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How do I get off piste practice?

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
I've dabbled in between pistes a bit and did a full day with a guide last year, and I really want to do more off piste skiing. I am going to be spending 3 weeks in Chamonix from Saturday (on my own), so I'm wondering how do I get more off piste skiing in, without having to fork out for a guide every time. I'm booked into a 3 day course, so that's a start, and I understand to do any back country stuff you need a guide. What did you guys do to get more practice in when you were starting out? Is it easy to find groups of people to head out with?
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conor90 wrote:
What did you guys do to get more practice in when you were starting out?


erm, skied off piste.
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Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Ha, yes of course. Did you just head off on your own, or did you have people to go with that knew what they were doing?
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Does skiclub gb do guided off piste in chamonix?
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Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Skiing offpiste without a guide (and all the Avi gear etc) in an area you’re not familiar with is not recommended at all, especially on your own. Even the smallest problem could turn life threatening.
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conor90 wrote:
Ha, yes of course. Did you just head off on your own, or did you have people to go with that knew what they were doing?


Like most people started between the pistes but Chamonix gets skied out everywhere very fast if you are looking for powder. I did a lot of early skiing in Austria and Bavaria on meadows and it is pretty safe off piste. If you know the gradient and avoid terrain traps it is ok. That said there is still a lack of snow for off piste at lower altitudes where it is safest to ski. If you go with a guided / instructor led group it shouldn't be too expensive though... not that the guide is going to take a bullet for you if the proverbial hits the fan.

As a tourist you'll probably have trouble breaking into the locals / seasonnaire groups I would have thought.

Today I'm going to piste ski because it has been blowing very hard all night (in the Isere) and there are likely to be quite a few new slabs.

Obviously I'm not suggesting that you head off down the Pas du Chevre or something but most of the stuff between blue runs is relatively mild for hitting the powder / crud. The golden rule is to avoid any slope of more than 30 degrees - even over a short section and don't go too far from civilization or away from open runs in bad weather/poor viz (no one will find you until the summer).


Last edited by You'll need to Register first of course. on Thu 10-01-19 11:10; edited 1 time in total
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Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Please don't go alone. Even between pistes can be dangerous in some cases.

However, you *can* get practice on un-pisted runs on your own, either pistes that are not groomed (but open) or ski routes that never get groomed. I've not really skied Chamonix much recently so I don't know the situation, but hopefully someone who has can point you to areas where there are some ungroomed but controlled areas. The big problem in Chamonix is that you need to be on the first lift to get untracked snow, and even then you only get one run before it's tracked out.

Another option is to go with the ski school rather than a guide, they can't take you on glaciers but they can take you to some off piste areas if you in the right group - best to ask before you book though.

If you can find a group to go with and you all have the right gear then that's the best bet in the long term, maybe the folks on your course will be keen to do the same after the course?
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
I'm going to be working in a shared office space too so I'm hoping to meet people there to ski with. Tuesday is potentially shaping up to be a good day for off piste so I might just pay to go in a led group
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you should find a resort where you can ski between pistes or a bowl where all 'roads' lead to one place.
Lots of people making their own tracks at Stubai Glacier when I was there. pretty much running parallel to the marked pistes.
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id invest is an off piste/avi course, involving being with a guide out in the alpine and learning about the enviroment youre skiing in, snow pack weather etc etc
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i take it youre looking for mountaincraft and experience rather than skiing "instruction" ... So definitely book a course... do SCGB do instructor led guiding there ?.. check the fcebk scgb - chamonix page or call the club and ask .. is there a UCPA in Chamonix ? give them a call, dont know their MO but maybe able to go with them if they are under their number for a price .. go to a TO rep and see if they have clients looking for the same to share cost
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And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
I'm doing a 3 day course that includes both off piste/avi type stuff, as well as instruction. I guess there's only so far instruction will take you, you then need to get out and practice what you were taught. That's what I'm hoping to get out of this trip because on my usual one week holidays I feel just as I'm starting to get it I have to leave and it's another year before I'm back again.

