Choosing an Instructor or a Mountain Guide for Off-Piste Skiing
A Guide following changes to Swiss law in 2014
Verbier is an incredible ski resort with a long-standing reputation for its off-piste terrain. Year after year, the resort attracts many strong skiers looking to make the most of the many freeride runs across Verbier and the 4 Vallees area. In Verbier we are fortunate to have a large team of experienced and highly qualified off-piste instructors and mountain guides, whose knowledge of the mountain is among the best around, and can help you to enjoy some great skiing in this world class resort. In 2014/15, changes to the Swiss law have impacted on how instructors can teach off-piste in Verbier and the surrounding area. If you are looking to book an off-piste lesson or to be guided around some of the great slopes in Verbier, it’s important to understand these changes to the Swiss law to enable you to make the best decision on booking off-piste guiding or instruction. Below is an outline of these recent changes to the law, and an explanation of how this may impact your choice of an instructor or a mountain guide. Hopefully this knowledge will help you to decide on the best option for you, and make sure that you have the best possible experience of both Verbier’s fantastic pistes and off-piste terrain.
Changes to the law in force for 2014/15
The new law regarding ski instructors teaching off-piste is now much more black and white than in previous years.
1. The angle of the off-piste slope
Previously there were no limitations regarding the slopes that could be skied with clients. Now instructors are limited to hiking a max 34 Degree slopes and skiing max 39 Degree slopes. There are still lots of great slopes in Verbier which fall within these limitations, however examples of slopes that are clearly considered forbidden for ski instructors to teach on, include:
× Hikes into slopes such as ‘Stairway’ and ‘Rock Garden’.
× Skiing slopes such as the Attelas couloirs and area of Col de la Chaux
× Any part of Mont Fort area with the exception of the main pistes, including the backside of Mont Fort.
As a client choosing an instructor, or an agent selling an off-piste lesson, it’s important that your expectation is in line with the limits of the new legal framework. This may be particularly important for any returning clients who have perhaps previously been on slopes such as those listed above, which no longer fall within the parameters of the law.
2. The Qualifications required to take clients off-piste
To take clients off-piste up to 39 Degrees Instructors must now be Federal qualified (top level Swiss) or hold an equivalent qualification. We believe it’s important to verify that any company you are recommending is following the law and not putting yourself or your clients at risk.
Making the choice between a Mountain Guide or a Federal Qualified Instructor
Below is a helpful guide if you are looking to book an off-piste lesson with a ski instructor or a day with a UIAGM mountain guide. If you answer ‘Yes’ to any of the following then we would advise you to choose an Off-Piste Lesson or Guiding with a Federal Ski Instructor:
V I hope to improve my technique and learn how to enjoy skiing powder snow. I am happy to do this on the sides of the pistes and on itinerary runs where there is no avalanche risk. I may or may not have avalanche equipment.
V I wish to be guided around on some gentle off-piste slopes in Verbier, enjoy the snow, have some tips on my skiing and learn about how to use my avalanche equipment
V I am happy to ski some gentle off-piste slopes in Verbier, such as Creblet and front of Savoleyres. I will have my avalanche equipment and I hope to find some fresh snow.
V I am happy to do some short walks and skinning on gentle slopes to find some fresh snow and I don’t want any tips on my skiing (well, maybe the odd one).
V If there is no fresh snow I am still happy to work on my off-piste technique, improve my bumps technique and also explore the itinerary runs.
V I don’t wish to ski slopes such as stairway, front of Mt Gele, Attelas couloirs and prefer to stay on slopes less than 39 Degrees. I am not looking for extremely steep slopes or narrow couloirs.
V Safety equipment including Avalanche Transceiver, Shovel and Probe is compulsory when skiing off piste. I understand that if I don’t have this then I must stay on the pistes and itinerary slopes and work on technique.
V I would like to practice skinning and learn how to use the equipment on gentle slopes.
If answering ‘Yes’ to any of the following then we would advise you to choose a UIAGM Mountain Guide*: *Please note, if you are choosing Yes to any of the below, to avoid disappointment always verify if your guide is a UIAGM High Mountain guide and not an instructor who prefers to use the title of ‘Off-Piste Guide’!
V I don’t want any tips on my skiing and wish to explore steep slopes around Verbier such as those that can be found on the Front of Mont Gele or the Attelas couloirs
V I wish to do some ski touring and also ski on glaciated terrain.
V I wish to be guided around on the backside of Mt Fort like I did last year with my instructor.
V I only ski with an UIAGM off-piste guide, I don’t need any tips on my skiing and I always carry an avalanche kit.
V I wish to ski tour outside of the ski area and hope to ski some steep slopes and steep narrow couloirs.
V I would like you to take me Heli-skiing.
High Mountain Guides have a very high level of training and knowledge of the off-piste environment but are unlikely to help you improve your skiing technique. In general ski Instructors have a higher level of ski technique and the ability to help you improve your skiing in all conditions, however have less off-piste training compared to a mountain guide.
A final word from Jon, Freeride Verbier Director
The good news is that for the majority of clients who wish to improve their technique in off-piste conditions, or be guided around without any tips, the law will have little impact on their experience of Verbier’s off-piste terrain. Final thoughts for those venturing off-piste this year… * When going off-piste always use the appropriate avalanche equipment, know how to use it and check that it is working correctly. * We strongly recommend clients to wear a helmet when skiing off-piste and warn them of the dangers not doing so. * Never go off-piste without first getting advice from an expert. We hope the above has been helpful and informative for yourself or your clients, and can be used positively when making a decision on the type of lessons you require when skiing in Verbier.