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Learn to ski off piste

One of the Guardians top travel writers Gwyn Topham came to Chamonix to ski with All Mountain Performance on our 5 day Intermediate off piste ski course. Despite going home with weary  legs, Gwyn made massive progress with his skiing over the course run by Mark Gear.

Here is the article that tells his story of how he conquered the slopes of Chamonix.

Learning to ski off-piste in Chamonix

Chamonix is one of the world's best off-piste resorts, a great place for intermediates to take a course in skiing powder

Off piste at Chamonix

Two skiers go off piste at Chamonix. Photograph: Alamy

'What we're looking for," says Mark Gear, head coach of All Mountain Performance, "is skiing without boundaries". Mark embodies ambition: he started his skiing career handing out boots at Beckton Alps, east London's old dry slope, before becoming a giant slalom racer in Chamonix. His business card pictures him skiing a turn so fast I thought it was someone falling over.

Over five days, his intensive course promises to hone the technique of intermediate skiers, to give us the confidence to handle all runs, and to teach the basics of skiing off piste with a view to mountain safety.

Chamonix is one of the world's most challenging and best off-piste resorts, and a great place for intermediates to learn to ski powder. We start on blue runs above Le Tour, the least vertiginous of Chamonix's four ski areas, focussing on elements of turning: pressure, edge, rotation. Basic, but a proper understanding of these fundamentals is, Mark says, crucial to progress off piste. And he quickly identifies how one thing I had thought essential – thoroughly bending your knees – is overdone to the point of unnecessary pain and loss of control.

The deficiencies in my technique are made woefully clear at the end of each day, when we watch videos Mark has shot of us skiing. The others look good: Beth apparently needs to angulate her body more, while Ishbel has a technique so graceful that Mark struggles to find fault. And then comes a figure in a bulky jacket, hunched over with legs splaying out, like a badly erected wigwam battered by a storm.

My illusions of speed and finesse are dead; I don't know what I can do to improve, bar ditch the bobble hat. But Mark has kind words: the worst skiers can make the biggest improvements. I need to begin by straightening up, standing taller and keeping my errant legs together.

And it starts to work. With only three students (the maximum is six) we get a lot of individual attention. By the second day we are skiing some off piste and doing a tricky black run home from Le Brévent; on the third morning we manage a high and steep ungroomed black run on Les Grands Montets, turning over moguls and deeper snow.

It's a good course to do if you're alone, mixing daytime sociability with relaxed evenings: back in the resort, I want to do little other than eat and crash at the chalet, run by Collineige, whose chefs are plucked from some of Australia and London's top restaurants – even a banana cake at afternoon tea comes with a personalised flourish of, I was told, "an Earl Grey-infused crème anglaise". By Wednesday, when I reluctantly leave chef James's cooking for one of Collineige's central self-catered apartments, après ski has become nothing more than a quest for food, a hot bath, and an 11-hour sleep.

In Chamonix, a notoriously steep resort that draws experts in, it is sometimes hard to feel sure of my progress. Yet I'm feeling comfortable on terrain I would never have ventured on before, and the video evidence is encouraging: still no Ski Sunday, but the gap between my imagined appearance and reality is narrowing. Mark replays one of my turns in slow motion, and cries "Stylish!" Nothing could have made me prouder. By the penultimate day, alas missed by the cameras, I produce a deft, slaloming run through deep snow and trees. All I need, it seems, is an immovable object ahead to make me learn to turn quickly.

On the final afternoon we ski gullies, untracked snow, moguls, steep and bumpy off-piste narrow black runs, and long, soaring, carving turns down broader pistes. "Relax, play around!" Mark shouts. Despite legs so tight and weary that they no longer do my head's bidding, I feel I'm finally getting there. Then, on the very last run of the week, our brilliant instructor is taken out by a snowboarder who careers wildly into the back of him, on an empty slope. It's a chance for Mark to deliver a final, rueful lesson: "Sometimes, off piste is the safest place to be."

To view the article on the Guardian website, please follow the link below






Learn to ski off piste

Grands Montets - New Lift

Great News!  The Grands Montets will have a new gondola ski lift ready for the the start of the 2014/2015 season.

