If you’ve started off piste skiing around the resorts and are keen to improve your technique, so that you can enjoy backcountry skiing away from the resorts – then our level 1 off piste skiing and skills course is designed for you! Aimed at improving off piste skiers who want to get into backcountry skiing and touring, the course is run by an IFMGA Guide who is also a ski instructor; so you get the benefit of the same guide and instructor all week, to improve your ski technique, enjoy great descents and learn essential skills for backcountry travel and safety. **Free safety equipment rental is included with this course**
The aim of the course is to give you the skills and experience to step up from skiing on and off piste around resort, to joining backcountry ski groups and ski touring trips. The key focus of the week is to improve your ski ability in varied off piste snow conditions and different types of terrain, so we’ll be working on this every day. In order to travel in backcountry terrain, we’ll also teach you how to use ski touring equipment and in order to stay safe once you’re there, we’ll teach you avalanche safety skills. Coaching and training sessions are always incorporated into ‘real’ days out skiing, with a mix of structured coaching, off piste practice and introductory ski tours – so that you get the maximum range of experience and enjoy a great weeks skiing (ie it’s a fun ‘holiday where you’ll learn’, not a week of traditional ‘ski school’!)
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This is an to introductory level course. To take part you should be at Fitness Level 2 and Tech Level 1/2 (see our Fitness/Experience guidelines). As a minimum standard you need to be a good piste skier – ie you cruise reds, black runs are challenging but fun and you have ventured off piste between the runs with varying degrees of success(!) On the fitness front, you take regular exercise and are happy being outdoors on your feet all day and are capable of walking uphill for 2-3 hours at a steady pace, whilst carrying a small rucsac.
This is the minimum requirement and teams of mixed ability/fitness are quite common, but the pace and scope for each day is determined by teaching objectives rather than a time critical journey – ie we have focused learning objectives each day, but the atmosphere is quite relaxed!
The week includes a mix of off piste days and intro ski tours. The touring days may start with some uplift and have steady climbs, with typically 200-700m of ascent a day – so you can expect to be skinning for 2-3 hours on a touring day. The type of ascent we use is 75% uplift and 25% skinning during the week.
One IFMGA guide skiing with 6 clients.
Included in price
- 6 days of guiding/instruction
- All guides expenses
- 7 nights hotel accommodation, including breakfast and evening meal
- Transport between hotel and ski venues during the course
- Safety equipment hire: avalanche transceiver, shovel, probe
Excluded from price (see factsheet for extra cost estimates)
- Lift Passes
- Lunches and drinks
- Travel to resort
Our base for the week is a comfortable hotel near to Taninges, in the Portes du Soleil ski region, close to Geneva. Rooms are provided on a twin sharing basis, but if you wish to book a single room please let us know and we will confirm availability. Hotel details can be found on our Accommodation page.
You should arrange outward travel on Saturday, arriving by 6-7pm latest in time for the briefing at your accommodation. Your guide will run through kit checks and safety routines, as well as hand out any rental equipment, before going on to discuss the current weather and mountain conditions and how these affect our plans. We’ll have maps and guidebooks of the area to show you, so if you’ve any further questions or last minute requests, then this is the ideal time to bring them up.
Warm Up Off Piste Day
Day one is planned as a lift served off piste day. We start with some warm up runs, so you can find your ski legs and we can take a look at your current skiing, then move into coaching and improving on a variety of core ski techniques.
We’ll choose terrain appropriate to the level of the group, so that nobody struggles and everyone has the time to practice, ask questions and work on their skills.
During the day we’ll pause for the odd coffee break and at lunchtime, we’ll stop at a mountain restaurant for a meal.
Monday to Friday
5 further days of off piste skiing and intro ski tours, incorporating daily ski technique coaching and backcountry skills sessions. We tailor each week to the group, making best use of current weather and snow conditions – ski venues are approximately 10 minutes to 1 hours drive from our hotel.
In order to maximise downhill practice time, we’ll be using some uplift on most days, plus some skinning to access the best terrain and snow. Depending on conditions and the group, we may do one or two full touring days. On touring days you’ll need a packed lunch, as we’ll be out in the backcountry all day, enjoying the skiing and scenery.
The main elements we focus on each day are:
Simon will give you the skills and confidence to enjoy off piste skiing, whatever the snow conditions. You’ll learn how to ski smoothly in powder, enjoy trees rather than fear them(!), ski bumps and uneven terrain in control and deal with ice, steeper terrain and narrow places. In the toughest snow conditions, you’ll learn how to manage your speed and get down safely.
