When you leave the boundaries of marked ski runs in any resort, the element of risk can often increase. Many skiers and snowboarders aspire to find the perfect snow conditions which can be found off-piste, on deep ‘powder’ snow, which gives you the feeling of floating on air.
Skiing off-piste is the ultimate snow sports experience and can be enjoyed by every participant but taking the right precautions is essential. Crucially, knowledge of the local area and expert understanding of snow and avalanche safety is paramount and therefore you should always ski with a mountain guide or fully qualified ski instructor.
Another requirement when venturing off-piste is to ensure you have the correct equipment and understand how to use it. Here we take a look at the essential items that you need to take when skiing off-piste, including an avalanche transceiver, snow shovel, avalanche probe and a suitable backpack to carry the equipment.
Off piste kit list
- Snow Shovel
- First Aid Kit
Other equipment to consider to take
- Spare Layer
- Spare Gloves
- Emergency Blanket
- Head Torch
What is a transceiver?
A transceiver device is strapped to your body and sends out a continuous signal once it’s switched on. In the event of an avalanche burial, the signal can be used to locate your position quickly. Transceivers also have a search function that allows your own companions to search for you, meaning that rescue times can be reduced significantly. Your own transceiver can also be used to locate your companions should they become the victim of an avalanche burial.
Backcountry Access, Tracker 2, Selected by Phil
‘We’ll be taking over 1,000 skiers off-piste skiing this coming winter and safety is paramount. We need to have confidence in a transceiver which is easy and quick to use for all our guests. The Backcountry Access Tracker 2 ticks all the boxes for us.’
Ortovox 3+ Selected by Stuart and Henry
‘I’m personally a big fan of Ortovox gear. As such I recommend the 3+ transceiver. It’s really simple to use (even for a novice) and performs well in multiple burials. It’s small, lightweight and only uses one AA battery.’ Stuart
Why take a snow shovel
Don’t think about skiing off-piste without a transceiver but also consider the fact that a shovel is just as important. Digging through snow that’s the result of an avalanche is a bit like digging through heavy, wet sand. Using your hands is simply not an option and will not work. Snow shovels are light and strong and will enable you to dig quickly through the snow.
Backcountry Access B-1 EXT, chosen by Phil
This lightweight (595 grams) and strong shovel fits neatly into a suitable backpack and has an extended handle for easier digging.
Ortovox Kodiak, chosen by Stuart
‘With an all metal design, serrated blade and an extendable D Grip handle, mean that it is the most efficient design for serious digging.’ Stuart
Why take a probe?
A transceiver device will help you to locate a buried avalanche victim quickly but to pin-point their exact location, a probe is necessary. This could save you vital time before you start digging. Probes are light and collapse down into a small unit. They might look like tent poles but crucially the cable through the middle is essential in providing rigidity. The sharp point at one end allows easy insertion.
Backcountry Access B1 180, chosen by Phil This probe is designed for advanced recreational skiers and is the most popular choice in the Backcountry Access range.
Ortovox 240 (Economic or Carbon), chosen by Stuart and Henry
‘The Ortovox Economic 240 is perfect for us. It’s the right length, is cheap and it works! If you can afford it then the carbon probe is even better.’ Stuart
Why take a backpack
A good backpack that can carry all of your equipment is part of any skiers’ off-piste kit. Of course, they are also handy for carrying anything else you might require for a day out in the mountains.
Backcountry Access Stash OB, chosen by Phil
‘In addition to transceivers we also kit out our guests with a shovel and probe, packaged into this neat 16 litre stash pack, which is light and incredibly comfortable. Not too big to hinder performance but big enough to include any essential extras.’
Arc’teryx Quintic 28, chosen by Stuart
‘The Arc’teryx Quintic 28 is very comfortable and allows easy carrying of skis, boards and safety kit. It comes in a selection of nice colours too!’ Stuart
Why take an Airbag
Airbags are becoming more and more popular as the potential life-saving benefits if caught in an avalanche are made clear. The airbag can be deployed if caught in a slide and it’s designed to prevent you from becoming buried under the snow. There are now several available on the market but we have included just one, chosen by Phil at Snoworks.
ABS Vario, chosen by Phil
The ABS Vario comes in various sizes and features different models to suit your requirements. You start with a base unit and then choose what you need from there, including a built-in back protection system. Sizes include 15, 18, 12 and 40 litres.
This equipment has been recommended by three expert individuals responsible for British organisations that train, lead and teach off-piste skiing in the French Alps.
Phil Smith runs Snoworks based in Tignes. Snoworks provides courses for all levels of recreational and advanced skiers which include off-piste and backcountry weeks.
Henry Schniewind runs Henry’s Avalanche Talks based in Val d’Isere and trains skiers and snowboarders in avalanche safety. Henry also runs talks throughout the UK during the autumn.
Stuart McDonald is a qualified British mountain guide based in Chamonix. He guides off-piste in the Chamonix Valley and coaches people in avalanche safety with his company, The Avalanche Academy.