International Ski Federation rules

The following is a summary of the FIS rules, which are now held to be binding in law:

  • RESPECT - Do not endanger others.
  • CONTROL - Adapt the manner and speed of your skiing to your and to the general conditions on the mountain. ability
  • ROUTE - The skier/snowboarder in front has priority - leave enough space.
  • OVERTAKING - Leave plenty of space when overtaking a slower skier/snowboarder.
  • STARTING OUT - Always look in every direction before starting.
  • STOPPING - Stop only at the edge of the piste or where you can be seen easily.
  • CLIMBING - Always keep to the side of the piste.
  • SIGNS - Obey all signs and markings - they are provided for your safety.
  • ASSISTANCE - In case of accidents, provide help or alert the rescue services.
  • IDENTIFICATION - All those involved in an accident, including witnesses, should exchange names and addresses.

Ski Insurance

As with any sport, there is a degree of risk involved in going skiing or snowboarding - it is possible that you might get injured on your trip. Even if this just means a sprained wrist or ankle, you will probably need to have it checked out by a doctor. Depending on where you travel and where your home is, you may be entitled to free treatment locally. But it is more usual to have to pay for your medical treatment - and for rescue services. For this and a number of other reasons - explained below - it is essential that you get yourself covered with a suitable insurance policy.

It's important to shop around for the right winter sports insurance policy. Don't just opt for a tour operator policy without first comparing it with alternative independent insurance companies' policies.
If you are likely to go on more than one winter sports holiday per year, it is worth looking into getting yourself annual cover, as opposed to paying for several single-trip policies.

You need to make sure that your insurance offers adequate personal liability cover (in case you collide with someone and injure them) as well as medical and emergency cover (the cost of transport to a hospital, treatment and return journey or repatriation).

Your policy should also cover you for weather-related problems (you could be snowed in or out of your resort) and piste closure (too much or too little snow may mean that most or all of the lifts are closed).

You should also make sure that your equipment and baggage is insured against theft or loss - especially if you have expensive equipment (you may want to raise the cover on this if you have particularly expensive kit). But check to see if your home contents policy covers these items.

Even if you are only a beginner, you should check that your policy covers you off-piste - you might stray off-piste (even just off the side of the piste) without even realising it.

If you plan to snowboard or do any other snow-related activity (heli-skiing, snow-mobiling etc) make sure that your cover allows for it as this is often excluded from standard packages.

Ski Boots

The comfort of your ski boots is an important factor in whether you have a great ski holiday or not - the wrong boots can cause such severe discomfort that they can detract from the overall enjoyment of your holiday. But these days you shouldn't find it difficult to find comfortable boots. Over the years the combination of comfort and performance has improved vastly.

First of all, your ski boots must fit properly - so as not to cause too much discomfort, and to transmit your leg movements to your skis. You should also be able to put them on and remove them easily - the buckles and adjustments should open and shut easily even when iced up.

A few years ago, rear-entry boots with just one or two clips to tighten the fit were all the rage. They were good for comfort and convenience but, for the most part, good skiers found they didn't give them enough support and sufficiently precise control between foot and boot. Rear-entries have virtually disappeared from the shelves now. Most boots now have four adjustable clips to give you precise fit and control.

It is important to get fitted out with the right boots from the start. It's impossible to say which models are the best for fit and performance - it depends entirely on the shape of your foot, so find a shop with a competent fitter and try as many different pairs as you can until you find the one that suits you best.

Most companies offer specific boots for women as well as standard fit boots. Some models - especially for novices and intermediates - have a walk mode, allowing more movement when off the slopes. These 'mid-entry' boots are generally more padded for greater comfort, at some cost to precise performance.
A good boot fitter should examine your feet and select the right boot for your foot - the volume of your ankle, your instep, whether your arch is high or low, and a lot of other things determine whether a particular make and model of boot is right for you.

There are a number of golden rules to follow when being fitted for boots: 

  • Cut your toenails.
  • Allow plenty of time - at least a couple of hours and probably more - to try on several models and get properly fitted.
  • Shop on a quiet day during the week, when the fitters aren't busy serving several people at the same time.
  • Wear ski socks - only one pair.
  • Try different sizes and models - and wear different ones on each foot to get comparisons, if you like.