Yes, it's goodbye to that rusty old chair lift called the Plan joran. You remember that slow lift that used to drip oily water onto our ski clothes on a wet day.  

This season, we are looking forward to a slick new lift that will replace the old Plan Joran chair.

The new 84 cabin gondola lift can carry 10 people per cabin.  The new lift is capable of moving 3000 people per hour with a cable speed of 6 meters per second. Transporting us from 1242m altitude to 2138m in just under 7 minutes, the new lift promises to significantly reduce lift queing time at the bottom of Les Grands Montets.

The work started on the new lift in the early summer with the dismantling of the old lift and has continued at a good pace. The new gondola lift is planned to be ready for the start of the 2014/2015 season.

The new ski lift at Grands Montets -"Telecabine de Plan Joran".



Early season ski courses


 ski courses


Power - up your skiing with an early season ski course this ski season.

Elite ski instructor Mark Gear offers early season performance ski courses for all mountain skiing in Chamonix, Hintertux and Tignes.  


Click here to see early season ski course dates for Chamonix.



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Ski course dates for Autumn 2015

Hintertux, Austria -  November 8th - Nov 12th (5 day course)

Tignes, France   -   November 21st - Nov 23rd (3 day course)


November ski courses Tignes

Ramp-up your skiing early, before the winter gets underway with these piste performance ski courses.  The courses are ideal for intermediate & advanced level skiers, or levels 4 - 6 using this skiing level finder.   Find your skiing level.   

As the skiing is at high altitude and on a Glacier, the course will be dedicated to improving your general on piste skiing.  The off piste can be dangerous at this time of year, so we will be skiing on the groomed pistes instead. Read more



New season 2013/2014 course dates



off piste ski courses

off piste ski courses


Announcing new 2013 / 2014 off piste ski course dates in Chamonix with elite ski teacher Mark Gear

After such amazing conditions this season and due to increased popularity of courses, there will be 24 off piste performance courses on the programme for next winter.

Full 5 day courses and short weekend courses will run throughout the season again from early December - late April for intermediate, advanced and expert levels.  2013/2014 off piste ski course dates

Bookings are coming in already for next winter so it's recommended to book early to ensure your place and receive a 10% early booker discount. Book a course before the 1st of August to receive a 10% discount. Book a course

looking forward to skiing with you again soon!

Mark Gear

Tel: +33 (0) 679 630 573 Email:

Ski the whole mountain with control versatility and expression!



off piste ski courses

pre season ski fitness training


Pre-season fitness tips and exercises for better skiing by pro skier and elite level, ski instructor Mark Gear.

Mark skiing

There is probably no better physical training for skiing, than skiing itself.  Although statistically speaking, the majority of people who ski partake in the sport for just 2-3 weeks per year.  With this in mind, its probably safe to say that more enjoyment can be had by most skiers, if they physically prepare for those precious days on the mountain.

This article is not intended to be a set programme, but aims to provide insight for how to train more specifically for skiing. To take your dry land ski training more seriously, why not head down to your local gym and ask for help from the professional staff to design a personal programme. This really can do wonders for your skiing. It's best to be in good physical shape before starting a strength training programme. It is reccommended to check with your doctor before starting a physical fitness programme.

Programme duration

Any exercise you can do before your ski trip will certainly help. However, an 8 - 10 week ski specific programme of 3-4 training sessions per week can help dramatically. Starting with strength training and ending with what is known as plyometric training. This will help prevent your legs from burning half way down the slopes and reduces the risk of injury. More about plyometric training later.

Cross training

Cross training through different sports is also a great way to improve general fitness for skiing and will help most recreational skiers. Any sport that involves moving the legs and getting the heart and lungs working is a good place to start. Running, jogging, cycling, swimming and tennis are all great sports to prepare yourself for the coming ski season.


Flexibility is an important part of training for any sport and can help reduce the risk of injury. It is important to take the time to stretch straight after each training session, whilst the muscles are still warm.

Skiing specific training

This kind of training includes initially strength training with weights and secondly plyometric training. Once strength has been increased, plyometric training can later be used to improve speed, agility and power. Ski specific training, as the name implies, aims to target the muscle groups used in skiing and to use them in a similar way to skiing.

