For many of us who love the mountains, allocating some quality ski time is high on the list of priorities. And if we can get away from the controlled terrain of the pistes to experience the mountains on their own terms, then all the better. Once our ticket to the upper world has been confirmed in the diary, the right preparation means we'll be able to make the most of that precious time. In the first part of a special LEGEND series providing expert knowledge on a range of mountain sports, Jöttnar Pro Team member Alison Culshaw gets us into shape and into the right gear for the coming ski season.
Deep powder skiing on the Grand Envers, Mont Blanc massif
It becomes easier to be motivated for pre-season ski fitness once the first now arrives on the hills. With snow coverage in Scotland and the Alps, that time is now. It’s an essential part of your winter preparation and should not be forgotten about. Being physically prepared for skiing reduces the risk of injury and also makes it easier to make technical changes to our ski performance once on the snow. The demands placed on our body when doing a full day of off-piste skiing are tough and we need to ready for them to get the most out of our trip.
Skinning up to the Col de Balme, Le Tour, Chamonix
Focus on developing core strength, improving balance and rehearsing the dynamic movements made on skis. SkiFit offer a superb programme. My personal favourite is the 8-minute workout, which is easy to fit into your daily routine, and has significant benefits. Time spent balancing on one leg, doing one-legged squats and progressing to 1-legged jumps will all be beneficial.
Dripping skis on the platform at Montenvers station after a descent of the Vallee Blanche, Chamonix
As well as making sure your body benefits from some pre-season tuning, you’ll need to do the same for your skis. If you don’t have any ski tuning equipment at home, then take your skis along to a local shop that comes recommended to you. Hand tuning is always far preferable to machine tuning. Take them in early before everybody else does it, and the shops get busy. Make sure your edges are sharp, and your skis are gliding well for those first turns of the winter.
"Being physically prepared for skiing reduces the risk of injury, and also makes it easier to make technical changes to our ski performance once on the snow"
Check that the din setting on your bindings is correct, too: having the wrong din setting can be frustrating at best and dangerous at worst. The din should be set in relation to your ability, height, weight, and the sole length of your boot. If you are unsure of the correct din setting for your skis, ask an experienced member of staff in a ski shop.
Your ski boots are the most important link between your body and the snow. Invest time in checking that your boots are the right ones for you. A change of boots can often be the springboard for a dramatic improvement in skiing performance.
If you are considering getting new boots this season, here are a few points to keep in mind. Most shops require you to have an appointment to get new boots and they will probably spend at least an hour with you. Gone are the days of just walking in and picking a pair of the shelf. Second, it’s best to go to a shop and get proper advice on what fits best, rather than to buy online. You might get a cheaper price online but it’s false economy if they don’t fit.
"You might get a cheaper price for your ski boots online, but it’s false economy if they don’t fit"
If you buy from a shop, most places allow you to keep taking them back to make adjustments until they fit just right. Be clear on what level of skier you are and what you want the boot for, whether that’s skiing for one week a year, or skiing every day for a whole season. Finally, go into the shop without any preconceptions of which boots you might like; the best boot for you will be the one that fits your foot best. What is a great boot for one person might not fit another. It’s best not to even look at what they have on the shelf – let them suggest what you need based on your skiing level and the kind of skiing you're doing.
As well as thinking about your skis and boots, make sure your equipment is all ready to go. That way, when the first snow comes you can jump straight into your skis and go. What needs replacing? Is there anything that needs repairing? Has your transceiver got new batteries in it? Have you practiced using it recently?
"Sorting your equipment can also include putting snow tyres or chains on your car; many a ski trip has been thwarted by having the wrong winter vehicle setup"
If you are planning on going off-piste, practice putting your shovel and probe together quickly. This can be done at home and reserves the precious time on the snow for making turns. Sorting your equipment can also include putting snow tyres or chains on your car so that you can get to the snow when it arrives; many a ski trip has been thwarted by having the wrong winter vehicle setup.
Once you have decided on where your ski trip is going to be, it’s time to get started on the local research. Buy the maps and guidebooks for the local area. If you are planning on going off-piste, then you’ll need more than the piste map. Stanfords stock most relevant ski maps and guidebooks. Fatmap provides 3D mapping for backcountry skiing for a number of key areas worldwide.
Follow the weather and snow conditions in the build up to your trip so that you can start to plan which itineraries might be an option during your trip. Download the relevant weather and avalanche forecast apps so they are at hand on arrival. If you need to arrange ski hire, IFMGA Mountain Guides, and lift passes, it's best to aim to do this well in advance of your trip.
Skiing fresh tracks high in the Ecrins Massif
Alison Culshaw's all-mountain skiing wardrobe essentials
The location and time of year that you are going skiing will have a significant impact on your choice of clothing. My clothing kit bag has a very different array of items when I go to ski in Zermatt in November compared to when I travel to Norway in the spring. Having a number of layers gives the flexibility to adapt for each trip, rather than having just one outfit for all occasions.
Along with all of the key layers in the list below, a good selection of gloves is also very useful, with a range from thin liner gloves to thick down mitts. Remember to pack both sunglasses and ski goggles. Wearing glasses when speeding downhill can result in watery eyes, and at the other end of the scale skinning in goggles can be a sweaty mess.