@limegreen1, I'll have a look at those suggestions, thanks
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So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
- Do the course
- Do the SCGB ILG days
-Cultivate Ski buddies at similar levels (e.g. from the course /ILG days / around the resort /& here)
- Enjoy the off piste with your (new) ski buddies in a safe, responsible way a la Davidof's (& other's) advice above
- Good luck & ski safely
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
Put a note on the 'ski buddies' thread, might be some snowheads heading that way that are looking to ski with someone.
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
UCPA in Chamonix and Argentierre - call both and see if they have any undersubscribed courses you can join. I think they usually only do it with accommodation etc, but you might get lucky. Very cheap way to do it.
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
It may have changed but when I was starting out most of the focus in avalanche education was on snow science. This was all very interesting but not actually much use if you need to make a go/no go decision in the absence of a guide. In terms of what worked for me:

I found people to ski with on Snowheads. That included my then flatmate and people like BobinCH and RPF in Verbier. Post in the relevant weather conditions thread. People are, in general, nice.

I did the 3 day Mountain Tracks avalanche course and followed up with the single day course run by Avalanche Academy. Both of these were excellent. In particular, the MT one gave me a lot more confidence in my own skills and judgement.

Get up to speed on the 3x3 and reduction methods developed by Werner Munter. These will give you a definite go/no go decision. You need to actually stick to the method and ignore what other people are doing. Base your decision making on the data and, initially, not on your own observations. As you get more skilled, you can learn to rely more on the latter.

Buy a compass with an inclinometer and practice until you know what a 30 degree slope looks like without using the tool.

After it snows, in general, you will want to start on lower angled slopes in the southern half of the compass. Yes, there will be exceptions to that but in the northern hemisphere most people who die in avalanches do so in the northern half of the compass. Gradually progress your skiing through steeper slopes and more dangerous aspects as the conditions evolve.

Learn French and look at the map. Terrain that is prone to sliding will usually be marked. Also treat with care anything called anything bad e.g. the Terre Maudites in Morzine. See also anything with the prefixes Lav or Lanche. Furthermore, some places, like the back of le Tour, look fairly benign but are, in fact, extremely dangerous. Others are extremely dangerous and commonly skied e.g. the couloir des Possettes above Vallorcine. Ask people during your avalanche course.
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Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Conor 90 if you can call into Beckett and Wilde tonight after 5.45 and I will be there bright orange jacket soft shell type and we'll see when we can ski together etc
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Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Mr.Egg wrote:
you should find a resort where you can ski between pistes or a bowl where all 'roads' lead to one place.
Lots of people making their own tracks at Stubai Glacier when I was there. pretty much running parallel to the marked pistes.
Yeah, cos skiing outside the marked pistes on a glacier never goes wrong rolling eyes
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@admin,
theres always an element of risk, but isnt that why people do it?
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
@Wallski, Thanks but I'm not in Chamonix until Saturday. Maybe we can meet next week? I can send you a pm
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No problem that's my usual haunt!
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Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
The first piece of off piste I did was a small section to the right of leisse Tignes, which was on a glacier. I followed behind a group being led. I was on my own.

That section was still part of a glacier, and there were crevasses there. Luckily I was testing the water, and some of the bigger gaps were actually marked with poles.

On your own you have to ski more carefully, and avoid taking some of the more risky routes. If you have walked the area when there is no snow, you can see what is underneath the snow. You are also aware of where the hazards would be. Obviously, this is not an option if you are visiting an unknown area. Which is why having a guide is advised (most insurance policies do not cover you for off piste without a guide), so you are skiing without insurance (it is not a crime but may cause an issue in crowded avalanche prone areas)

In Scotland when the snow falls, most of the routes are not pisted. This is semi-off piste, although the routes are marked.

Verbier has yellow routes, which are also un-pisted but patrolled. You just have to take more care to avoid rocks, and hazards, which means you do not tuck your poles under your armpits, squat down, and go for a speed record like you do on piste.
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
Mr.Egg wrote:
@admin,
theres always an element of risk, but isnt that why people do it?


There’s risk and there’s foolhardy. Would you ski at avi risk 5? Or on your own?
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@Wallski, I think I'm living right above there!
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Mr.Egg wrote:
@admin,
theres always an element of risk, but isnt that why people do it?


Presumably admin was referring to the risk of falling down a big old hole on the glacier though, which is perhaps less manageable than other risks
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@conor90, I think there is a marked red run that is unpisted in Argentiere but it is a long time since I've been there and it may have changed. Confused
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
conor90 wrote:
... What did you guys do to get more practice in when you were starting out? ...

