By Katie Cooksey
So you’re flying down reds, blues and the odd black run – think you can ski?
The question is; what happens to your carefully learned technique once you venture off the side of the piste? Where the snow is deeper, icier, thicker, bumpy – where it hasn’t been carefully groomed by a piste basher. Getting off the piste and into the natural mountain environment, finding fresh snow, exploring the backcountry – that, for me, is real skiing and my New Year’s Resolution for this season.
So many people, like me, stick on the piste holiday after holiday as the leap to off-piste seems a huge one. But what if just a week’s course could lead to you exploring the whole mountain freely and getting more from your skiing than you ever thought possible, for years to come? That’s the idea behind Snoworks’ All-Terrain course.
The course sets out to build on the way you ski already, adding a few simple skills that should allow you to tackle any terrain whether it’s bumps, ice, powder or crud. Their staff are some of the best in the industry – you can’t argue with the qualifications of my instructor, four times Olympic skier Emma Carrick-Anderson.
On day one she introduced us to the techniques of ‘pedalling’ the skis (moving from one foot to the other early in the turn), ‘pushing’ snow away to turn (using pressure to gently control speed and move through even thick snow), ‘skidding’ over ice and between bumps and using our ski edges much more effectively to control speed and show the snow who’s boss. As we skied a significant patch of mountain, given little tips to think about at each pit-stop, I was quickly flying down the piste with much more control than usual. As we moved slightly off the piste, I found the pushing and pedalling techniques were really helping keep me upright in some quite choppy snow. We also had a practice at using the transceivers and avalanche safety equipment, which some of us hadn’t used before.
During my chairlift chats with the group, it turned out that I was in the minority as a Snoworks virgin. Tony skis 3-4 weeks a year, often with Snoworks on different courses in different places around the world – recently he took one of their trips to Chile. He books on their courses on his own because he’s likely to know at least one other member of whatever group he’s put with from a previous trip. I asked why he keeps booking with them. For him it’s the variety of courses and quality instructors who take you to all the best places, allowing you to both learn a lot and experience the ski area.
Kate was another Snoworks veteran. She’s been all over the Tarentaise with them, describing to me a particularly gnarly-sounding trek up to a peak near La Rosiere, some beautiful Sainte Foy off-piste skiing and more courses in Tignes, Val d’Isere and nearby. For her it’s about safety. Kate described an early-season outing when the instructor made a judgement call not to attempt some wind-blown slopes, which reassured her no risks would be taken and allowed her to relax and enjoy the course. As they chatted about their previous trips, I got the feeling you don’t just do a Snoworks course, you become a member of the Snoworks extended family.
As the week went on we practiced in all different types of snow. On Tuesday we went out with instructor Dave, a fellow northerner with a great sense of humour. Taking us down a zig-zag that was so bumpy it looked like a toboggan run was quite funny – until we realised he wasn’t joking.
On Wednesday, instructor Lee managed to find us fresh tracks in the fluffiest snow despite the fact it hadn’t snowed for days. We headed to Val d’Isere to experience the beautiful tree-lined surroundings of Le Fornet – a quiet, outermost section of the Espace Killy. As well as powder skiing we practiced sliding on icy patches, twisting in each direction so we descended in a narrow line, as if we were in a couloir or very busy piste. We were all enjoying the lesson so much the light went and we finally got thrown off the hill by the pisteurs.
The final 2 days were spent exploring plenty of the mountain with Emma Carrick-Anderson. We finished by venturing into Tignes’ legendary Chardonnay Bowl off piste and, pushing aside some chunky snow, all came out the other side fairly smoothly and desperate for more.
The course involves a half-day’s skiing for each of the 5 days – alternating between morning and afternoon. In the other half of the day you have the option to jump into a lesson on another course – bumps, for example, or off-piste – to complement what you’ve learned, at discounted rates. In the evenings you can listen to talks by the instructors or they’ll review video clips of your ski day in the bar, while you and the rest of your group decide which course you’ll try next.
Contact Snoworks for more information on courses.