When we ski, we’re often wary of going off-piste. We hear about it and see people skiing outside of the designated runs, but our first thoughts are that we should stick to the marked areas. It’s the safest and easiest place to ski.
As we ski more and more, our interest in off-piste skiing can increase. We start to feel comfortable on the runs and as soon as we master some of the red runs, we hear more and more people talking about off-piste skiing, which does nothing but further spark our interest.
This interest can be particularly intense when you’re in a resort where the off-piste skiing is fantastic. Take our group ski holidays to Tignes as an example. A great resort for every level of skier, it’s renowned for its off-piste skiing areas and the varied conditions on offer.
What can be a particularly exhilarating experience can also be one that’s dangerous if you don’t know exactly how to deal with the conditions or know what to expect – and these few points should help to ensure you can make the most of your off-piste skiing wherever you travel.
Check your travel insurance
Before you even start to consider off-piste skiing, it’s vital you check your insurance policy. Although standard travel insurance policies will cover you for France ski holidays, they might not stretch to off-piste skiing.
Even with dedicated skiing travel insurance, it’s worthwhile checking. As there are naturally more risks associated with off-piste skiing, not all insurers cover it as standard, so it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Remember the snow isn’t maintained
When we see off-piste skiing in the movies, we see untouched snow that looks so perfect to ski on that it seems even better than that on the marked out runs.
But it’s not. In fact, that’s probably as far from the truth as you can get.
When you first start off-piste skiing, you’ll realise just how difficult it can be as you’ll sample some of the most varied skiing surfaces in such a short space of time. Often covered by a light dusting of snow, which gives it its perfect appearance, you shouldn’t be surprised if you go from a smooth surface to the rutted tracks left by numerous other off-piste skiers previously in a matter of seconds.
Adapt your skiing style
Linked largely to the fact that the snow isn’t maintained and you’ll encounter various different surface conditions, it’s almost a given that you’re going to have to change your skiing style from that which you’d use on the normal runs.
The best way to do this is to take an off-piste lesson with a qualified and professional instructor, who you’ll find in abundance should you go on a group skiing holiday to Tignes (it’s a great resort for everything off-piste!).
Teaching you to ski in ways you were originally told not to, such as right forward on your toes or back on your heels, chances are you’re also going to be told to keep your legs closer together – and potentially wider apart – than you usually do.
But it’s all for a good reason; when you ski normally on maintained runs, you can stick to one skiing style as you can judge what to expect from the runs. When you’re off-piste, you may have to change your style every few seconds.
Consider the safety aspects
We strongly believe that skiing doesn’t have to be dangerous and more often than not, accidents occur because of human error – most regularly because people are trying to do too much, ski too fast or are simply out of their comfort zone and don’t have the control they need to have.
With off-piste skiing, however, there are some safety aspects that you need to consider, purely because of the nature of the activity.
Take the fact that they aren’t patrolled as an example. If you therefore don’t let anyone know where you’re going and you have an accident, how are people going to find you?
Yes, you may have a mobile phone that you can use to call someone, but the search would be quickened up considerably if people were aware of even roughly where you were.
And although avalanches are rare, being prepared for one is always a great idea and there are some fantastic pieces of equipment available that allow you to do this. For example, more and more off-piste skiers are wearing specialist rucksacks that have inflatable sections – as soon as you pull the cord, the sections inflate and in the event of an avalanche, you should travel down the mountain with the snow, rather than getting trapped underneath it.
Some say off-piste skiing should be avoided as it’s too risky. Others say it’s perfectly safe and you don’t have to do anything special to enjoy it – we sit somewhere in between.
Off-piste skiing can be one of the most fantastic experiences you have when on a skiing holiday, but it’s absolutely vital you fully understand what you need to do and how it differs from ‘normal’ skiing, to ensure you really can enjoy it to its full potential.