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Off Piste Skiing: it's all about oranges, bananas and tangerines

Prior to this I’d been eyeing up some routes, such as the Pas de Chevre so signed up for the 4 half days “Off Piste Performance Courses for Mountaineers” with Bass Chamonix, that had been recommended to me by some friends from the BMC ( British mountaineering council) It seemed about right for me as it’s described as being for ‘ mountaineers wanting to expand into the realms of ski touring and steep and deep off piste” i.e you have a good understanding of avalanche and mountain hazards and just need to get your skiing dialled on all snow types to flat light, steeps and bumps. Well, I’m not quite a mountaineer, but I have enough understanding from courses, books and generally hanging out with climbers over the years…. Day one and we met at a very bleak Grands Montets and I soon learnt that powder skiing was all about fruit, not vegetables, and hugging bears! Leading the course was Shona Tate who used to ski for the Scottish Ski Team in the mid 80’s and is now also a BASI trainer. She initially got us to partner up and do some runs on slope following each other. This is good practice as it forces you to be flexible and to make different turn shapes. I found this quite hard as I seem to throw lots of turns by forcing skis across the hill quickly. After watching me, Shona said I needed to do more slow controlled turns as I tend to fling myself out there, speed up, fling and speed up (Z turns)… and what we are looking for are “oranges” not “ aubergines” I practice turning with an “orange” shape, then smaller to a “tangerine”. But I’m finding it much, much harder to turn in fat skis. The next day brought more bad visibility but lots of fresh powder, so we decided to head to Les Houches for some tree skiing so we could see better. Starting at Prarion we practiced using our poles to help us correctly separate the upper and lower body so that upper body stays very close to the fall line. “There are two types of separation,” says Shona, “rotary separation and lateral. Rotary is for thin paths and gulley’s where we keep body still and our legs move (twisting under the torso.) We can also use this for going over bumps - as we get on top of the bump we need to push the tips of the skis downwards to the hollow using our toes. Lateral separation is to help us angulate and have more versatility in increasing the edge angle of the skis while maintaining balance at high speeds. As we get closer to cleanly carving and achieving good grip against the snow we learn better lateral separation. First we practice rotary separation by skiing a run holding our poles so they are like window frame and we try to keep the “window” straight down the fall line whilst slip sliding, throwing quick turns and controlling the edge to slip slide. Then practice lateral rotation by getting our bodies curved like a banana. We hold the poles so the downhill pole touches the ground as we turn - getting us angulating more to help achieve more efficient edge grip. We then skied from the Prarion lift down through the trees practicing this through some beautiful untracked virgin snow and making sure we used our poles to dust the ground and get our timing and balance right, rather than plant them. I also practiced tiling my skis to keep our toes up to break the surface of the powder, and skiing with my legs closer together and with equal pressure, something I certainly don’t do enough. With the weather improving, it was back to the Grands Montets the next meet-up and we practiced all we’d learnt so far on some off piste on runs from the Bochard and Herse lifts and through the “Italian bowl” Concentrating on good posture, we were told to keep our arms with our poles held out as if we were “hugging a bear” and “keeping our head against the ceiling” whilst our legs did all the movement below to smooth out the terrain. Shona also said we should hold our poles out wider almost as if we are tracking the terrain. But this seems to really be my problem: pole planting. We need them more on the off-piste to help us initiate the turn, but I just don’t seem to pole plant at all. Speed control on the off piste is something also I’m still getting to grips with and I seem to be hovering between just about making turns, to having to traverse the piste to stop myself. On Friday it was the big off piste day back at Grands Montets. From the top of the Bochard chair lift we practice a few turns and clearly mine aren’t yet tight enough. We then skied a long run right down to Lavancher village, with me trying to focus on bear hugging and keeping my tips down. Then with my legs burning and with arms and legs all over the place, like a “frog in a blender” we hit a very long, icy path winding down through the trees to the road. But, ‘oh no’- now it was time for a long walk back to the bus stop for Grand Montets – wish I’d brought the Portaski – didn’t think to slip it into my back pack whilst concentrating on fruit and veg and bear hugging!

portaski · 1828 days ago
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20.02.2013 (1828 days ago)
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Off Piste Skiing: it's all about oranges, bananas and tangerines