Chamonix Off Piste & Mountain Skills

“A ski instruction course designed to improve your technical off-piste skiing, mountain safety awareness and skill, whilst doing lots of good skiing & touring in the process”.


Chamonix Off Piste & Mountain Skills – Classic Course

Chamonix Off Piste & Mountain Skills – Progression Course

2020 Course Dates, Prices & Booking


Jan 20

Chamonix Off-Piste Ski & Mountain Skills – Jan 2020

January 20, 2020 - January 24, 2020
Feb 24

Chamonix Off-Piste Ski & Mountain Skills – Feb 2020

February 24, 2020 - February 28, 2020
Mar 23
Apr 13

Course Aims

  • To develop competence and confidence skiing in variable off-piste terrain and to ensure it is something you look forward to rather than fear. To achieve this there are two skill sets that need to be developed; ski technique and safe travel skills. You will come away from this course feeling that you have developed both.
  • You will also hopefully be inspired to embrace a creative approach to your ski adventures in future and realise the potential for fun ski journeys with touring bindings, skins, map and a good plan!

Most of these courses will be run by Alison Thacker (née Culshaw); BASI Ski Instructor and International Mountain Guide, Rob Jarvis.  When Rob & Alison are not running these courses we are extremely proud of the excellent alternative instructors and guides who we choose to run them.

Alison Thacker & Rob have been running an active series of Chamonix Off Piste & Mountain Skills courses together since winter 2013, with some great feedback from our guests.

‘Chamonix Off-Piste Ski & Mountain Skills is a joint venture between ‘High Mountain Guides’ and ‘Off-Piste Performance’ aimed at giving you expert advice and coaching in all aspects of mountain skiing.

Alison runs ‘Off-Piste Performance’ and holds the BASI International Ski Teacher Award.  She has delivered Continuing Professional Development (CPD) to the British Mountain Guides and works as a trainer on the BASI Mountain Safety Courses training aspiring instructors. When not teaching skiing she’ll be off ski touring somewhere…often in the Arctic North!

Rob runs ‘High Mountain Guides’ and is a full time Mountain Guide based in the French Alps near Chamonix.  He has led many mountaineering and ski expeditions around the world including skiing to the South Pole and, slightly steeper, Mount Vinson, the highest peak in Antarctica.

Alison demonstrating great off piste technique in awesome off piste terrain at Les Grands Montets. Aiguille de Chardonnet & Aiguille d’Argentière across the Argentière Glacier. Photo:  Lukasz Warzecha

Toby Bishop, Classic Course, Jan 2018

 A brief note of thanks for this week. It’s the best week’s skiing I’ve had. It was a great help to understand why we were doing and not doing certain things and how to minimise risk and maximise the potential for good skiing. I’ll recommend the course and your guidance to those who’d appreciate them.

Classic Course

Ski Technique

Alison will work with you to make the downhill become something you look forward to whatever the snow type. She will give you the tools to float effortlessly through the powder, embrace the bumps, control the hard pack, manage the ice and even enjoy the crust!  You will gain tactics to ski smoothly through the trees, feel more confident on the steeps and have a strategy for when snow conditions are so poor you just need to get down the mountain safely.

Nice transformed spring snow above the Argentiere Glacier

Safe Ski Travel in the Mountains

 By ascending on skis, using skins, untracked slopes can be reached or a quiet summit view enjoyed away from the crowded pistes. The pleasures are great but the hazards are real.  During 2 active days skiing Rob will guide you through the mountain practicalities of backcountry ski travel.
  • How to use skins and bindings effectively so that ski ascents become an aesthetic and efficient pleasure.
  • How to interpret avalanche and weather forecasts alongside actual mountain snow conditions and decide where to ski safe and good terrain accordingly.
  • How to become highly skilled in the use of your essential avalanche equipment (shovel, probe and transceiver) and be able to manage an avalanche scenario should one arise.
  • How to ski on a glacier, including roped ski travel, will also be covered, ideally during a descent of the Chamonix classic Vallee Blanche
Our Feb 2019 classic course on ski touring patrol on the French – Swiss border above the Col de Balme, Le Tour, Chamonix.

As an experienced international Mountain Guide, Rob will not only deliver these practical skill sessions but constantly ‘drip-feed’ information about the constant decision making processes involved in off-piste skiing and ski touring.  You should finish the course with a much greater awareness of the issues involved in planning your own off piste & ski touring journeys and a good simple framework to use for planning your own routes.

