Having lived in Austria for 6 years my on piste skiing skills initially improved quite fast, and then leveled off. While it may not always be pretty, I can pretty much ski anything (on piste) in any conditions. When asked how good a skier I am I say that I’m a better skier than most of my UK friends, and a worse skier than most of my Austrian friends.
But I have to admit that off-piste I am rubbish! So when my wife offered to send me on a three day Freeride course I jumped at the chance. Until a week before the course most of the off-piste areas in the Tirol remained grassy, and I wondered what we would do, but a few days before the course it snowed and snowed and snowed, so we had lots of fresh powder to play in.
The course was run by Andi Helmer, a local Bergführer (mountain guide) who does climbing instruction in the summer, and skiing in the winter – with a focus on Freeride and ski touring. For more information check out his mountain guide website. Having an English wife, Andi speaks excellent English, which was great as my German is still ropey.
We spent the first day in St Johann where, after the new snow, there was no shortage of fresh powder fields for us to explore. After taking on board some of Andi’s instruction I was pleased to see that I could get down most slopes in a mainly upright position, and my legs didn’t feel that they were about to explode – as has often been the case in the past when I ventured off-piste.
Once we had learnt the basics we moved on to Fieberbrunn, which has even more opportunities for off-piste adventures. One of the things that I found rather surprising was that many of the off-piste runs we did were close to the pistes, but were areas where I had never considered skiing and had never seen anyone else venture – it really opened my eyes to some of the easy off piste opportunities.
As well as the skiing, the course covered how to understand weather and snow conditions so as to avoid avalanche situations, and also what to do if it goes wrong and your group is hit by an avalanche. We spent time every day searching for avalanche transceivers buried in the snow, so if the worst ever came to the worst the course participants would know how to go about searching for skiers buried by an avalanche, and wouldn’t waste the first crucial fifteen minutes wondering how an avalanche transceiver worked.
While my off-piste technique has certainly improved, my style hasn’t, as a video of me skiing on the last day of the course made very clear. But I now know what I need to practice, so perhaps in another 6 years I’ll be vaguely competent off, as well as on the piste.
On the final day we skied the varied off piste opportunities beyond the Reckmoos Süd gondola, finishing with a scramble past the Wildseeloder to open up a spectacular final run of the course.