The most important thing to know before tackling off piste skiing is that even the best on piste skier will feel like a complete beginner again once he or she is up to his or her waist in fresh powder!
When skiing off piste, there is enormous resistance from the quantities of snow all around your skis and therefore steering with your feet and lower leg (as we do when skiing on groomed slopes) is no longer sufficient to make your skis turn! It is important to use your whole leg and to lean back a little to allow the tips of your skis to stay above the snow…
First, as I mentioned in my previous article, “Off piste skiing explained”, there must be deep fresh powder – at least knee deep and preferably waist deep – or you’ll just struggle to ski “normally” and will get fed up very quickly! The deeper the snow, the easier it will be… believe me!
Choose an un-groomed area next to a marked run. Don’t go off the beaten track until you’re really at ease in deep snow as when you’ve had enough, it’s better to be just a few turns away from a groomed slope!
Wear goggles, not sunglasses, and protect your face and neck. With all that perfect powder blowing up in your face, you need to be able to see where you’re going and not get frost bite on your face.
It’s not a bad idea to use those old-fashioned ankle straps that attach your ski to your leg – but only if there is no avalanche risk – as when you fall and lose a ski in deep powder, never expect to find the ski where you left it if you’re not attached to it!
Never go off piste alone and just as a precaution, carry a reflector or transmitter that will help rescuers find you under the mountains of snow IF you’re unlucky to get caught in an avalanche.
Still fancy having a go? Well let’s get down to the nitty gritty…
You might get the hang of it in an hour or it may take you days – mainly depending on how relaxed you are. If you’re tense and feel out of your comfort zone, you will have very little chance of becoming a good or happy off piste skier. You must go gently, and concentrate on where your skis are – the moment you lose this concentration, one of your skis will suddenly either disappear in the wrong direction or will nose dive – meaning you are likely to do the same!
• Your skis should be slightly further apart than usual (about 4 inches).
• Your weight needs to be equally spread over both legs.
• Your skis MUST be pointing downhill – if you haven’t yet mastered this technique on groomed slopes, then you will need to practice a little more – turning across the slope in deep snow is almost impossible! This technique involves moving ONLY the back half of your skis – as if they were rotating on an axe – your feet!
• You should lean back slightly – but not too far as you won’t be able to control your speed – just enough to stop your skis from nose-diving! You will notice that off piste skiers look like they are about to sit down!
• Your legs should act as large springs – when you’re at the lowest position your head should be almost level with your hands!
• Never come back up to a complete upright position or you will probably fall over backwards – if you manage to stay upright, you’ll have terrible thigh burn within minutes.
• Reach forward with rigid arms and plant your pole for each turn.
• Imagine you are on a trampoline and that you are bouncing from side to side – good rhythm is vital!
Don’t be afraid of taking a slope which is steeper than you would normally choose – the deep snow slows you down so you do need to get some speed up to start to enjoy the trampoline effect.
Don’t expect to get the hang of things straight away and admit when you’ve had enough! If you force your body to make the required extra effort for too long, you could end up hurting yourself quite seriously.
You’ll know you’ve got it when suddenly you feel like you’re skiing in slow motion and you’re no longer making any effort at all… This is when the fun really starts!
Enjoy! Maybe we’ll cross tracks this winter…
Never fancied trying off-piste skiing before as it always seemed to be so cool and those trendy guys always make it look so simple - now I realise that I should try out a bit of powder just next to the slopes so that if I'm completely useless, I can just slip back on slope and carry on as if nothing ever happened! Thanks for the boost! Will let you know how I get on!
How can people write such nn-sense? Most of it is NOT TRUE! Oh yes it was 20 years ago!!
2 things worked for me: 1) I used All Mountain skis for the 1st time (Salomon X-drive 8.3) after about 15 weeks of skiing. The skis are 83mm under foot (so maybe 10mm wider than piste skis) with a bit of front rocker. 2) The one thought I allowed myself was to initiate each turn with both legs. (A friend also suggested thinking about keeping weight on the uphill ski as a way of distributing weight evenly between skis, but I didn't find this quite as effective - maybe others will). I also found your tip about being able to ski more slowly useful on the occasions I was trying to ski too quickly. I also had new boots on (Salomon x-pro 120s, with the flex set to "sport") but I suspect the All Mountain skis, my turn thought and your tip about being able to ski more slowly were more important
Being lucky enough to have parents who were crazy about skiing, my love for the mountains started when I was 4 years old on our first family ski holiday to Austrian ski resort of Obergurl. One ski holiday a year was never enough and tears rolled down my face as I looked out the back window of the car on the drive down the valley on the way home!
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