Chamonix Off Piste & Ski Mountain Skills course in the Vallee Blanche, great conditions in Jan 2018

Course Outline

This suggested itinerary may vary considerably according to weather and snow conditions.

Pre-Course

Arrive in Chamonix. Arrange all ski equipment & warm up skiing. As with all our ski courses, we recommend you prepare as much as possible in advance with relevant ‘ski fit’ preparation and then arrive at least a day or two early to both warm up your ski legs & check equipment. This is especially important if you will be renting boots or skis & bindings. Please also make sure your skis are well serviced & bindings correctly adjusted.

Day 1

Introduction to Off-Piste Skiing with Alison looking at the fundamental skills needed for being effective in the off-piste. Feedback will be specific to the individual so that you have personal top tips to take forward into the week.

Chamonix Ski Touring Guide
Alison coaching the team in soft snow at the Grands Montets

Day 2

Off-Piste ski decision making in ‘avalanche terrain’, use of avalanche equipment and Emergency procedures. Efficient use of skins for ascending on skis and doing some fun short journeys in to the backcountry…to get some fresh tracks in good snow hopefully!

Our Classic course team enjoying fine powder touring conditions above the brilliant Arve Valley ski station of Combloux. A favourite location for intro ski touring and now on the Mont Blanc Unlimited Ski Pass.

Day 3

During this day you will apply the skills learnt on day 1 to whatever the off-piste conditions are. Whether it is powder, icy or bumpy (or a mixture of all of the above!) you will have plenty of time to put the skills into practice.

Great fun & fresh tracks…once you know how and can relax, smile and enjoy the powder!

Day 4

Weather permitting, this day will be a glacial ski journey covering aspects of safe travel in crevassed terrain. Roping up, route finding and basic crevasse rescue techniques can all be covered whilst enjoying a magnificent journey down one of Chamonix’s famous glaciers like the Argentiere or Vallee Blanche.

Day 5

This day is deliberately left flexible in terms of plan and location.  We have visited many different interesting touring & off piste venues over the last few years and pride ourselves on always doing something different to make the most of prevailing conditions.  Sometimes we do a full day tour, sometimes we do more coaching and training from the lifts.  It’s a great opportunity to combine all the skills developed throughout the week and quiz the ski instructor & guide together on any final burning issues.

Megeve ski touring with a superb panorama of the snowy Aravis Range beyond.   A magical last day to our 2019 Feb classic course with Rob, Derek and the team.

Ian Sharpe, Classic Course, March 2016

Hi Rob, Alison, Thanks for a great course. I loved every minute of it.  I also learned a great deal. I definitely feel I was skiing better at the end of the week. Now I just need to remember it all for next year……Enjoy the rest of the season, Norway etc. I’m not jealous. Really.

Spring powder…Great conditions at Les Contamines, early April 2019

Classic Course Pre-requirements

Ski Ability

To get the most from this course you will be a strong piste skier and be able to get down all groomed slopes with confidence. You should also have existing off-piste experience and be reasonably competent descending in a variety of snow types from powder to crust! Instruction & coaching will be given as part of the course and the aim is to gain confidence and skill rather than ski particularly steep slopes.

We have found that people really enjoy this course when they have done lots of off-piste mileage but never quite got the hang of it. Or if you are able to rip it up in the powder but feel you only have “one skill set in your tool box” so struggle to make changes to adapt to the changes the off-piste environment throw at you..

Mountain Fitness

You’ll need to be fit & robust enough to be able to cope with 5 full days out skiing in the mountains and be able to skin steadily (250m/hr, including all stops & transitions) uphill for 2-3 hours (this will feel like hill-walking uphill not running uphill!)

Team Approach

These are group courses and you will need to embrace this important element of the week and the important team aspect of off piste skiing and touring.  If you are keen to maximise your time in terms of individual ski coaching, or completing longer / more physical tours then we recommend Chamonix private ski guiding.

Course Kit List

Booting up to the Tete de Balme, Chamonix on our January 2019 Classic course.

2020 Course Dates & Prices

Since 2013 these courses have been nearly a complete sell out so book early to ensure your place in 2020.  For winter 2020 we have both classic and progression courses running throughout the season, from the powder tree skiing in January to high altitude glacier touring in April.  So you can choose your course, choose your month & book your place via each course page below.

2020 Course Fees

£675 – Standard Course

£750 – Progression Course

Check Availability & Book Via Each Course Page Below

Jan 20

Chamonix Off-Piste Ski & Mountain Skills – Jan 2020

January 20, 2020 - January 24, 2020
Feb 24

Chamonix Off-Piste Ski & Mountain Skills – Feb 2020

February 24, 2020 - February 28, 2020
Mar 23
Apr 13

What’s Included In The Price?