Before buying, always try on both boots together of the pair you decide on. Adjust them for fit and flex forward repeatedly - you should feel your toes moving away from the front and you should be able to wiggle them, but your heel should be locked in place and not come off the sole. Wear the boots and walk around in them for at least 15 minutes to see if any problems develop.

Invest in custom-moulded footbeds. These will be moulded to the shape of your foot and give you maximum support when you need it - we've found them a huge help in maximising comfort and performance. You can also now get custom-moulded inner boots.

If possible, get a comfort guarantee that if, despite all your efforts, your boots remain uncomfortable, you get a free refitting service or, at worst, are refitted with an alternative pair.

In some resorts, there are specialist shops where you can test various boots before buying - an ideal arrangement (unless you are intending to get custom-moulded inner boots).

Skis

Skis used mainly to be differentiated by the standard of skier they were aimed at. But then a host of different types of revolutionary new shaped skis came on the scene. First, there were the fat skis that brought off-piste skiing within the grasp of even an average intermediate. Then there were carving skis, which have virtually replaced the old-fashioned skinny skis and paved the way for a whole host of new types of ski.

So which type of ski should you go for? The easy answer is that you should try whichever take your fancy. Broadly, here's a summary of which type will suit what sort of person and what type of skier. 

Carving skis

Carving skis, also known as 'shaped', 'hourglass', 'super-sidecut', or 'parabolic' skis, are ideal for skiers who want to stick to groomed pistes. They are wider at the shovel (front) and tail (back) than old-fashioned skis. Because of their shape they carve turns more easily and make skiing more fun. There are carving skis made for all standards from virtual beginner through to World Cup racer - it's important to choose ones that suit your standard.

Free-ride

Freeride skis suit people who want to ski all over the mountain with ease - on piste and off. They are generally shaped pretty similarly to carving skis but tend to be wider throughout their length and, in particular, at the waist. This increased width makes them float more easily off-piste, making it easier to ski powder and to power your way through crud. They also work very well on the piste, giving a great feeling of stability when making fast carved turns on groomed trails.

Poles

When choosing your ski poles, hold your poles upside down and hold them vertically with the handles touching the floor (you should be wearing your ski boots for this test). Hold the tips just below the basket (ie with the baskets above your hand). If your elbows are at about a 90-degree angle, they are the right length for you.

Bindings

Bindings too have developed enormously in recent years. One of the main recent trends has been towards improved binding release mechanisms which are intended to reduce ligament damage - the skier's major injury worry. There are competing claims from different makers, but all modern bindings are much safer than those made even a decade or two ago.
Riser plates are designed to raise the binding on the ski and increase a good skier's ability to get the ski over on its edge and carve turns without the boot coming into contact with the snow.

Servicing your equipment

To get the best out of skis and snowboards, you need to have them serviced regularly to make sure the base is smooth and the edges are sharp so that they can grip even on hard snow and ice. You might prefer to have your equipment serviced before you go on holiday so that you waste no time after you arrive. But resort ski shops stay open until 7 or 8pm and will have your skis serviced by the time the lifts start in the morning.

Ski Goggles and Sunglasses

 

Ski Goggles

These are your best protection against snow and cold. They really are essential when it's snowing heavily and some people find they need them in cold winds even when it's not snowing. They are also more secure than sunglasses - lots of skiers and boarders wear them all of the time, regardless of the conditions. Considering how quickly weather conditions can change in the mountains, it is worth keeping a pair on you at all times.

Double-lensed goggles should not mist up as readily as the single-lensed variety. You should also make sure that they are well ventilated. Anti-mist fluid can be applied to help control misting. However, the best advice for avoiding misted lenses is to keep the goggles in place, even when you are on a lift. Try to avoid lifting them off or placing them on your forehead - mist forms when there is a large difference/change in the temperature on the outside and inside of the lens.

Some of the top ski and snowboard goggles brands are: Anon, Bolle, Cebe, Dakine, Oakley, Sinner, Smith, Spy and UVEX.
 

