Boy have we been lucky with snow conditions. After a 3 day storm I went to Skyway with the dream team of Dave Searle and Tom Grant to see what had happened. 1-2 m accumulations were expected and were found, but after a couple of ski cuts nothing avalanched and we got on with hoovering as much powder as possible with each of our ten 1200 m runs. Here’s the goods:
We all watch those jaw dropping films of skiers shredding down spines in Alaska and pulling surf turns on perfect powder turns and cant help to be inspired and motivated to emulate these feats. But making the transition from the piste to off piste can be a daunting challenge when initial forays into the fluffy stuff seem so hard and leave us stuck upside down with a lost ski! The pros make it look effortless because they are so good, and also very very strong athletes. While you don’t need to be an Olympian to ski offpiste, recognising its much more strenuous and conditioning your body accordingly will do wonders. Also throw away your race carvers and try a pair of skis that are 100 m or more under foot.
1. Get stronger and more flexible
Skiing off-piste uses much more energy than general piste skiing, perhaps 10 times as much. The stronger you are the easier it is to control your skis from the start of a run until the end. Initially quick gains can be made at the gym to maximise strength and power endurance. Do your pistol squats, leg presses, lunges, box jumps. Improve your core’s torsional strength to prevent over rotation in turns and improve balance on a wobble board. Increased flexibility will help you absorb the bumps and compressions without injury, too.
A favourite training aid is this ski fit app from professional trainer and physiotherapist Neil Maclean Martin in Chamonix. Being mobile its portable so you can do it whereever you are including your Travel Lodge hotel room with no special equipment – so there are no excuses. Try out the free version and if you like it see if you get to level 4 – it works me so hard! Ski Fit App
2. Don’t drive from the backseat
It can be a constant battle to get your weight forward after every turn, but if you’re driving from the backseat, your turns will be late and energy-sapping. Modern front rockered skis can be driven hard off-piste with a lot of forward pressure without the tip dive. Try lifting your toes off the footbed while skiing and you will feel your weight going forward and pressure increasing on the front of your boot, where it should be.
3. Continually scan the terrain ahead
That way, you can anticipate what’s coming and make turns and weight adjustments accordingly. Too often our focus, especially under stress, is reduced to the patch of snow in front of our tips. When skiing fast, my eyes are continually flicking to as much as 100m ahead. If I’m doing 160 kph on a pair of race skis, I’ll be looking 500m ahead.
Lots of it. Buy a lift pass and get as much skiing done as you possibly can. Don’t be that British mountaineer that thinks touring will get you better at skiing, it might just make you better at going uphill. If you only ski perfect powder on sunny days, you won’t be able to deal with anything else. Go out in all kinds of snow, and in all kinds of weather. You wouldn’t expect to develop the muscle memory to balance on a surf board straight away and skiing is the same, developing muscle memory to cope with different snow over time.
While lessons are expensive getting tips from the pros will help avoid bad habits developing and since people learn in different ways, the pros have a variety of methods to get to the same goal. Ski instructors Simon Christy, Alison Thacker and Mark Gear all have years of experience and coaching worth taping into while a day out with a guide like myself can focus on off piste techniques over a variety of snow conditions drawing on my experience from ski racer to professional big mountain skier with Black Crows.
5. Use slightly shorter poles
In soft snow you sit lower relative to the surface. Shorter poles will help keep your weight forward, as you stretch the pole out in front to initiate the turn. On steeps it’s common to use poles that are 10cm shorter than normal.
Today I wanted to get out and put some miles in my legs. On the back of the pre-Christmas Scottish Winter Climbing season and very little road biking this summer they are even more spindly than normal and we started the ski season with a fair bit of touring. So with great snow conditions I have the chance to get some strength back. I left the SLR at home in order to go light and enjoy the skiing more but had a little point and shoot.
I was joined by Max Turgeon and we kicked off on Brevent to take advantage of the fresh snow on the lowers. Cold, sluffy blower was lying in wait and we had a lot of fun playing with sluff.
The plan praz couloir. Max skiing below.
After Brevent started to warm up I switched to the darkside and had some sweet runs off the Plan going flat out. Then as the sun came round I decided to head up the Midi and do a Rond or Cosmique. For a change I went for the Cosmiques which is always lush in the afternoon sun, all to yourself, no one trying to kill you with rocks from above, and overhead blower so cold I wished I had a gimp mask.
Only 2 or 3 tracks today.
Me enjoying the warmth of the sun after the cold on the Midi. My leg muscles were well warmed up by the time the para came round and it felt good to finish the day on such a good slope arcing out the GS turns.
Today I went to the Helbronner which is one of my favourite places to ski with big faces, arretes and long couloirs. We started off with a run under the cables with Cedric Bernardini, Luca Pandolfi and Tom Grant and found good sluffing snow. After another couple of laps there we were joined by Dave Searle and Ally Fulton and went for a team social ski down the Marbree to finish.
Dave Searle enjoying the powder in the Marbree.