  • 2 full days ski instruction and off-piste skiing with a ski instructor
  • 2 full days instruction & off-piste skiing with a Mountain Guide
  • 1 full day with both Alison and Rob to help you combine the skills – Classic Course Only
  • Loan of avalanche transceiver, shovel & probe if required

What’s Not Included?

  • Accommodation. We recommend that you stay at Ski Breezy in Chamonix. If they are full or you would like an alternative style of accommodation please see our recommended list for places to stay in Chamonix
  • Lift passes
  • Flights and transfer from the airport to Chamonix
  • Food and drink during the course
  • Any other expenses
  • Ski Equipment.  Check the course equipment list below

Chamonix off piste & mountain skills equipment list

Les Leavitt, Standard Course, Jan 2016

Thanks! Great experience , really glad we did the course again. Retained so much more than first time around. Not too sure we should have repeated the Friday night out ! I am sure we will see you both again next year.

Full course team descent of the Aiguille du Midi snow arete, equipped here with fixed ropes. An ‘interesting’ experience for many skiers and putting the M factor into ski mountaineering!

Chamonix Off Piste & Mountain Skills – Progression Course

Our second & more advanced course has been designed specifically for those who want to develop their skills after the classic course, or those with a similar level of experience. The aims are to further improve both your technical off-piste skiing, technical ski touring skills & mountain safety awareness whilst visiting some inspiring different venues and interesting new terrain in the process.

Course Aims

  • Develop competence and confidence skiing in adventurous mountain terrain
  • Improve technical ski ability on steeper & more sustained slopes
  • Develop ski touring skills with the view to tackling steeper / harder day & hut to hut tours in future
  • Complete some excellent high mountain ski touring with at least one long (1000m+) day
  • Develop planning skills for selecting your own ski tours & route finding / terrain choice during the tour
  • Meet like minded others keen to enjoy 4 excellent days mountain skiing & touring
Lovely spring snow “the magic carpet ride” ski mountaineering above the Argentiere Glacier on our March 2019 progression course. Mont Buet & Aiguilles Rouges beyond.

Ski Technique

Although you will already be a good off-piste skier, the ski coach will work with you to develop more confidence on steeper or more technical ground and give you techniques and tactics for when conditions are tough.  With lower ratios than the standard course, this tuition will be even more tailored to your individual needs.  Time can be spent working on those individual habits that you have always been trying to change.

Alison, or another of the excellent ski instructors that run these courses with us, will analyse your own skiing style and coach the improvements accordingly.  Over the 2 days you will feel your skiing becoming more efficient in challenging situations.

Good balance – improved technique – enjoying the terrain and chalky firm pack snow at the Grands Montets, Chamonix.

Ski Travel in the High Mountains

A solid & reliable ski touring kick turn is a pre-requisite of this course to enable us to visit some of the classic steeper ski mountaineering terrain around the Mont Blanc Massif.  Touring in these areas under the supervision of an IFMGA Guide will help you develop further your technical ski touring skills including efficient transitions, glacier skiing, the use of ski crampons and perhaps even boot crampons, ice axe and rope if conditions / team ability allows.  Those looking for more technical tours and steeper terrain should check out one of our ski mountaineering courses.

Throughout the progression course, attention will be given to prevailing snow conditions, weather and avalanche forecasts and developing your ability for information gathering, planning suitable routes & making good decisions about terrain to ski with the two fundamental aims of…being safe & having fun!  As well as these training & technical elements at least one of the touring days will be a long & physical ski tour to give the satisfaction of completing a grand high level mountain ski journey.

Magical spring ski touring in the Aiguilles Rouges.  Re-frozen snow in the morning with ski crampons and then, if you get the right time, cruisey spring corn for the descent.  Some would say it’s better than powder.  Certainly easier to ski!

Robert Wine, March 2015

Just had an excellent two days’ tuition from Alison in a mix of conditions right down to absolute zero vis. So when better to be told to slacken off your boots and ski by feel? And it works. This is my second set of lessons with Alison; she’s very good (actually far better than that), and our thirty-year experienced mountain guide was also raving about his lessons with her.

Progression Course Pre-requirements

Ski Ability

Competent, confident, robust and reliable skills whilst skiing any pisted run and off-piste in all conditions on slopes up to 35 degrees. You will have already completed at least a week of ski touring and be competent performing kick-turns on steep & sometimes exposed terrain. You will have practised with an avalanche transceiver and generally be a competent member of an off piste / ski touring team.

