment is also required; transceiver, probe and shovel. These are included in UCPA courses where they are required. 

Transceivers provide a signal which can be detected through snow, as well as having a search function to facilitate rescuing others. Probes are used to probe for victims through the snow, before using the shovel to dig them out. These skills are taught on our off piste courses - check the course descriptions for more information. 

 
Avalanche pack kit

Fitness

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A good level of fitness is required for the off piste courses. You should be a generally active person. Unlike skiing on the pistes, the varying terrain and quality of the snow can be quite tiring, and the days long if you are doing a lot of descent.

Yes, powder can be tiring despite looking so effortless! Another point to make is occasionally descents will go down into a flat area where you need to propel yourself using poles (cross country style) potentially for quite a long distance. This can of course be tiring.

An aspect often overlooked is also the effect of altitude whilst skiing, generally speaking this can make you feel out of breath easier than usual and the rest of the body will react accordingly! There isn't much you can do to mitigate this, but being fit helps.

Technique

Skiing off piste requires your body and according technique to adapt to the varying terrain, which is less common on piste. As you build experience, you understand what kind of technique is required for the current terrain; you build a ‘toolbox’ which you can then draw upon to use the ‘right tool for the job’.

Some general tips to either refresh your memory or bear in mind for your first off piste course:

  • Keep your weight balanced evenly between both skis in most circumstances

  • Body always facing downhill, and hands always in front

  • Don’t lean back

  • Think about pole plants and rhythm. ‘Bob’ to find rhythm in powder 

  • Lots of different styles of turns, choose the right one (jump, compression, swiss virage)

  • Relax, stay loose

Another element which some first timers overlook is skiing with a rucksack that contains many spare layers, food and water for the day, as well as safety equipment. It can be big and heavy, affecting your balance and agility, as well as creating extra work on your legs. This is something you will get used to over time but it is something to bear in mind.​

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When to go

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It is possible to do off piste courses with us throughout the whole season. Typically they start from late December and run until late April. The snow varies in quality and style, as does the weather. 


Early to mid season can be quite moody, with short days and lots of snowfall. This can mean more powder days however since the snow is typically frequent, soft and fluffy. From mid season (generally February and March), the snowpack tends to build and hold well, it can be very cold. From then on the days get longer and the weather begins to stabilise, meaning better weather and warmer days. The snow can often be icy in the morning but then turn to ‘spring snow’, which is ‘second best to powder’ as many skiers claim​. Being stable and grippy it allows us to do steeper and more exposed lines.

Where to go

We currently offer off piste skiing courses and trips in Chamonix, Argentiere, La Plagne, Flaine, Serre Chevalier, Val d’Isere, Tignes, Les Arcs, Les Contamines, Val Thorens, Les Deux Alpes as well as Japan, Tromsø, and Chalet Les Pelerins in Chamoinx! 


These resorts vary in their attributes for off piste skiing, but they all have their own incredible lines and beautiful scenery that our guides and instructors will be able to take you down.

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Dates and Prices

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