Ski sunglasses

Whether the sun is out or not, a good pair of glasses is crucial. They will help protect your eyes from UV rays and the glare of the sun on the snow - which can cause snow blindness. Think about protecting the whole of your eye from potentially harmful rays - choose 'wrap-arounds' or glasses with protective side-panels.
You should check that the glasses are well suited to the contours of your face - there is nothing worse than the feeling of the frames gradually sliding down your nose as you are cruising/racing along. If you are a champion bumps skier, jump specialist or just extremely accident prone then it may be an idea in invest in a pair of glasses that attach themselves securely to your head - either by wrapping around your ears or with a band around the back of your head. You should never skimp on glasses - you only have one pair of eyes. 

Ski Wear

Decent waterproof, breathable clothing to keep you warm and dry on the slopes is essential.
If you are a beginner or fair-weather skier or boarder, you'll be able to make do with some of the basic clothing available, but you need gear that has been specially designed for use in the great outdoors, if not specifically for snowy mountains. Old jeans or tracksuit trousers just will not do - they'll soon become wet and then freeze. In extreme conditions you could be endangering your life in them. A decent pair of trousers and a decent jacket, both designed specifically for skiing or boarding, are well worth having. But you'll also need:

  • Warm clothes under your jacket - layers such as T-shirt, polo-neck shirt and sweater or fleece are best so that you can remove some if you become too hot 
  •  Thermal underwear - worth considering if you feel the cold a lot 
  •  Long 'ski' socks which wick away moisture (just wear one pair) 
  •  Good-quality ski or snowboard gloves 
  •  A hat or beanie - essential because most of your heat loss goes through your head.
  • Headbands and neck warmers are also worth considering - Turtle Fur is incredibly soft and warm, light and quick drying.

Experienced skiers and boarders who go out in all conditions really need top-quality technical outer clothing made out of quality materials, such as Gore-tex, to keep them protected from extreme conditions. There are all sorts of options now available, such as shell jackets with removable fleeces, and jackets and trousers which zip together to give one-piece protection. Cotton, although a traditional warm-weather favourite, is the last thing to use: if you sweat at all it will become wet, and lose any insulating properties it had. Instead, use synthetic 'wicking' wests and shirts that carry moisture away from the skin.

The most essential piece of après-ski wear you'll need is a good pair of stout, waterproof, walking boots with a good sole to give grip on snow and ice.

 

Children's Ski Wear

All the basic rules for adult clothing and accessories apply to children too, only more so. Being cold and wet is a guarantee that your child (and you in turn) will have a miserable holiday. There is now a wide range of fun, colourful children's clothing and accessories available.

One-piece suits are warm and comfortable (but a bit inconvenient when using the loo!). Separate jackets and trousers are more practical for use at home as well as on the slopes. For toddlers, link their gloves with string and thread it through the suit or jacket, otherwise they may get through several expensive pairs in a week. Remember, if your child's jacket doesn't have an insulated hood, some sort of fleecy bobble hat is essential for keeping their heads warm.

It's now widely accepted that children in particular should wear a helmet when skiing or boarding. The latest studies show that over half the head injuries to children could be avoided by wearing one.

Hiring ski wear and equipment can be a good option if it is your first ski holiday, you can do this with Edge2Edge.

On-piste skiing

Providing you behave responsibly and avoid putting yourself in danger by taking too many risks, skiing and boarding are relatively safe sports - leading to fewer injuries per head than such run-of-the-mill sports as keep-fit, tennis, squash, cricket and rugby. So, as long as you are sensible you should be confident in the knowledge that you are not putting yourself unduly at risk.

When on-piste make sure to follow the rules of the 'Skier's Highway Code' , which are designed to avoid collisions and promote enjoyable, safe skiing and boarding.

On-piste you should be safe from most of the natural dangers of the mountain. Your biggest risks are falling on ice or colliding with a tree or with another skier or boarder due to your own or their incompetence or recklessness - so make sure you watch and keep a safe distance from the people in front (downhill) of you.

