Skiing for the advanced: tough slopes to conquer

How to refine and hone your advanced skiing skills

Becoming an advanced skier, who effortlessly skis any slope with great technique and control, takes time and practice. Conquering black ski slopes and off-piste can’t be done overnight, but once you’ve reached that point, skiing often turns from a hobby into a passion. But how should you refine your skills, so that you are conquering the slopes, rather than simply ‘getting down’?

Get fit before your ski trip

Starting your ski holiday fit and strong will make a huge difference, especially at high altitudes. If you’re fit, you’ll acclimatise more quickly, making it easier to learn how to ski black slopes and off-piste.

“When you are on the slopes, don’t overdo it: if you feel yourself flagging, just stop”, says BASI instructor, Annabel Seele. “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.”

The key to improving is slowing everything down, so you can change and work on your technique. _“When you ski fast, it is hard to change anything" _,says Annabel. “You need repetition to build up muscle-memory, and practice really does make it perfect.”

If you are interested in finding out other ways to get fit before your ski trip, then why not check out our Ski Exercises article.

Don’t stop taking lessons

Just because you can ski black slopes, doesn’t mean you have learned to ski. A refresher each time you go away will advance your skills to a new level: advanced skiers often benefit more from taking a half-day private lesson to a week-long group lesson, so that you can work on what you specifically need. Club Med have Mountain Guides available for advanced skiers to help brush up on technique.

Skiing, especially at an advanced level, is 95% psychological, and learning to ski backcountry and on black slopes takes a leap of faith. “As an instructor, I am a true believer that patience is key”, says Annabel. “To gain confidence in your skills, learn to tackle harder terrain, black slopes and off-piste with an instructor you trust. They’ll help you to stay positive.”

Plan your turns, especially off piste

“As someone is progressing to an advanced level of skiing, I’m often asked ‘where should I turn?’” , says Annabel. “The first turn and a correct pole plant is key – it makes you start the process and get into a rhythm. I always say, plan your first three turns before you set off and then keep looking ahead so you are always fully prepared. Awareness is crucial.”

Skiing off-piste is the same as skiing on-piste – the only difference is you’re constantly adjusting and adapting to the terrain. “You may have to adapt your stance slightly or shift your weight onto both skis, if you need to be sensitive to the snow conditions”, says Annabel. “Especially if the snow is heavy or crusty on top.”

Choose the right equipment

The biggest bonus for advanced skiers is that you can now buy equipment that will work for both downhill skiing and ski-touring – that’s climbing uphill using mohair skins on the bottom of your skis, to gain access to untouched off-piste. But be careful with your ski choice, warns Annabel.

“Don’t choose something too big or stiff that you can’t handle – it doesn’t matter what the ski looks like, so make it easy for yourself", she says. “Equally, with your DIN setting (on the binding, which releases the ski in the event of an accident), it’s very important not to have them too high or too low – if you’re renting equipment, be aware of what DIN you like to be on as you become more advanced.”

If you’re using safety equipment off-piste — transceiver, shovel and probe — make sure you, and everyone else in your group, knows how to use it. Avalanche bags are also a good back-up, but remember that safety equipment cannot be used in place of knowledge and skill.

Great black slopes for skiers

The Grand Couloir in Courchevel is a famous ‘tick the box’ black slope for advanced skiers, and Mont Vallon from Meribel to Val Thorens is a must-do. In Val d’Isère, the Le Fornet Trees are amazing for off-piste in good conditions, with Vallée Perdue fun for all levels.

Last year, La Plagne stopped pisting its glacier, providing more challenge for experienced skiers, while in L’Alpe d’Huez, The Sarenne is the domain’s signature run, with a vertical drop of around 1,800m. In the Swiss domain of Verbier, advanced skiers love to tackle Tortin, another bucket-list run.

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