Backcountry Travel and Avalanche Safety Skills
Having ski touring skills and avalanche safety knowledge are the two other essential requirements for backcountry skiers, so we’ll be looking at:
- Skinning Skills – use of ski touring boot/binding systems and skins for uphill travel
- Avalanche Awareness – avalanche forecasts, avalanche avoidance and risk reduction techniques
- Avalanche Rescue – transceivers searches, probing, digging and group rescue skills
Fri PM – course debrief and advice for the future.
Return travel should be arranged on Saturday morning, after your final nights accommodation.
Flights and transfers
- Fly to Geneva with numerous budget airlines, for an overview of the best options check out Skyscanner or Google Flights.
- Airport transfer from Geneva to Portes du Soleil: Morzexpress, Alpybus, Mountain Dropoffs and several other operators run minibus transfer services from Geneva airport to the door of your hotel. These are easily booked online.
- Alternatively hire a car at Geneva airport (1 hr drive to Portes du Soleil).
Other travel options
- Driving from UK, take the ferry or Eurotunnel to Calais/Dunkerque, then 9-10 hours driving on the French Autoroutes (budget approx 80 Euros each way in tolls).
- Eurostar train from the UK to Lyon, then onward train service to Cluses (excellent fast service): www.eurostar.com/uk-en and finally a bus/taxi to resort.
Further information and travel links can be found on our Travel Planning page.
To enjoy this trip you should be comfortable operating at Fitness Level 2, and Ski Tech Level 1/2:
Fitness Level 2
You do 2-3 hours cv training/sport per week. At this level you should be happy doing either a 3-4 hr hillwalk, cycling 30 miles or mountain biking 2-3 hours without being exhausted. On foot: you should be able to walk from Ogwen Cottage in North Wales up Glyder Fach – Glyder Fawr – Y Garn – Ogwen in ~5hrs. Or in the Lake District Langdale – Bowfell – Esk Pike – Angle Tarn – Langdale in ~ 6hrs. On skis: you are capable of off piste skiing all day or doing a couple of hours skinning with out finishing up exhausted – ie you can do this for a number of days without taking a rest day.
Tech Level 1
Intro Off Piste Skier (Advanced Piste Skier). You cruise reds, black runs are challenging but fun and you have ventured off piste between the runs with varying degrees of success (ie deep snow is still something of a mystery…) *Equivalent to Ski Club of GB Off Piste Level: Red – Aspirer*
Likely to say: ‘I’d love to learn how to ski well off piste and/or try ski touring’
Our Advice: Definitely go on an Off Piste Skiing Course to improve your ski technique first, before trying ski touring – you’ll get a lot more out of it that way around!
Tech Level 2
Improving Off Piste Skier. You enjoy black runs and the kind of tracked out off piste terrain found around many big resorts, but you haven’t skied too much in properly deep snow without a base to it yet. *Equivalent to Ski Club of GB Off Piste Level: Silver – Intermediate*
Likely to say: ‘I’d like to ski well in powder/link lots of short radius turns/go ski touring’
Our Advice: An Off Piste Skiing Course is highly recommended. If you’d like to try ski touring, then do either an intro ski touring course or an intro level ski tour.
To view all of our Ski Fitness Levels and Off Piste Technical Levels, please visit our Ski Ability page.
If you need to top up your fitness for this trip, please see our Ski Touring Training Advice page.
Day Touring/BC Ski Course Equipment List
Just remember, every extra kilo on your back knocks 10% off your enjoyment on the descents – so try and keep the weight down!
- Waterproof Jacket – preferably lightweight and breathable
- Overtrousers/ski pants – preferably with side zips
- Fleece mid layer or equivalent
- Spare fleece or lightweight insulated duvet jacket
- Socks – specialist ski socks or a warm loop lined pair of mountain socks
- Wicking thermal top – not cotton please…
- Thermal leggings or ski pants
- Thin inner gloves
- Warm ski gloves or mittens, if you suffer from cold hands
- Warm hat
- Water container – at least 1 litre
- Personal medications and blister kit – regular meds, zinc oxide tape, compeed and painkillers etc
- Ski goggles
- Sun glasses – CE rated 3 or 4 with side protection
- Sun and lip cream – factor 30+
- Wallet, passport and insurance docs
- Rucsac 25/35l – try and avoid ones covered in too many features, just ski and ice axe attachments required
- Freeride boots or ski mountaineering boots – check detailed factsheet kit list for preferred boots
- Skis with touring bindings – check detailed factsheet kit list for preferred skis and bindings
- Velcro ski strap – to keep skis together on your rucksack if we need to carry them
- Ski poles – with good size 5cm+ baskets (telescopic poles are not needed)
- Climbing skins – they come with the skis if you hire your kit
- Harscheisen (ski crampons) – they come with the skis if you hire your kit
- Metal snow shovel – must be a full metal shovel (plastic blades don’t work in real avalanche debris!)
