With yet another huge dump of snow, we spent our day off doing some fantastic off piste trails. Baring in mind we’re not pros, here are a few tips and pointers for cruising in the powder that might be helpful.
Off piste skiing (Cat’s lark)
Keep your knees well bent and weight relatively centered, unless your skis are starting to dig into the snow too much, in which case lean back just to let the tips come through. If you sit back on your skis too much then you’ll lose some control, so just think about lifting your toes up. This should provide you with the right kind of balance.
Keeping your legs together is really important, and rather than transferring weight from one foot to another to turn (like you would on the piste), try to move in an up and down motion: Extend your legs out to the side as you steer your skis into the turn, then bend them again as you finish it.
Make sure your boots are tight, though not so tight that they stop your circulation! Tighten them a little at a time to avoid pain in your feet – they’ll loosen up after a few runs. Skiing with loose boots will mean that your skis will not be as responsive due to the lack of direct control. Off piste, this can be particularly dangerous, as the terrain and snow type is less predictable, and your boots could become the reason for an injury to your leg. Check out physiotherapist Gail Heatley’s blog entry ‘Wee Tip Encore‘ for more info.
Some skis are designed with off-piste skiing in mind, and have a larger surface area. These let the skis plane more – acting more like snowboards than skis – and therefore there is not so much resistance from the snow. As a result, you can go faster and turning is easier too.
Off piste snowboarding (Jim’s choice)
The biggest misconception about riding off piste is to lean back on your board in order to glide over the snow. Actually, it’s more important to stay centered, with your shoulders parallel with the mountain, i.e keeping your shoulders in line with your knees and feet. With your weight more centered, you will have better balance, allowing you to compensate for any lumps and bumps that appear.
Rather than leaning back and using your weight to make the turn, use your leading shoulder to move you into it. This keeps your weight centered (where it should be) and allows you to steer with your back foot, by pushing on your toe edge to create a flex in the board, which starts the turn.
If you’re riding in deep powder, you might want to use a longer board which will help you float over the snow. Setting your bindings a little further back will help to bring your nose up and out of the snow, allowing for an easier ride.
Be focused on what lies ahead – concentrate on where you are going and you’ll pre-empt unexpected changes in terrain. Snow-covered gullies and drops can be hard to pick out, but if you’re really concentrating on what’s ahead then you’re more likely to avoid getting into trouble, or losing your balance over lumps and bumps.
If you’re skiing with weaker skiers or boarders, then make sure they’re not the last down the mountain, but that there’s always someone behind who can help with finding lost skis. If you see anything dodgy (like a hole), remember to alert the people behind you (ahem ahem, thanks Jim). Taking a guide is a brilliant way to find those powder fields that only a few people know about, and of course, remember to bring a transceiver with you if you’re doing some serious off-piste, where risk of avalanche is higher. See our blog on avalanche safety for more info.