Some skiing specific strength training exercises

The following exercises not only increase strength, but also balance skills which are important for skiing. The exercises should be performed in repetitions and sets. Again it's best to ask a fitness trainer for help at your local gym to design a personalised programme.

Free weight squats

Free weight squats (no machine), for improving whole body strength and balance. This exercise really targets the legs and core which are important muscle groups to strengthen for higher performance skiing. It is important to perform squats with the correct technique. Care should be taken as poorly performed squats can cause injury.




Some useful tips for free weight squats


  • Warm up first with low weight.
  • Use someone to spot you when lifting more weight.
  • Face a mirror to check your technique
  • Keep your back straight and parallel to your lower legs through each squatting movement
  • Keep your head up and look forwards with eyes open.
  • Keep your chest pushed out in front.
  • Keep your feet in a comfortable symmetrical stance.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor through each squat.


The Lunge


The lunge also targets the major muscle groups used in skiing. Precaution should be used to ensure correct technique. The emphasis should be on quality, balanced and smooth lunges without too much weight.



Some useful tips for lunges


  • Warm up first without much weight.
  • Use someone to spot you when lifting more weight.
  • Stand with one foot forward, the other back.
  • Both feet should be facing straight forward.
  • Be sure your front knee is over your front ankle.
  • Lower your back knee almost to the floor, and rise up again.
  • Concentrate on squeezing to push yourself up, keep the abdominals tight and the lower back in a neutral position.
  • Maintain the body in an upright position with a straight back to avoid leaning forward.


One leg squats

One leg squats can be more difficult to perform as balancing is more challenging. It's best again to start with low weight. When comfortable with the technique, weight can be held in each hand or on a bar held behind the neck. Try placing a cushion under the front foot to really target your balancing skills. This helps to strengthen the little muscles used for balance in the legs and core.One-leg-squat

Some useful tips for one leg squats


  • Always warm up first with not much weight.
  • Use someone to spot you when lifting more weight.
  • Stand with one foot forward, the other placed behind on a bench
  • Keep your back straight
  • ensure your front knee does not pass in front of your toes


Plyometric training

Plyometric training involves high-intensity, explosive muscular contractions that encourage the stretch reflex (stretching the muscle before contraction so that it contracts with greater force). Sounds complex although most plyometric exercises are simple. The most common plyometric exercises include hops, jumping and bounding movements. This type of training is typically done after a strength training programme. Plyometric exercises can enhance agility, speed and power which are important components of higher performance skiing.



A great skiing specific plyometric exercise


Lateral jumps

Lateral jumping can be done at home and simulates many movements that are used in skiing. Bending and stretching of the legs with agile lateral movement, including flexing of the ankles, knees and hips. Aim to keep good control and balance, landing and taking off with both feet.

Then, learn to control leg symmetry in lateral jumps. Aim to keep your knees and feet the same distance apart. This is an ideal stance for skiing. Developing this kind of control can really help build stability symmetry and prescision into your skiing stance.




Hope you enjoy these ski fitness tips and exercises.

Article by Mark Gear, director & head coach at All Mountain Performance in Chamonix

Meet Mark Gear

Mark Gear runs performance ski courses in Chamonix for all-mountain skiing.  Improve your skiing privatley or in a small group.  Full HD slow motion video feedback is also included at the end of each ski day with Mark.


Book Ski Courses & Private Coaching with Mark!

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Carving turns

Ski tips for skiing powder


Off piste ski tips for skiing deep powder by top level off piste ski instructor Mark Gear.

Learning how to ski off piste in deep powder snow can make fairly accomplished groomed run skiers feel somewhat like beginers again. 

The following off piste skiing tips will help you cut through the frustration quicker and help you on your way to skiing deep powder snow with the flow and comfort you would like to feel.



Off Piste Ski Tip # 1 - Deep Powder Snow

Use a two footed platform of pressure

Aim to push both skis into the snow when intitiating your turns, this will help distribute pressure onto both skis which provides a more predictable feeling with the skis when deep in the snow.  This is because snow creates resistance around the skis.  The deeper the skis are in the snow, the more snow resistance is felt by the skier around the skis. By pushing both skis into the snow with a more equal distribution of pressure, the snow resistance around each ski also becomes more equal, thus making it much easier for the skier to make both skis do the same thing at the same time.


