The Holy grail….. powder.
Eskimos have over 50 words for snow. However we at Marmalade ski school think there’s only one that really matters…powder. Light, floaty, amazing, bottomless, fluffy, deep powder.
Mastering the art of skiing and riding this magical stuff takes time and practice, but with the right instruction, equipment and mentality the holy grail of winter sports is achievable by anyone, in a realistic timeframe.
Off Piste Safety
Without a high level of knowledge skiing in the off piste can be dangerous and the safest way to ski off piste is with a local guide. Most avalanches that are triggered by skiers and boarders occur within view of a chairlift. Whether dipping your toe just to the sides of the piste markers or hiking a steep ridge line to access the steepest of couloirs; it’s not just a good idea to know the basics, it’s vital. Over 90% of people that get caught in avalanches actually trigger them. Understanding a little more about where to go and when is key.
All over Meribel and The 3 Valleys there is clear and constantly updated information regarding the safety of the ski area and the weather forecast and snow depths.
There are brightly coloured flags at the bases and summits of most of the main ski lift areas. It’s not a measurement of whether to go off piste or not, it’s how stable the snowpack is. The higher the number the more unstable it is. They go from yellow (1) through chequered black and yellow, to black (5). With some basic knowledge of the conditions you can adapt your plan for the day.
The Piste Security or Pisteurs are everywhere, at summits you’ll find a pisteurs hut. These guys and girls know their stuff. They basically live on the mountain and know day by day how dangerous (or not) each part of it is and why. They also love powder and know the area and recent weather better than anyone. Ask for advice, they want you to go explore and will often keep a watchful eye on your lines. They aren’t your enemy!
Shovel, transceiver and probe
If anything did happen, you’re a needle in a frozen haystack without the following essentials… As well as having the right fitting boots and fatter skis/bigger board, you need the big three.
These are small transmitters that are worn under your jacket. They send and receive a signal and are used to locate someone buried in the snow.
Foldable, lightweight and used to locate exactly where the transceiver (and therefore the person) is under the snow.
A snow specific shovel which is lightweight, foldaway and sturdy. Used to dig out when the victim has been located with the transceiver and probe.
Never go off piste without this kit. It’s simple to learn the basics and it is the absolute bottom line of what you need anywhere other than the pisted runs.
Things to consider…
If there’s even the smallest chance of going anywhere other than the pistes then take your avi pack with you.
Work out a rough plan for the day and look at recent weather and how this may affect the snow pack. Sharp rises in temperature or heavy wind completely changes the conditions from one area to another.
Keep the group small and make sure everyone is happy with what you’re planning on doing.
Have the security patrol number stored in your phone.
Every day is different. Just because it didn’t slide yesterday or last year when you skied it means nothing. Treat the mountain with respect.
Don’t blindly follow lines! Sounds simple but we have all done it. Who knows where they lead and how steep the terrain becomes below. Remember skied lines doesn’t mean it won’t slide either; if someone else has skied it they may have made it more unstable.
Ski a face one at a time; partly so that you’re putting less stress on the snowpack, partly so that you’re not all caught if it does slide.
Avalanches often occur on steeper gradients, but anything as steep as a blue run can slide.
Cheat… hire an Instructor or a guide.
Take a pro!! We can show you not only ways to get better, but also the best spots of the day. Shortcuts that took us ages to learn! Take an instructor that really specialises in skiing the back country and off piste. They can teach you not only the basic understanding of staying safe off piste but also how to ski it better and in control.
So much of skiing powder is your psychological state. Feeling out of your depth in a foreign environment can send you down a negative path. It’s not just a case of “follow me”. There are tons of techniques you can practice and learn so that when you go into the untouched powder you’re more ready and able to deal with it.
Make clean beautiful tracks, smash the powder up and master the mountain 🙂