Travel to North America, where you can ride anywhere within the boundary because it's controlled and patrolled.
That's why the resorts look small.
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 So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
@Ray Zorro, nothing is unpisted in Argentiere, at least, not 30 minutes after the lifts have opened... ski-ed out...
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
philwig wrote:
conor90 wrote:
... What did you guys do to get more practice in when you were starting out? ...

Travel to North America, where you can ride anywhere within the boundary because it's controlled and patrolled.
That's why the resorts look small.


^^^^ this +1

@conor90 also maybe visit Austria or Switzerland and ski some of the un- pisted itineraries , which are great fun as well as avi controlled and marked but with a much more natural feel and in normal snow conditions can be safely skied without avi equipment
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Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
I think someone on here who knows Chamonix well could give you some areas and constraints where it would be reasonably safe to ski between pistes safely by yourself.

For example, at Grands Montets, with avy danger of 3 or less, on a reasonably busy day, and not in a whiteout, from memory I think you could safely ski solo off the Herse lift anywhere between the Combes and Pylones pistes.

It’s not glaciated, lowish angle, nothing to slide above it, nowhere to get lost or way to miss the piste etc. There would certainly be tons of other people doing it. I think it’s more helpful to make those kinds of distinctions than lump everything outside the markers in the same risk bucket.
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 Poster: A snowHead
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@Steve77, Not very much actually pisted off Herse is there? Love Herse, perfect bumps gradient.

Lavancher bowl equally. If they've opened it, all but far skiers' left should be pretty safe, esp. as much is above pistes.

But, OP not distinguishing between "off piste" and "powder" ... they are not the same things...
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Yes, for between-pistes powder after 10am probably best just to drive to Les Contamines.
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
@conor90, get Bruce Goodlad’s excellent book about ski touring- lots of top tips for decision making in avalanche terrain, route finding, reading the weather/ snowpack history etc, as well as a useful chapter of tips for off piste ski technique by Alison Culshaw. Bruce is a British Mountain Guide based in/near Chamonix and not only knows his stuff, can write and explain it clearly too. Book is published by Pesda Press, should be available on Amazon. Combined with some lessons and group trips and lots of practice it’s a very valuable resource.
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@Dabber, I'm limited to just Chamonix for this trip but I would love to sample NA this time.

@Steve77, thanks for those suggestions. I'll talk to the guides I have about places too. Can you get powder in Le Tour that's not tracked out straight away?

@under a new name, well in ideal circumstances I'd be skiing powder but I'm sure they'll be limited days. I am keen to improve my all round skiing so I guess being able to handle all off piste conditions is part of that.
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Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
@conor90, unless you are heading somewhere with reasonably expectable powder - e.g. heli or cat skiing, Utah, Wyoming, Japan, etc. powder usually is best found when you live in/near resort and don’t necessarily need to be at work of a morning!

After ~700 days skiing and 3 seasons, it took a week of heli skiing (in 2002) to get my head properly around powder...
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under a new name wrote:
@conor90

After ~700 days skiing and 3 seasons, it took a week of heli skiing (in 2002) to get my head properly around powder...
so true. 15 yrs of holidays and a full season in france and I still learnt more in 1 week mostly onpiste skiing powder in Japan.

If you are keen to learn more on safety do your AST1. Yes there’s snow science but there’s recovery, rescue etc. Most important learning for me was route picking. Learn I had been poorly choosing routes for over 10yrs offpiste Sad
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@conor90, the way the forecast is looking for this weekend, I'd head down to Les Houches, Sunday and Monday

http://www.meteociel.fr/previsions/27692/les_houches.htm

where you'll not have such a bun fight and you'll get good inter-piste off piste and powder!
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
under a new name wrote:
@Ray Zorro, nothing is unpisted in Argentiere, at least, not 30 minutes after the lifts have opened... ski-ed out...


it is one of the problems with Chamonix (having done a season there myself once). If you want untracked off piste better to go somewhere else... didn't I recommend Briançon to the original poster a couple of months back?
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@Weathercam, Thanks, I'll look into heading that way.

@davidof, I'm constrained to Chamonix for a few reasons as I am working and skiing, which was discussed a couple of months back.
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@conor90, Do you have tranciever shovel and probe? If not buy them. No one worth learning from will want to go with you if you don't have these and know how to use them. Once that is sorted I am sure you will be able to find people in Cham to go out with, there are loads of off piste skiers there.
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