Mastering the Mountains
Free-riding, or off piste skiing, has become increasingly more popular the last couple of decades and is no longer reserved exclusively for lunatics. However, many probably still think that throwing one self down the steepest hills is madness.
Text and photo Kristin Folsland Olsen
Off piste skiing is defined as a separate sport. The original off piste skiing dates back to Sondre Nordheim’s use of the «Telemark turn» in the beginning of the 19th century. In modern times off pist skiing was reborn at the end of the 1970s. Especially the spectacular mountainsides in France and the United States, promoted in skiing films, inspired the trend we experience today. Nowadays, off pist skiing is practiced by skiers with both fastened and loose heals (Telemark) as well as by snowboarders.
It is worth noting that many off piste skiers regard the trip to the top of the mountain as equally fulfilling as the ride down the hill, even though it is the ride down that receives all the attention in movies and such. In fact, you do not have to ride down steep mountains at all to call yourself an off piste skier. Off piste only means that you keep off the marked and prepared trails.
Required Equipment When Riding Off Piste:
- A backpack with a shovel and probe
- An avalanche transceiver around your chest
It is essential to be in touch with the nature.
This form of skiing depends on that the individual athlete masters the natural challenges that lies within the terrain. The individual’s creativity and courage are tested. It is essential to be in tuch with nature. Anyone going off piste is responsible for not putting themselves in danger. This is a topic that has become more relevant lately as people in the western wold enjoy testing limits. Off pist skiers seek the source of liberty, the balance between the possible and the impossible. The impressions are amplified by the scenery and the fatal consequences that threaten every decision.
Every year many lives are lost in avalanches, and people who go skiing in steep hills (30 degrees or more) must have greater knowledge about avalanches than common hikers.
The Risk of Avalanche
There are three main factors that determines it the snow in a mountainside is stabil or not:
- The terrain: Is it so steep enough for me to be able to cause a avalanche?
- The snow: Is there any signs of unstable snow conditions?
- The weather: Is the risk of avalanche increased because of the weather?
A Wide Selection
In the Nordic region Norway stands out as the most popular off piste country due to it’s stunning mountains. There are many areas to choose between; Hemsedal for example, which is situated only a few hours drive from Oslo. If one wants to experience the breathtaking interplay when the mountains meet the fjords one has to go to the coast. Sunnmøre and Lofoten are great alternatives. Here you can experience some of the Norwegian nature’s most dramatic contrasts; From mountain peeks glazed with snow to deep fjords and an untouched horizon. With regards to off piste skiing, there are so many mountains to explore that you probably have to spend an entire winter and spring here to be able to experience the best the area has to offer.
Popular Places to go Off Piste Skiing:
- Japan (this is where you’ll find the best snow)
Since the early 90s off piste has been a separate sport. Every year there are several competitions all over Norway. The competitors are of both genders, however there is an excess of men.
In 2007 Norway Freeride Cup was arranged for the first time, with Lofoten, Hemsedal, Suada and Røldal as participating locations. As the sport became increasingly more popular, this cup became the most important arena for Norwegian freeride. Now, the number of competitions in the cup has increased to six.
Lofoten Freeride is one of the competitions in Noway Freeride Cup. An important part of the competition is to acknowledge the most complete skier and snowboarder by evaluating their decisions, technique, control and movement. Consequently the winner is picked based on skills and abilities, not foolishness and carelessness.