With the recent snow fall in the Alps providing plenty of off-piste skiing opportunities, Bella passes on her advanced skier knowledge on how best to enjoy the more challenging aspects of the mountain.
How does a good skier who can already ski most things, but I guess drops style and confidence on blacks, bumps and off-piste, get over the hurdle and improve their technique and become a better all-rounder? What tips would you offer, how can people improve their chances of improving before their holiday, and then while they’re in resort, what is the best thing to do?
The key is a combination of slowing everything down so you can change and improve/work on your technique (skiing fast is hard to change anything) and mileage.You need repetition to build up muscle memory and practice really does make perfect!
Pre holiday tips to improve - coming out fit and strong makes a huge difference. Don’t forget you will never be as fit as at home as you are coming up to high altitude. Everything will feel harder - lack of oxygen - you need to adjust. So coming prepared will help you to acclimatise faster.
Whilst in resort - Don’t over do it… if you feel yourself flagging, stop! The minute you build up too much lactic acid and start to fade, your technique goes to pot, you fall into old/bad habits and it only inhibits your progress.
Instructors make a huge difference and I always say the equivalent in private lessons versus a weeks group lessons always wins. Then you can work on specifically what you need… It also helps to have someone to encourage you when you are getting frustrated. Skiing on your own can be hard… mentally too. Skiing is 95% psychological!!!! (I wrote my BASI 4 dissertation on it!)
What are the issues you most commonly see? I guess people freezing off-piste and having total mental blocks about things – because at that level it’s quite a mental game? How do you get them past that plateau? What are the questions skiers of that caliber often ask you?
Most common issues - yes freezing is high up there. Mental/Psychological factor versus physical is such a major part/factor (as i mentioned in my previous point). I am a true believer as an instructor that patience is key. You have to be able to gain trust for your client so they will listen to you and truly believe what you say so they actually do it!! The mountains are a dangerous place, especially in the backcountry and the most important thing is ALWAYS safety. Getting them down safely is key for next time, they feel confident to go back to a steep couloir with you, tricky traverse… The other MAIN thing that people freak out on is the traversing. The traverse can often be harder than the ski and the traverse is where people have to take the most care. People often don’t take this bit seriously. Then they go into the ski freaked out if they haven’t traversed ok. You want them to go in with a positive mind. So the key is for me to keep them in that right state of mind and positivity.
Next key step is that first turn. Once you ski that first turn, it is always easier. A pole plant helps them make the first turn, as it makes you start the process. Then getting into a rhythm helps hugely also. Questions often asked - where shall i turn? (aways plan your first 3 turns before you set up and then always keep looking ahead so you are fully prepared at all times. Awareness of your surroundings is important too.
How to ski off piste? (ski the same as on piste, the only difference is you are constantly adjusting and adapting to the terrain - so you may adapt you're stance slightly or your weight onto both skis if you need to be ultra sensitive to the snow - especially if it is crusty on top or heavy - SKI ON EGG SHELLS!)
Equipment is quite a hard one — not sure what to say there, except for the fact that the new generation of hike-and-ride skis and stable touring bindings mean skiers who want to start to do more adventurous things can have one set of kit and don’t need to buy specialised touring skis, which opens up a new path for them?
Yes the Kingpin binding shave revolutionised my personal touring experience. The heel piece makes it feel much more stable. I always say use big skis, don't get something too big or stiff that you can't handle… make it easy for yourself.
DINS - v important not to have them too high, but also not too low. When traversing off piste - often if you fall into a no fall zone, this is where you do not want your skis to pop off too easily and can often happen. Especially if you are renting, you should be aware of what din you like to be on and make sure you arent on anything too low… hire shops always go lower than higher for obvious reasons.
The obvious safety equipment - transceiver, shovel and probe. You must be able to know how to use them and refreshing your memory and doing a quick 30 min practice at start of every winter helps hugely. Not only for you but also the instructor… you never know WHO will get buried.
If someone in the group doesn't have the full equipment, don’t let them ski with you. It’s selfish for them too… if they don’t have a shovel and probe - give them yours - then at least they can dig you out!!!
Finally, any great slopes?
Great slopes: In 3 valleys - Grand couloir in courchevel as famous and a tick the box one… suisse is a good black run. In 1650, Chanrossa is a famous top 10 black ski runs to ski… often moguls. Steep and narrow and FUN! Mont vallon over meribel towards VT is amazing. Love the long ski run top to bottom, easy and fast from top VT/les Menuires down to St Martin de Belleville (finish in La Montgnard for a mountain lunch or La Bouitte for 3 Michelin starred experience - you can heli back! Boht in St Martin DB)
VAL D - The couloirs. Bad weather - fornet trees are EPIC. Vallee Perdu is fun for all levels.