Mountain Fitness

You’ll need to be able to cope with 4 full mountain days and have the fitness & stamina to maintain an ascent rate of at least 300 metres per hour for 3-4 hours and still be able to then make a safe and reasonably stylish ski descent!

Team Approach

These are group courses and you will need to embrace this important element of the week.  If you are keen to maximise your time in terms of individual ski coaching, or completing longer / more physical tours then we recommend Chamonix private ski guiding.

Mountaineering Experience & Ski Warm Up

Basic mountaineering experience with some previous use of crampons & ice axe is useful but not essential. We recommend that you do some warm-up skiing before this course, ideally at altitude and with some skinning and kick turn practice if required. This is a demanding course and you need to be physically and mentally prepared for it. Unless you are a strong ski mountaineer already, this course is most suited to folk who are skiing quite regularly during the season.

Beautiful velvet fresh tracks in shallow powder on an away day touring trip in the nearby Italian Val d’Aosta.  Magic!

Progression Course Outline

This suggested itinerary may vary considerably according to weather and snow conditions and group experience / aspirations:

Pre-Course

Arrive in Chamonix, enjoy at least one day’s pre-course warm up skiing & check all off piste & touring gear (and legs!) are working well.

Day 1

Introduction to steeper Off-Piste Skiing with Alison or another of the great instructors we use.  Looking at the fundamental skills needed for being effective on steep and / or more technical terrain. Feedback will be specific to the individual so that you have personal top tips to take forward into the week.  Possible venues Le Tour, Brevent / La Flégère, Les Grands Montets

Enjoying the fresh snow – practising new techniques – making the most of the coaching – below the tree line – on a Chamonix powder day!

Day 2

Alpine ski touring day with the aim of completing a mid length, middle altitude tour to access interesting & varied terrain. Practice classic touring skills on ascents, route planning & finding, efficient transitions & ski skills in descent, all as part of a fine ski journey.  Possible venues, Contamines Valley, Ski Touring Italian Val Feret, Ski Touring in the Chamonix Aiguilles Rouges.

Ski touring in the Aiguilles Rouges above the Chamonix Valley. Great terrain, views and skiing. Photo Gav Pike

Day 3

During this day you will apply the skills learnt on day 1 to whatever the off-piste conditions are. Whether it is powder, icy or bumpy (or a mixture of all of the above!) you will have plenty of time to put the skills into practice.  Possible venues: Ski Courmayeur, Le Tour, Brevent, La Flégère, Les Grands Montets.

Ski Argentiere Guide
Great milage on steep ground at the Chamonix favourite, the Grands Montets. With the Aiguilles Rouges beyond.

Day 4

Ski Mountaineering day with the aim of completing a high alpine journey in steeper or glacial terrain necessitating the use of ski mountaineering skills and equipment like crampons, ice-axe and rope.  Judgements of prevailing conditions and subsequent route & terrain choice will be discussed and the aim will be to plan and complete an excellent high alpine ski journey in good style.  Possible venues: Col de Passon from Argentière Glacier, variations on the Vallée Blanche, Glacier de Toule from Midi or Hellbronner.

Firm pack skiing in the Combe Vierge as part of a high altitude glacier touring day on the Italian side of the Vallee Blanche, Photo Gav Pike.

Chris Branson, March 2015

…the course, great stuff! I felt the techniques and analysis you you showed me helped me a lot. My confidence has gone up and there were several eureka moments! I also feel I am in a position to be able to criticise my own technique and identify where I am going wrong ‘on the hoof’.

2019 Progression Course Dates, Prices & Booking

Progression Course Price

£750

Group Size

Maximum 4 people to 1 Guide / Instructor

See Main Course List Above For All Course Dates & Availability

What’s included in the Price?

  • 2 full days ski instruction and off-piste skiing with a ski instructor
  • 2 full days instruction & off-piste skiing with a Mountain Guide
  • Loan of harness, crampons, ice axe & helmet if required

What’s not included?

