What is Off-Piste or Backcountry Skiing and How to Do it Safely

10 January, 2024 4 min read

If you are an experienced skier and are comfortable skiing challenging pistes, you may find yourself wanting to venture a bit further off the beaten track and into the backcountry. Off-piste or backcountry skiing is a thrilling activity that will fuel your sense of adventure and enable you to discover the mountains in a whole new way!

What is off-piste or backcountry skiing?

You may have heard the term ‘off-piste skiing’, but what does it actually mean? ‘Off-piste’ translates from French to mean ‘off-track’. If you ski off-piste you won’t be on mapped, marked runs. Off-piste skiing is all about skiing the natural terrain. Ungroomed snow is more challenging to ski on than pisted runs, which increases the thrill but can also increase the danger. 

Off-piste areas are not widely monitored, so you are responsible for your own safety. Conditions change daily and mountain weather can be unpredictable, so if you want to ski off-piste it is important to have the right equipment and experience. We highly advise booking a local instructor or guide who will have a greater understanding of the area and mountain safety, but it’s important to note that even with a guide there is always an element of risk involved. Read more about the off-piste lessons we offer with our highly experienced instructors here at Maison Sport.

Off-piste skiing is often referred to as backcountry skiing, but where you can ski off-piste using the lift networks within resorts, backcountry skiing often ventures beyond the boundaries of a ski resort. Ski touring has become popular amongst many to gain access to these backcountry areas without lift access. Ski touring involves going up the mountain with special ski gear that allows you to climb up the mountain and ski back down!

ski touring

We spoke to the team at Powderhounds.com, who gave us their thoughts on backcountry skiing and the benefits of booking a local instructor or guide:

Over the years, after skiing in hundreds of resorts around the globe, we have learnt a thing or two about how to find the best parts of a ski area. Whilst we are confident in our abilities, when time is short and terrain is complex we have learnt that the best way to get to know a ski resort is with the help of a local. It might be someone we meet on a chairlift who has skied the resort all their life, but more likely it will be a local mountain guide or ski instructor, and often from a reputable site like Maison Sport.

The Alps have so much amazing off-piste and backcountry ski and snowboard terrain that finding and exploring it on a short holiday can be daunting. One of the greatest single factors that limit skiers and snowboarders from exploring ski areas is a little thing called fear. It might be fear of avalanches, fear of underestimating or overestimating one’s ability, fear of the unknown (snow, conditions, exits, navigation, safety), or fear of getting injured.

Whilst an element of fear and anticipation can heighten an experience, it too often stops people from enjoying themselves in what should be a fun, exciting sport. Being led by an experienced local instructor/guide who is aware of the current snow conditions, has extensive knowledge of the terrain, search and rescue, first aid and logistics, and can account for your skills and ability, will go a long way in removing doubt, easing fears and creating the kinds of skiing and snowboarding memories that last a lifetime.

So, why get a mountain guide or instructor when skiing or snowboarding in the Alps? The answer is simple. Being shown the best snow and terrain by a local guide or ski instructor will make your day, and more importantly, the following days, way more fun. And they also know all the best spots for après ski, local cuisine and other shenanigans!


So, what’s stopping you?

If you are hungry to try out backcountry skiing and experience the magic of skiing on untouched terrain, book your local guide on Maison Sport today! Many of our instructors offer ski touring and guiding and they will be able to show you the mountains whilst teaching you the skills required to tackle deep powder and exciting new terrain. With the guidance of an expert instructor, you can embark on the ultimate off-piste adventure and push your skiing to the next level! 

Read our guide to the best backcountry skiing in Europe to discover some of the top ski resorts in which to flex your off-piste muscles. 

You might also like: A Beginners Guide to Ski Touring

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