Off-Piste Essentials

Vallee Blanche

When you’ve skied for a long time, and you can handle all the piste can throw at you – where do you go from there? For many the answer is off-piste, obviously! Though an ‘off-piste career’ usually starts by taking on those relatively simple, slightly carved up slopes off the back of a chairlift or by the side of the regular piste.

When you really start getting into your off-pisting, the prospect of making tracks in untouched snow becomes the new attraction and fresh powder is like the holy grail. Now, when you reach the top of the cable car, your journey up the mountain isn’t over – it has only just begun!

Some people think it’s slightly crazy to hike even further up the mountain, but if you want to lay your tracks down and ski some challenging stuff, then this is the only way to do it. Nevertheless, it’s not a simple case of ‘just ski it’, and some knowledge and understanding of the mountains is vital, and investment in your gear is essential.

This is no longer a case of getting the best equipment to improve your piste skiing, this is a case of saving someone’s life, even your own. Backcountry skiing throws up numerous hazards, avalanches are a constant danger and once you leave the patrolled ski area you are exposed to the elements – you have to be prepared. Here are some of the essentials:

Avalanche Packs


All avalanche airbags, regardless of brand, work on a principle that states that if you shake a selection of shapes, the larger ones will rise to the top, even though they may be heavier. The principle is well proven and also known as the ‘Brazil Nut Effect’; in a bag of mixed nuts, the brazil nuts will always be on top. In an avalanche, it’s best to make yourself like a Brazil nut.

Want to know more about how they work? Read our Avalanche Airbag Information.

At we have the UK’s best range of Avalanche Packs – click here to see it in full.

Transceivers, Shovels & Probes

Mammut Barryvox Pulse Package
Mammut Barryvox Pulse Package

The ‘big three’ of avalanche safety are a transceiver, probe and shovel.

A transceiver is a small device worn on a harness system on your chest, below your clothing. As soon as you leave the safety of the resort, you turn the transceiver on to ‘transmit’ mode – meaning it constantly sends out a radio signal while you are skiing. If you’re buried in an avalanche, rescuers (either your companions or professional rescue services) can switch their transceivers into ‘receive’ mode – meaning they will pick up the signal from any transmitting transceivers in the area. The display on the front of the transceivers will help lead them to the spot in which you are buried.

Using a transceiver to search will only give you a rough idea of where someone is under the snow – due to the 3D nature of the transceiver signals and search area they may actually be a couple of metres away from the closest transceiver reading. If you simply start digging, there’s a high likelihood of missing your victim and possibly digging down straight past them. By the time you’ve found them, it may be too late. A probe is used to poke down in to the snow until a hard object (i.e. your friend) is found – telling you exactly where you need to dig.

The final stage of an avalanche rescue is digging the victim out. A shovel is essential for this – and you’ll need one each to ensure you can get to your mate as fast as possible. All avalanche shovels will have a removable and/or retractable handle for easy storage in your pack. There are both aluminium and plastic bladed shovels on the market – a metal blade is recommended as plastic sometimes isn’t strong enough to get through hard-packed avalanche debris. The longer the shovel handle, the easier it will be to dig.

We have put together some excellent Avalanche Safety Packages, or alternatively you can look at our individual essentials below.




Got any questions to ask on the subject? Call us on 01943 870550 and we’ll be happy to answer any queries.

Enjoy your skiing and remember to stay safe!

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