There is nothing quite like the feeling of floating across a powder field on a bluebird day. With the right equipment and precautions, riding off-piste is one of the true-pleasures of snowboarding and skiing. The Portes du Soleil ski area boasts some superb off-piste, a large proportion of which is easily accessible from our chalets in Morzine.
To ensure our guests are fully prepared before heading off-piste this winter, we chatted to our friends at Mint Snowboarding to bring you the following advice. Mint will be running a series of introductory sessions to Avalanche Safety & Awareness this winter so make sure you get your place booked!
1. Equip Yourself Properly
Ensure that every member of your group has the right equipment and that it is working properly.
Mobile phone - Make sure you are carrying a working and fully-charge mobile phone. Save the numbers of the friends you are riding with as well as the number for the mountain rescue. This is (+33 (0) 4 50 74 11 13) for Avoriaz – check online if you are heading off-piste in one of the other Portes du Soleil resorts.
Working transceiver – Test this in the morning before you head up the mountain and check battery levels
Probe – For testing and observing snow pack layers and locating someone buried under the snow.
Shovel – For testing and observing the snow pack as above and digging someone out in an emergency
Appropriate dress for changing conditions – Just because it’s a sunny day, there is no guarantee that it will stay that way in the mountains. If you are riding off-piste, make sure that you are dressed in a warm, waterproof jacket with good quality gloves and a helmet. As you will be wearing a backpack, there’s no harm in throwing in an extra layer-especially if you feel the cold like us!
2. Familiarise Yourself with Your Equipment
It makes no sense to carry all the right equipment, if you don’t know how to use it. The more practice you get, the quicker and more confident you will become. Equally, there is little use in carrying a transceiver if you don’t have a probe to locate someone under the snow or a shovel to dig them out. Mint’s courses will give you all the knowledge you need to use your equipment effectively.
3. Check You’re Covered
A good winter sports travel insurance policy will include off-piste cover; however you need to check the small print to ensure that this is included before your venture away from marked pistes.
4. Check Your Skills are up to Scratch
Riding off-piste requires different techniques to piste riding to ensure that you remain safe and in control. Off-piste conditions can also be extremely variable and untracked perfect powder is far from guaranteed throughout the length of your run. You may have to navigate heavy or cruddy snow and ice as well as different terrain types such as coping with high traverses or flat sections where you will need to keep you speed up. For a safe introduction to off-piste riding, why not try one of Mint snowboarding’s Off Piste Riding Technique Sessions? These sessions will equip you with all the skills you need to head off-piste with confidence.
5. Buddy Up!
Snowboarding and skiing are social sports and there is no better time to buddy up than when riding off-piste. Never venture off-piste along, even if you don’t intend on going far.
6. Know Your Route
If you are heading off-piste, make sure that are not venturing into the unknown. Ensure that a member of your group is familiar with the route you intend to take and if you have any doubts, hire a guide. Sometimes areas that look safe can have hidden issues such as gullies, cliffs, holes and hidden rocks.
7. Observe The Conditions
It makes sense to start observing snow in more detail so that you can start to recognise the terrain and weather conditions that contribute to a heightened avalanche risk. Mint’s courses will help you to understand what to look for and when it may be a better idea to remain on the piste.
Avalanches can be caused by a variety of factors; however they are most prevalent when steeper terrain undergoes major changes within short timeframes. Pay particular attention in the hours immediately after a fresh snowfall when the snowpack is settling and consolidating. This might be when you are most tempted to venture off-piste but is also the most dangerous. New snowfall can place incredible strain on underlying layers of snow which can cause layers of the snow to break loose under additional pressure. Equally, increases in temperature cause melting within or on top of the snowpack weakening the upper layers of the snow. Wind also is one of the key players in snow pack stability.
For more information on backcountry safety and the range of sessions & guiding available this winter, visit the Mint Snowboarding website or contact their friendly team on +33 (0)4 50 84 13 88.