Remember to stay within the bounds of the piste - marked with sticks or posts. (How well they are marked - which matters during a white-out - varies a lot between resorts, but in principle there is a clear definition of where it is safe to ski and board.)

Read your piste map carefully to avoid venturing into territory that is beyond your capability or you could be getting yourself into sticky situations. The runs are graded for difficulty so you should be able to work out what you are capable of doing. Remember though, grading can be very inconsistent between resorts - some Val d'Isère greens would be graded red in many other resorts, for example - so if you are a novice, treat unfamiliar runs with some caution.


Pistes are checked against avalanche danger; if there is a danger, they are kept closed until the avalanche has been artificially triggered, or the snow has stabilised naturally. They can also be closed due to lack of snow, which might uncover rocky patches. So don't venture under the barriers of a closed piste - you will be putting yourself and perhaps others at risk.

In general, pistes are patrolled so that injured skiers and boarders will be found - especially at the end of the day when the runs are checked after they have been closed. (Patrolling should also mean that obstacles such as rocks and bare earth are marked.) If you are injured, wait calmly for help.

Off-piste Skiing

 

You should  never go far off-piste unless you are with a reliable and qualified local ski instructor or mountain guide, who can assess the conditions, the terrain and your ability.

 

Off-piste skiing and riding is on the increase, and understandably so: getting away from the crowds among high mountain scenery and making first tracks in fresh powder snow are magical experiences. It can never be completely safe - you go off-piste completely at your own risk but your chances of survival are greatly increased if you are properly guided and equipped.

Never venture off-piste - even just off the side of the piste - alone. Avalanches are not the only danger - there may also be unmarked obstacles, trees, crevasses and cliffs. If you have an accident alone, no one may know.

There is a good range of avalanche safety equipment on the market these days. If you do decide to go off-piste (or 'out of bounds' as they say in the States), you should be equipped with, and have been trained how to use, an avalanche transceiver (often referred to as a 'peeps', because one of the major brands is the Austrian Pieps). This is a combined transmitter and
This contrasts strongly with North American resorts, which have ski area boundaries - usually marked by a rope. Within the boundary, there are marked trails (like European pistes) and many have big open ('bowl') areas - often steeper and hairier than any European pistes. These areas are patrolled, protected from avalanche danger and closed when the risk is considered too great. So long as receiver.

While skiing or riding, everyone in a group has their peeps set on 'transmit'; if there is an avalanche, those not buried by it turn their peeps to 'receive' - they can then receive the signals sent out by their buried companions and by gradually reducing the sensitivity of the receiver track them down under the snow. But you need to be very well trained in transceiver use to do this quickly and effectively. New digital transceivers are on sale which are meant to be easier and quicker to use than old-style ones.

Recco reflectors are a simple cheap precaution as well, though they are not, by any means, a substitute for a proper avalanche transceiver.

Other essential equipment includes avalanche probes and a collapsible shovel - to locate buried people and dig them out. It is also sensible to take a whistle, flares, a length of rope and a survival bag as well. All of this can be carried in a small day pack or rucksack - many of these come with a some sort of water storage pack as well. Extra clothing (gloves, hat, goggles) and high-energy food should also be kept in your rucksack.

Most specialist ski shops sell most of the above individually or as part of an off-piste pack.

Ski Lifts

You spend a lot of time on lifts on a ski holiday, and resorts are progressively realising that comfort on the lift, and a short queuing time, are important factors to skiers and boarders when gauging the enjoyment of their holiday.  Lift systems are progressively becoming more elaborate and resorts are continually looking for new ways to form high-speed links between ski areas; the Vanoise Express in France (linking Peisey-Vallandry in the Les Arcs ski area to La Plagne) and the Peak 2 Peak Gondola (linking the summits of Whistler and Blackcomb in Canada, open December 2008) are great examples of new technology enabling a holidaymaker to make the most out of their time on the mountain.

We also lift pass prices and ski pass prices information accessible from the ski resort pages. 