- Avalanche probe
- Avalanche transceiver – must be a modern digital model (older analogue models are now obsolete)
- Harness, with 120cm sling and locking karabiner
- Crampons – bring them if you have them
- Ice Axe – bring if you have one
- Ski helmet – a lightweight helmet is recommended for off piste skiing
Your guide will have all other safety kit, first aid and survival equipment.
Recommendations and Advice
Visit the Knowledge Base section of our website, where we publish an annual review of the years best new skis, boots and touring equipment, plus a range of other interesting tips and recommendations. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, please get in touch!
Backcountry UK in Ilkley offer an excellent ski boot fitting service, one of the best ranges of ski mountaineering equipment in the UK and top notch advice.
Please visit our Equipment Hire page for recommended hire shops in your resort, and Alpine Guides hire equipment price list.
For this trip you must have specialist travel insurance providing medical, emergency search/rescue and repatriation cover for the following activities: off piste skiing and ski touring in glaciated areas requiring the use of ropes, up to 5000m altitude. We also strongly recommend that you purchase cancellation cover, in case you’re unable to attend your trip due to personal circumstances or injury.
Please arrange your insurance as soon as your trip is confirmed to run.
Insurance for UK residents
European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This gives you reciprocal health care in European countries. You can apply for an EHIC card online here or from most Post Offices. You need an EHIC in addition to your travel insurance.
European residents (non-UK)
Austrian Alpine Club. Available to all European residents. AAC insurance is cheap and works ok for minor accidents and rescues, but is not as comprehensive as many other insurance providers. The medical cover included would not be enough for complex treatment or a prolonged stay in hospital. It also doesn’t include cancellation cover. If you choose to use AAC we recommend you take out extra medical cover with another provider, to ‘top up’ the AAC medical limit, as well as a separate cancellation policy.
Travelex. For US citizens – a range of policies with comprehensive cover.
For any nationality
Global Rescue. Cover offered to all nationalities via a combination of GR membership and their separate insurance policy.
If you choose an alternative provider, or if there is any doubt about the scope of your chosen policy we recommend that you send your insurer the link to the relevant Alpine Guides trip webpage, and ask them if cover extends to those activities and has the required components (search/rescue, medical, repatriation and cancellation). It’s worth mentioning that rescue and medical expenses in Switzerland can be significantly more expensive than in other countries, so a decent level of cover is required for Swiss tours.
We recommend that you send us your insurance details before the trip commences, and they must be brought to the course briefing at the start of your trip. However, we cannot check the detail of every individual policy, and it is your own responsibility to ensure you are adequately insured.
What happens to my deposit if I book a trip, but it isn’t confirmed to run due to insufficient bookings?
You may transfer your booking to different dates, a different course, or choose a full refund.
What happens if the weather or snow conditions are poor, or the avalanche risk is high?
We will make every effort to stick to the itinerary, but sometimes its necessary to change plans and ski in a neighbouring area or even further afield. Many of our itineraries are designed with flexibility in mind, and it’s usually possible to ski in most conditions with some careful alternative planning.
Does Alpine Guides ski with customers from overseas, including the USA and Canada?
Who goes on our trips?
We climb and ski with a broad range of ages and experience levels, and a large number of our customers come back year after year. We’ve guided 10 year old Ollie up the Old Man of Hoy in Scotland – now the youngest person to climb it. And 70 year old David has climbed the Matterhorn with us, as well as out-skiing people half his age!
How do I book a ski trip?
For scheduled ski trips it’s easy to book online, directly from your course page. For hire a guide/bespoke courses please get in touch for a quote.
Is there an age limit on any of our ski trips?
Under 18’s must be accompanied by a parent/legal guardian. There is no upper age limit, but please get in touch to discuss suitability if you are concerned about your age, with regard to fitness and pace.
How do I rent ski equipment?
You can rent certain items of specialist equipment from us, and the rest can usually be hired in resort.
What happens if I need to cancel my course?
If you wish to cancel you must notify us in writing, where upon the following charges will be applied from the date we receive your notice of cancellation:
- More than 8 weeks (56 days) before start date – loss of deposit.
- Between 4 and 8 weeks (28-56 days) before start date – 50% of course fee or loss of deposit, whichever amount is greater.
- Less than 4 weeks (28 days) before start date – full course fee.
Can I book a single room on my ski trip?
Yes – this can be done during the online booking process. Please add the single room option to your order, and we will confirm availability asap.