Freeriding – Be Smart, Be Safe

Phil Smith, director of Snoworks Ski Courses in a series of articles for InTheSnow talks about Freeriding. In the third article Phil talks about being safe.
Go direct to InTheSnow magazine
Photo: Photo: Photo: Off-piste safety training. Practicing crevasse rescue with a mountain guide. Polly Baldwin Dynamic Pictures

Our third on the series of Freeriding tips and the most important safety.

Top Gun film enthusiasts will remember fondly the exchange between Maverick and Iceman in the locker room after a combat training session in the air.
Iceman: You two really are cowboys.
Maverick: What’s your problem, Iceman?
Iceman:You’re everyone’s problem Maverick. That’s because every time you go up in the air, you’re unsafe. I don’t like you because you’re dangerous.
Maverick: That’s right! Ice man. I am dangerous.

Iceman was cool, calculated, played by the rules. But maverick, did things his way, bent the rules, pushed the boundaries, he was wild, someone that would take a chance, appeared fun to be with, but in the end after an incident Maverick ends up loosing his best mate and it took a big lesson before he finally left his ego back in the locker room and started playing by the rules and be someone others could trust in.

Swap ‘air’ for ‘off-piste’ and ‘Iceman’ for ‘ski instructor/guide’ and this conversation could easily be an exchange between many riders heading off into the backcountry every week, every season in almost every resort in Europe. We hear about the incidents that go wrong. The unlucky ones. But what we don’t hear about are all the other incidents, the narrow escapes. Many will look back at those narrow escapes as learning, experiences, even stories that can be swapped over some après ski. But for many that first ‘mistake’ may also the last.

So let’s begin but ensuring that you as a potential freerider will be safe, not dangerous, not a cowboy, not a Maverick, taking a chance, pushing the boundaries. Learn to be an Iceman, cool, calculated, trustworthy, no chances, playing by the rules. Don’t let that first mistake be your last.

So how can you be safe? We’re not going to go into tips on how to read terrain, how to pick a line, how to guess if the snowpack is safe or dangerous. There are far too many variables out there in the mountains and a little knowledge is dangerous. So here are my three golden rules for off-piste skiing for potential freeriders.

Get trained, get educated, book on a course, book on lots of courses, hire guides or instructors all the time, learn how to use the kit, learn about the rules, learn about the mountains.

Don’t be a Maverick, on an ego trip, pushing the boundaries, taking a chance for a quick buzz, a good story in the evening, trying to be cool in front of your mates, the quickest in, first down. Be calm, calculated, back out, turn away when it’s not right, play by the rules.

Don’t feel under pressure. Learn to say no, learn to say no to your mates, learn to say no to yourself, learn to say no to temptation. Off-piste skiing is dangerous and a single mistake can be costly both to yourself and others but you can learn to be safe, you can learn to have exhilarating experiences, you can learn to ski fantastic powder and ski extraordinary places. But it takes education, it takes professional advice and local knowledge. It takes the willingness to leave egos behind, the ability to say no in the face of temptation. It takes the commitment to hire professionals and become well trained and educated. It takes the cool, calm, collectedness of the Iceman.

Be smart, be safe.

Phil Smith is founder of Snoworks All-Mountain Ski Courses. Snoworks run Off-Piste and Backcountry courses throughout the winter along with Off-Piste Adventure trips to destinations around the world. For more details go to:
Tel: From UK 0844 543 0502
Tel: From abroad +44 870 122 5549
email: [email protected]

Backcountry (20) backcountry access (4) off-piste (22)