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We all cross our fingers and hope that when we’re out on a week’s ski holiday, it will snow each night and the sun will shine down on bright blue powder days all week long. But if you’ve skied a bit, you’ll know you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth, and that can mean skiing in bad visibility.

If you have a day (or a few ) of bad visibility while you’re skiing – or as it is nicknamed a “white out” – it can be a testing time for your skiing. Often it’s impossible to see more than a few feet ahead of yourself, and can be frustrating and a bit nerve wracking as well. However, if you know a few secrets of how to deal with a white out, you will still have a great days skiing.

Skiing in Bad Visibility

What is a white out?

A white out is when visibility and contrast on the mountain is severely reduced due to snow, clouds, fog and wind.

what is a white out

Stick to runs that go through the trees

It is so much easier to see in a white out when you are in areas with trees or landmarks (such as building) as they provide definition and improved spacial awareness. Also, the contrast between the trees and the white snow gives you good depth perception.

These are some of the best areas in some of the resorts we teach in to head to on a white out day.

  • Courchevel / La Tania: Head straight to La Tania for the Folyeres blue run. This weaves back down towards La Tania through the trees. For red run skiers try Murettes or Brigues and for advanced skiers try Jockeys the black. In fact these runs are some of the best in Courchevel and are often forgotten!
  • Méribel: Take the Rhodos bubble and try the Rhodos or Altiport run. Alternatively if you are a confident blue run skier you can ski the Lapin piste to Meribel Village, just in time for a well earned coffee.
  • Espace Killy: Head to the La Daille area as there are plenty of trees to help you.
skiing in bad visibility

Right hand piste marker

Use the piste markers

If you are in an area away from trees, or in an area such as the Espace Killy where trees are few and far between, make sure you use the piste markers and follow them down the piste. This way you can be sure that you won’t get lost. Also, the pole to the right hand side of the piste always has an orange top. This way you always know if you are on piste on the right side of the piste marker.

Be sure to stick together and ski in a group

Discuss the number of turns you are going to make before stopping, or the number of piste markers you plan to pass before you stop. And try skiing in pairs. It is so much easier to ski behind someone, so splitting your group into pairs and putting better skiers at the front should make it easier and mean no one will get lost. Skiing near other people will also help you keep your orientation as to where is up and where is down.

Always stay on piste & use your map

Unless you really know the run and exactly where you are. It can be disorientating and while on piste there is no risk of falling off a drop. Grab your piste map and try to stick to runs that don’t split off in too many directions. This way you’ll always end up at the lift together.

Get the right goggles for flat light

Most goggles come with two lens options: one for sunny days and one for flat light. Be sure you have the flat light lens in on a white out day, as these let in more light than sunny ones, which will help with definition and contrast in your surroundings.

Change your elevation

Flat light is often caused by clouds and fog, but those clouds and fog don’t always cover the entire mountain. Often, if you get a bit higher up on the mountain, you can come up above the cloud and see some sun! Conversely, if up high is covered in cloud and fog, try skiing in the lower areas of resort. These are likely to have more trees where clouds don’t sit as easily.

skiing in bad visibility

Make the most of it!

As our Courchevel 1850 Instructor, Andrea says, “The day after a whiteout day you will ski like a hero!”


3 replies
  1. greg says:

    the bit about the piste markers having orange tops only applies in France. I’ve not seen it in Italy or other countries.

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