For huge numbers of keen skiers and snowboarders the world over, there’s simply no feeling to equal the adrenaline rush that off-piste and backcountry terrain offers. The moments leading up to a big off-piste run are to be savoured; the peppermint-fresh air, the calm silence, the open expanse of fresh, light, untouched powder before you… You drink it all in before clipping into your skis or strapping onto your board. Then, as you drop in, the elation takes over!
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The lure of the powder
Groomed, mapped and patrolled pistes pale in comparison with the deep, fresh snow you find away from the crowds, and when conditions are right it’s an amazing buzz. As Marianne Moretti of the Italian resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo attests, “Skiing on the slope is a mature sport and I think there’s a natural evolution to branch out into other modes of skiing.”
People will always seek out more extreme experiences as their ability increases, and the bottom line is that when there’s fresh snow on the ground the groomed pistes just don’t cut it. The gravitation from pistes to powder is inevitable.
Technology drives demand
As the start of each new winter ski season draws near, ski and snowboard manufacturers work hard to promote their wares. Regular developments in shape and design keep many people hooked on the newest equipment, with freeriders particularly interested in maintaining flotation in fresh snow.
Charlie Brooksbank is Director of Pure Powder, the UK’s leading heli-ski specialist, and his views are formed from years of watching new ski and board technologies improve riders’ experiences in the back country. “New ski tech has opened up possibilities for more skiers, making it easier to venture into the deep powder.”
Safety in the powder
It’s not just ski and snowboard technology that holds the attention of off-piste enthusiasts each winter, though. Venturing away from the patrolled pistes is fraught with potential danger, and transceivers, probes and shovels are vital to help keep you safer in the backcountry. With more and more people making their first turns off-piste, it’s more important than ever to make sure you’re kitted out properly for the terrain you’re tackling.
“Before off-piste skiing, the most important thing to pursue is avalanche awareness and training.” So states Ryan at Snowshoemag, and they are wise words indeed. The technology and tuition available to off-piste skiers and boarders these days is superb, and anything that makes the backcountry that little bit safer for all is worthy of close attention.
Ski resort infrastructure
With so many skiers and boarders heading away from the groomed runs these days, ski resorts have had to sit up and take notice. Patrolling the off-piste the way they have the pistes is not an option, but it’s in everyone’s best interests to stay safe on the hill and resort managers from Arabba to Zermatt are keenly aware of this.
Ski schools in resorts across the Alps run off-piste courses for intermediate and advanced skiers. This, coupled with the guide services widely available, is proof positive of the level of demand there is for powder skiing and how seriously the pursuit is taken from a safety perspective. The Bureau des Guides in the French resort of Chamonix is a prime example of how ski resorts supervise and monitor off-piste activity as best they can, to ensure safety.
Is off-piste the future of skiing and boarding?
The short answer to this is no. Alpine piste skiing, terrain parks, telemarking, ski touring and the like will always be popular, and off-piste skiing is merely another cog in the wheel. They are all part and parcel of the pursuit as a whole. Off-piste is not the future of skiing per se, but it is the future of every adventurous beginner skier or snowboarder setting out on the slopes today.
For ski resorts across the Alps and beyond, as long as the infrastructure remains in place to transport people to the mountains there will always be adventurous souls keen to make the most of the spectacular terrain open to them.
In light of recent events, it’s more important than ever to put safety first and seek professional advice before trying new ski routes & techniques.
Three of Chris’ favourite off-piste destinations are Chamonix, Verbier and St Anton. To find more hotspots, visit Monarch Ski.
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