Off-piste, back country is what snowboarding is all about for many keen snowboarders. Previously, we now know, we have been, reasonably safe, ‘side-country’ off-piste snowboarders.
Off-piste, side-country snowboarding is what most snowboarders do, it’s the type of off-piste snowboarding that is likely to be covered in your travel insurance, it’s normally easy to find (not far from or in-between the pistes), doesn’t involve hikes or walks, so long as you keep a lift in sight somewhere, however it does mean you need to be an early bird to get first tracks and fresh powder.
There is so much more off-piste snowboarding to discover in the back-country!
We are both reasonably good snowboarders and love exploring independently so over time we could get to know the back-country off-piste in the Porte du Soleil however we are also both very impatient. Rather than spend lots of time searching ourselves we saw the value in joining a guided group on a week long off-piste back-country course and chose the ‘off-piste back-country ‘ with Mint Snowboarding in Morzine.
We had high expectations of the week off-piste and David, our Mint snowboarding guide / guru (the ‘green giant’ disappearing off into the mist below), did not disappoint.
When the group, of six, met on the first morning David asked each of us what we wished for from the course; the answers were all reassuringly similar. To have a better understanding off-piste conditions, to improve our confidence riding in the twists, turns and powder of back-country conditions.
A couple mentioned they’d like to do some cliff drops which scared and excited me all at once. During the week we practised (and landed!) several cliff-drops which all felt, and looked from above, a lot bigger than they do here)…
But before we went into the back-country search of fresh tracks off-piste first a refresher for us all on avalanche safety. We all had avalanche transceivers, probes and shovels and had been on avalanche training courses before and all agreed you can never have too much practise using your equipment, practising avalanche situations and understanding as much as possible about weather and mountain conditions to hopefully avoid the avalanche in the first place.
After practise using our transceivers and probes we dug a snow pit to investigate the snow pack which fascinatingly and worryingly showed a few weak layers. Here I am separating off one of the weak layers…
I hasten to add I am stood in a hole here which makes David look even more like the Jolly Green Giant towering over little me – one of the group, Rob, took to calling me ‘Ninja’ from this picture I can see why ;-).
One thing we learnt quickly was that although it is great to snowboard the ‘off-piste’ that you can find easily from the lifts you are amply rewarded if you hike a little off-the-beaten-track and into the back-country.
No matter where you are in the mountains there is always a stunning vista to remind you what an amazing and beautiful world it is and how privileged you are to be in the special place. Our hikes into the back-country often rewarded us with spectacular views and special moments…
On each of the five days we had a few ‘five’ minute hikes (or at least five minutes for David with legs twice as long as mine and who thinks nothing of hiking up 700m and snow-boarding down off-piste before breakfast!) and a few climbs…
and more often than not beautiful powder and fresh tracks once we reached the back-country destination…
One of our group, Luke, is owner and writer for adventure travel website awe365.com and wrote a great article about the five day back-country course with more detail of what we did and where.
Overall it was a wonderful week when nature was kind to us with frequent falls of fresh snow to make each day different and amazing fun.
Vanity struck at some points and on mellower, less demanding slopes we played with videos.
An eye-opening, exhausting, exhilarating and extremely enjoyable five days with a fantastic bunch of like-minded and fun-loving people. One of those life-changing experiences.