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On piste safety applies at any age and any ability

By Ellie Loose, a student at Apex2100 in Tignes

As ski racers we go fast. It’s why we dedicate so many hours of training to become the fastest we can possibly be. But that’s on a controlled race course, not a public piste. There is a time and a place for going fast and busy slopes or beginners’ areas are not the right places. Yes, as a racer you may be in control, but you cannot control the behaviour of those around you. Whereas on the course it’s just you and your skiing, you don’t have to worry about someone suddenly coming in front of you, or stopping, or waiting just below the brow of a hill for the rest of their group. But on the public piste you have to anticipate this and so adjust your speed to be more sensible. 

During training, you have to be focused if you want to improve; this means putting all your attention into each run with the focus being ‘how can I make this turn faster’ or ‘how can I change my technique here’. Sometimes this means when you get to the bottom you’re still in the zone, but you must remember to come out of the fast lane once onto the public area. If you’re still focused on the course, you won’t be able to watch out for what others are doing around you, which could lead to a crash, so remember to make a distinction in your mind between these areas of the piste. 

Here is a comment from Sasha Rearick – head performance coach at Apex2100 and ex US head men’s alpine team and development team coach: “There is a certain rhythm and tempo of a slope and the majority of skiers in a sector are on that similar pace. Racers need to have far greater awareness of the public area and this shared rhythm.” 

Training pistes can often be in awkward locations, to the side of the main publicly accessible piste with a difficult access from them to the lift. Say you have just finished your run, it may have been really good or not great but either way you’d be feeling strong emotions and possibly still be in the zone. This can distract you then if you go to cross a piste over to the lift, and if you don’t look before crossing it could end badly for you and or someone else. By just quickly looking up the piste before joining it or crossing it you’re protecting yourself and it allows you to continue with the rest of your training and the last thing you’d want is to be injured from a simple mistake. 

As a ski racer you don’t just spend all your time in the course on your own separate piste, often you may go out free skiing or work on drills or just have a fun day in the powder. Cleary this means you’d be skiing on the public piste, which also means you will have people of any ability around you. You probably don’t remember what it was like learning to ski but I’m sure if you ask anyone new to skiing especially someone who is learning as an adult, they will say it’s really hard and often quite scary. This fear often comes from when others pass close by; this would make anyone jump but especially someone who may already be nervous or unbalanced. Sometimes the piste may be narrow and I know if there’s a slow person in front it can be super frustrating, (I mean I hate having slow walkers in front of me!) but this doesn’t mean you should just pass through the tiniest gap instead just wait till it widens as it really won’t slow your day down and is far safer than risking it to just get past. So, when you go down a green piste, a beginners’ area or to be honest anywhere and everywhere just remember to give space to people and even better slow down as well as giving a wide berth. 

Let’s talk about barriers and signs such as slow down barriers. They are always there for a reason and purpose – they aren’t just randomly placed, nor are they a challenge! You might not be able to see a reason for its placement but there will be one. It could be if there’s a rise and dip so you cannot see or a blind corner or you may be entering a beginners’ area. So, it doesn’t matter if you’re in control the point is to slow down so ensure you always do this as otherwise you are just putting yourself and others at risk. 

These days children are starting their racing journeys younger and younger which means they are also starting to ski faster at a younger age. At this younger age the brain is not yet fully developed and also children will have less experience on the slopes, and less understanding of risks. Yet it’s not only children even those with more experience need to remember the rules and safety of the piste. Part of ski safety awareness is just like driving, you have to be able to concentrate on what you’re doing but at the same time on all of those around you. This could be watching if another person is about to turn or set off/stop or it could be as far as anticipating what they’re about to do. This skill of recognising and anticipating comes with practice and experience. As you become older this is easier to do but as a younger racer you must take responsibility yourself which is hard as a child, but it is for your safety, so by skiing a little slower you don’t need to worry of the skill of anticipating another person’s action but you still must always look around you. 

To end, here is a comment from Chemmy Alcott – a former British alpine world cup ski racer and Olympian: “We all love the mountains. But with any sport that has multiple level participation in an outdoor environment, for us ALL to get the best out of our snow experience we must understand the rules of the mountain. I am passionate about any campaign that helps raise awareness of the piste safety rules and hope very soon it becomes common place that EVERYONE knows, understands and adheres to them.”

With huge thanks to Ellie for preparing this blog for us. You can follow her progress as a ski racer on Instagram!

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