Lifts come in all shapes and sizes, but here is a quick run-down of the most common:

Chairlifts

A chairlift is probably what most people would picture if asked to think about a ski lift - it circles on a wire, the skier or boarder sits on it and then pulls down a safety rail to hold them in.  They may seat from two to eight passengers and come in various degrees of complexity, from some of the more basic 'one speed' lifts (which the lift attendant will generally grab to limit the impact when it arrives - it's not as bad as it sounds, but you do need to be prepared!) to ultra-complex bubbles which have a hood to protect the passenger from the elements and, in the case of some of the more upmarket American resorts, even heated seats!

Gondolas

Gondolas are similar in operating style to chairlifts, in that they operate on a cable which circulates in one direction.  They are enclosed cabins which seat anything from four to thirty people - the smaller ones have seats (and you store your skis or board in racks attached to the outside) and the larger ones are basically standing spaces, and you keep your equipment with you.  Gondolas obviously protect you from bad weather - but conversely, are one of the first genres of lifts to be closed in high winds.

Cable Cars and Funiculars

Cable cars generally comprise two cabins which operate on a pulley system - i.e. one goes up when the other comes down.  Again they can be affected by adverse wind conditions, and you often have to wait a few minutes for one to arrive.  However they can carry a large number of passengers at one time - the Vanoise Express mentioned above can hold over 200 people on its 1.9km journey between the two lift stations, hanging around 340m above the valley floor.

Funiculars, or mountain railways, are generally the fastest means of transport.  They run on rails - often underground - and comprise a number of carriages.

Drag Lifts

Drag lifts tow you along the path as you hold onto them - they are often operated in beginner areas (because the short distance travelled means it's not worth installing a chair lift) and come in various guises:

Button (or Poma) Lifts

Named after the company that manufactures them, button lifts are often used in beginner areas in France; the lift comprises a series of poles with button-shaped seats on the end that are suspended (via a spring arrangement) from a high-level moving cable; you put the seat between your legs, then hold on to it as it drags the button and you up the slope.  Button lifts are also sometimes used in areas that may be too narrow or infrequently used for a chairlift to drag skiers up steep slopes (sometimes boarders and beginners are banned!) or to link across flat areas. 

T-Bars

These operate on much the same principle as button lifts in that they drag you up the slope - the main difference is that two people take the lift at one time, and lean against a support like a large 'T' rather than a button. 

Rope Tows / Magic Carpets

 A number of other simple-to-use lift systems exist - rope tows are based around a waist-height moving cable which may have hand holds or seats attached.  Magic carpets allow a beginner or child to stand on a moving travelator-style belt which is easy to get on or off as necessary!

Tips for lifts

In some resorts, lift queues can be longer than one would like.  Here are a few tips for avoiding the queues, well known by the locals:

  • In many resorts, there are a number of lifts which will eventually lead to the same place higher up the mountain.  Sometimes, by heading further down the mountain (for example a piste that runs past, and then lower than resort) you can jump on a chairlift which heads in the same direction as a larger lift and avoid the peak-time bottleneck at the main lift station.
  • Check out the links between the whole of the ski area, and the lifts outside the main village - often it is worth jumping on a ski shuttle bus to another village in order to find quieter lifts and slopes in the same ski area.  For example, the queues at the Mayrhofen gondola can be avoided by catching a bus to Hippach or Finkenberg, whose gondolas also feed into the same area.
  • Make use of 'singles' lines - this queue is for those who don't mind who they sit with.  Lift attendants use passengers from the singles line to fill empty spaces in the chair or gondola, and so the queue moves much faster than the main line.  Even if you are in a group, it's worth splitting up for the extra time you'll gain on the slopes!
  • Chair lifts and buttons are often much less popular than gondolas, as you are outside for the journey.  Take advantage of this to find shorter queues, and use the extra time in the sun to work on your goggle tan!
  • A number of resorts, particularly in North America, run a 'first tracks' scheme, where riders can pay a fee to board the lifts as much as two hours before the standard opening time, and so combine avoiding the early morning queue with being the first on completely untracked pistes!  Whistler, for example, offers a daily 'fresh tracks' ticket, which also includes a large breakfast in a mountain restaurant.
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