Photo: Matt Georges
Whenever we’re due to spend some time on the mountain, we’re always hoping for bluebird conditions. Of course, it doesn’t always work out like that.
Sometimes the visibility drops to near zero, and it’s a struggle even to see your hand in front of your face. In extreme cases you might even experience Häusler’s Disease, where the lack of visual information - combined with your movements - really does a number on your brain.
If you’ve got the right attitude, however, there are plenty of ways to embrace a whiteout day. It’s true what they say: even the shittest day's snowboarding still beats the best day in the office.
"By logging those extra miles, you’re becoming a better snowboarder – and spending less cash on overpriced coffee in the resort"
Spend long enough in the mountains and you’ll soon spot the fair-weather snowboarders. More often than not, they’re just not that good. You can learn more about your own riding in one day of pisspoor weather than in a week of blue skies, as you’re forced to react quickly and improvise on the fly. By logging those extra miles, you’re becoming a better snowboarder – and spending less cash on overpriced coffee in the resort.
There’ll also be less folk around, which means shorter queues and a better chance of scoring some good lines. Sometimes the vis may rule out any off-piste exploration, but even when that happens you’re still likely to have the groomers to yourself.
Things don’t 'just happen' on a whiteout session, however. To make the most of it, you need to have a gameplan. Here are a few tips to ensure that even the murkiest day is capable of offering up the most vivid memories.
1) CHECK THE FORECAST
Before you get too worried about the visibility, or lack thereof, find out if things are likely to change. If there's been an overnight dump, you can time it so that when the sun finally does appear, you’re already at the top of the best run.
If, on the other hand, it looks like it’ll definitely be a pea-souper all day, at least you’ll know!
2) KEEP THE CREW TOGETHER
There’s a lot of fun to be had on a shit vis day, but less so if you lose your friends and end up riding solo.
Pull up every so often in case someone’s taken a massive tumble and fallen behind. If you're on the piste and you come to a fork in the trail, stop in the middle of the divide so that you can be seen by any stragglers.
3) USE THE RIGHT GOGGLE LENS
If you’ve only packed your sunny-day lens, you’ll be at a bit of a disadvantage. They’re designed to block out much of the sun’s harsh light, so when there’s not much of that around you’ll wish you were able to let a bit more in.
"It might not seem like it'd make a massive difference, but in a whiteout it’s definitely a case of ‘every little helps'"
A rose or yellow-tinted lens will give you a little more definition – it might not seem like that'd make a massive difference, but in a whiteout it’s definitely a case of ‘every little helps’.
Furthermore, invest in a good pair of goggles that have effective ventilation. It’s foggy enough without having to peer through your own sweat-mist.
4) HEAD FOR THE TREES
Definition is your friend. You may have a favourite wide, motorway piste for the bluebird days, but when faced with dogshit conditions the most viable option is to make a beeline for the trees.
"Make sure it’s somewhere you’re already fairly familiar with... if not, try and corner a local who can advise you (or, ideally, lead the way)"
Our leafy friends can offer perspective on speed and gradient that’s sorely lacking elsewhere on the mountain. If you’re lucky, those zones may also contain pockets of pow that you’ll have all to yourself. In short, go ask anyone who’s been to Japan if poor vis was ever a problem.
Don’t just dive in to the nearest glade, though; make sure it’s somewhere you’re already fairly familiar with. Should you come a cropper, it’s going to be bloody hard for anyone to find you.
If it’s your first day in an unfamiliar resort, try and corner a local who can advise you (or, ideally, lead the way). As long as you don’t get too carried away, you may well get the goods while everyone else is playing UNO back at the apartment.
5) BUTTER, BUTTER, AND BUTTER SOME MORE
If there’s no pow around, you’ll probably spend a lot of the day on mellower gradients. The last thing you want in a whiteout is a steep mogul field.
A long, snaking blue run offers a perfect opportunity to brush up your butter game. If you don't like riding fast on a bad vis day, then buttering is perfect; even at a snail's pace there's still fun to be had.
Need inspiration? Check out our rundown of the best butter tricks here.
6) TAP THE PISTE MARKERS
When there aren’t any trees around, piste markers may be your only frame of reference. Try and keep at least one in sight at all times, and make sure you’re on the correct side. In France, the poles that mark the right-hand side of the run have orange tips, while those on the left side do not.
They can serve another purpose other than orientation, too; a quick pole jam can liven up an otherwise dull run. Approach the pole with it slighly on your toe side (so you’ll be on the right side of the marker if you’re goofy, the left if regular).
"In the unlikely event that you knock one down, be sure to set it upright again. Someone behind you may be relying on it"
Ollie when you reach the pole, pop a frontside shifty and aim to glance the pole with your back foot. Once you've got that dialled, try and incorporate a backside 180 by rotating your shoulders back toward the pole as you take off, then bringing your legs round to meet your upper body after the shifty.
In the unlikely event that you knock one down, be sure to set it upright again. Someone behind you may be relying on that stick to keep them out of harm’s way.
7) RIDE RAILS
If you're a jib rat then this will go without saying - but even if rails aren't usually your thing, they're one of the few features you'll be able to see on a bad vis day. While any right-minded park shaper will have fenced off the kickers, there should still be some metal up for grabs.
If you’ve never partaken in the past, now’s the time. In a whiteout, no-one will be able to see you gingerly approach your first ride-on box, and the lack of an audience can be a massive confidence booster. Stick at it and you’ll progress quickly – and when the weather improves, you’ll be able to show off the latest additions to your trick bag.
Just check out Jamie Nicholls’ top-to-bottom demolition of the Laax rail line to see what can be achieved in bad vis.
8) USE THE FORCE
When you can’t see much, it's not wise to just set an edge and let rip. For all you know there’s a heavy roll up ahead, or even (as they found out in The Gap Session movie, with hilarious results) a wall of snow.
You don’t need to be overly cautious, as that’s no fun at all, but it makes sense to keep your knee and ankle joints soft so that you're ready to improvise. Think jazz rather than heavy metal, Neo from The Matrix rather than The Terminator.
It might sound cheesy, but occasionally you’ll feel pretty ‘zen’ as you negotiate the white nothingness in front of you, and it's a feeling you won't soon forget.