Off-piste

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The JC gets all figurative

Heaven, but with not a blessèd soul, in sight.


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The JC loves skiing. Say what you like about his privileged, stale, pale, male, out-of-touch ass. He has mixed feelings about the “off-piste” metaphor.

Literally, when skiing, it means to ski away from commercial ski-fields — typically, miles away from them and their lifts, cafés and so on — ski-touring, with skins, avalanche gear, a rucksack and a day’s worth of food, spending more time walking up than skiing down. This is fabulous, of course, but it’s quite a mission, and it has its dangers. The JC knows good men who went out ski-touring and never came back.

More narrowly, being “off-piste” means skiing on commercial ski-fields, using normal lifts, but just keeping off the groomed runs, skiing in between them. For dilettantes like the JC, it is a lot less dangerous and a whole lot less of a hassle than back-country ski-touring, and it is so much better than skiing on the pistes. For every acre of lovingly-gardened snow for les gens to swish down on their way to that midmorning genepis, three are at least three are au naturale. They’ll feature trees, ditches, rocks, skanky, crusty snow and, on a good day, plenty of unspoiled powder.

To be sure, skiing off-piste is no cakewalk: you have to have your wits about you. You have to have a decent game. You have to work it. You need enough technique to deal with powder, crud, moguls, avoid trees and whatnot. This is technique that 90% of skiers don’t have, so they stick to the pistes. But one of the worst things about skiing is people getting in your way. It sucks. And it’s dangerous.

So, some maths: if only a quarter of the skiable area is pisted then there is three times as much unpisted skiing on a given hill. If 90% of skiers are on a piste at any time — I have no data but I reckon both these are conservative — then by my feeble calculation there are twenty-seven times as many skiers per hundred square yards on the piste as there are off it. That is reason enough to learn to ski crud. Plus, pistes tend to be icy in the mornings and get rucked up, mogulled, sludgy and icy when everyone has been drilling them all day.

So, pistes: not particularly challenging, until you hit flat ice or some useless lump hits you, whereupon they become hideous. There are a ton of people taking the best lines — and usually not taking them, but traversing shittily across them, meaning you can’t take them. Bogus.

Being in business is a bit like skiing. Sticking to the piste is like chasing the same margin and the same business everyone else is chasing. It’s like, dude, look to the side. There’s plenty of good stuff there, if you only engage with it, and you’ll get a lot more out of it if you do.

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