  • Accommodation. We recommend that you stay at Ski Breezy in Chamonix. If they are full or you would like an alternative style of accommodation please see our recommended list for places to stay in Chamonix.
  • Lift passes. As we will use the best place for the day depending on the weather and snow we ask you to leave buying your pass until the first morning of the course. Cost of a day pass in Chamonix is max C.60 Euros and any other venues we use will be cheaper than this. For folk skiing before & after the course, one simple option is to buy a Mont Blanc Unlimited Pass for the duration although we may do a ski tour away from the lifts on one day and thus that days lift pass would not be required.
  • Flights and transfer from the airport to Chamonix
  • Food and drink during the course
  • Any other expenses
  • Ski Equipment. Check the equipment list below.  Please note that we can lend you harness, crampons & ice axe if required.
  • Course kit list

Enjoying some well earned pristine Italian velvet snow…An Away Day in nearby Val d’Aosta
I had a truly wonderful time with Blair and Mark, and learned a great deal, despite being taken to my physical limit at times. Great company, good craic, skiing places I never thought I’d get to – deeply satisfying.  Thanks also for recommending Breezy’s place – a gem of a chalet, where Breezy and Al treated me like a member of their family. Fabulous.
Steve Smith, April 2019 Classic Course.
Ski Touring In the Vallee Blanche on our April 2019 Chamonix off piste & mountain skills course. Photo Blair Aitken

Feedback From Our Jan 2019 Chamonix Classic Course

Hi Rob, thanks again for a really enjoyable course. I appreciated your calm and patient support, along with your encouragement and sense of humour!  Thanks also to Derek for the same reasons.  The team were very special, always working together with consideration for others and appreciating the strengths and weaknesses of each person. A great course! 😊Brenda 🐝
Hi Rob and Derek,  Just wanted to say a big thank you, I really enjoyed the course last week and thanks for taking us to the most stunning places. I really feel like there’s a whole new world of skiing out there, thanks for being so relaxed and easy to learn with and thanks for the great pictures.  Have a great rest of the season, looks like good snow yesterday!  Amy Sergison.

Thanks for being part of a great week. Really enjoyed spending time with you in the mountains and getting your input into skiing in the mountains.  It was a relaxed, informative and enjoyable time.  Hope to see you around and possibly do some more skiing with you.  Ian Carter. 

Hi Rob, Quick note to say thanks for some great skiing this week. We really enjoyed and and learnt loads. Slainte, John Appleton. 

Skiing through the beautiful ice architecture on the Glacier de Grands Montets above Argentiere

John Kitchiner, Chamonix, April 2018 – Classic Course

The course was great, thanks, even if the weather was pretty crap half the time – story of the 2018 winter though! Both Mark and Blair have a really good way of explaining things and breaking them down – Blair’s tips in particular were super useful. No mean feat teaching a self-taught old dog new tricks!  Pretty sure the group overall had a great time and everyone’s planning further courses, tours, instruction etc.

Alex Cooper, Chamonix, March 2018 – Classic Course

I just wanted to say a huge thank you for what we now refer to as our ‘second best week skiing ever’ (the best week will always be the first week we learnt to ski!) We took some convincing to sign up as we weren’t sure about spending so much on a week of lessons but I’m so glad Fran convinced us as the course has given us so much new knowledge and skills that our ski holidays from now on are going to be completely different.

On the Saturday after the course we skied together and had a chance to put our route finding skills into practice. It was fantastic to be able to assess the conditions, look for the best snow and consider the safety of the bit of off piste we were looking at doing. To top it off we skied it with a new found style and confidence. I don’t have any constructive feedback as I wouldn’t have changed a thing.  Hope to see you both again on another course maybe…

Karen, Feb 2018 – Classic Course

Pleasure to receive your email and the photos. Really good photos there, thank you for taking the effort and time to take them.  I really enjoyed the course and I think our team really had a good atmosphere, I felt if in need people would look after me and that is a good feeling when you are in the mountains. Many thanks to both you and Alison for creating that special and fun atmosphere,  I learned a lot, got to the places where I never imagined being and I am very happy I could be part of it. It really was a pleasure and an unique experience.  Ski touring really does open a whole new path to many adventures. I am also thankful you recommended Ski Breezy to me, such a great place to stay in Chamonix. I hope to take part in the future courses and trips as well.  Happy skiing, Karen

Elissa & Russel, Feb 2018 – Classic Course

Russell and I wanted to say thank you for a great week of instruction and guiding in Chamonix.  We both got a lot out of the course and we also very much enjoyed our two days with John at the end of the trip.  Not to mention understanding the uses of ski crampons!  Please could you pass on our thanks to Derek, Neil and John for all their help?  Thanks again, and all best.
Snowy powder touring below the tree line on the Vallorcine side of Le Tour, another favourite venue for our combined off piste and touring journeys with training along the way.