Off Piste Ski Tip # 2 - Deep Powder Snow

Make smooth shaped turns

Go for smooth fluid movements and turns with a smooth, curved shape.  This will encourage a more fluid off piste skiing run.  Any abrupt movements or turns will have an abrupt effect on your balance.  Smooth turns and a good rhythm are essential for a fluid powder skiing run.


Off Piste Ski Tip # 3 - Deep Powder Snow

Push the heels downwards

Not to be confused with leaning back!  Dont lean back!

In very deep snow, we should aim to push the heels downwards a little to help keep the ski tips up out of the snow.  This movement is very subtle, but very effective.  It WILL stop the feeling of the ski tips wanting to dive deep into the powder snow which is oftern followed by the well known forward face plant.  This movement of pushing the heels down also allows the skier to maintain a relativley centered balance point along the skis length, which is far more comfortable than leaning back.



Off Piste Ski Tip # 4 - Deep Powder Snow

Remember to pole plant

Smooth, coordinated and well timed pole plants are a very important part to off piste and powder skiing. This will help you to build fluidity and rhythm into your run.  The pole plant also helps for commiting to the turn and helps the skier move the body forwards and in the direction of the new turn.



Off piste ski tips by elite ski instructor Mark Gear.


Join Mark on an off piste ski course!


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Ski tips>Ski off a drop


 How to ski off a drop this season with out hurting yourself. No guarantees of course!


Mark Gear skis off a serac at Les Grandes Montets


This is what the ski movie guys do, they don't just jump and hope.


Here are a few top tips for how to ski a drop off.  Watch the sequence of shots.


  • Pick your jump carefully.  Jumping can be dangerous.  Its always best to start small.


  • Always visually check out a jump or drop is safe before leaping off. The landing and run-out should be clear of obstacles and allow you enough space to land and make turns to slow down. Speed picks up fast in the air so you will need plenty of open space for confidence to land well and ski away.


  • It is important to ensure that the landing is not flat. The landing area should slope away from the jump.  Flat landings should be avoided as the impact is greater.


  • Snow texture and depth should be checked before jumping so you know what to expect when you land.  For example, deep and heavy snow will slow you down on landing and could throw you forwards over the skis as you land. Hard snow is going to offer a fast landing and a harder impact.  If the snow is hard, you may want to find a smaller drop.


  • Once you are happy that all you are going to hit if you get it wrong is snow, there's not alot to it other than take a deep breath, point the skis and jump!


  • Take enough of a run up to get some speed off the jump.  It really helps to make a positive, intentional jump upwards and forwards into the air. 


  • Hold the hands forwards for the flight also pulling your knees up towards your chest. This will help keep your balance and stability in the air, also setting you up for the landing phase of your drop.


  • Whilst in the air, you will need to angle your skis to match the angle of the slope gradient.  You don't want to land too far forwards or backwards on the skis.


  • When coming into land, allow your legs to extend a little.  This is like droping your landing gear. It will set you up for absorbtion on landing.


  • Land absorbing the impact, standing up and skiing away hearing the aplause from the nearby chair lift.


By Mark Gear Head Coach, All Mountain Performance


Freeride ski coaching in Chamonix for advanced and expert skiers.

New Photos


Here are some photos of Mark Gear in action.






EN0G1736 - Version 2



How new ski designs are speeding up the learning curve



New concepts in ski design are literally speeding up the learning curve. First, there was the invention of carving skis. This helped skiers to turn more easily on firm snow.  Then came the extra wide off-piste skis. Off-piste skis are much wider than the carving skis. This allows for better float in deeper snow, which has again helped to speed-up the learning for wanna-be off-piste skiers.

Also more recently, yet another new design concept, the "rocker" shaped skis.  This fairly new rocker or reverse camber design, makes learning to ski in deep snow even easier than before.  Conventional skis were cambered in their shape. Where as the clever new reverse camber design has lifted the tip and tail of the ski upwards. This new design is dramatically helping two key areas in skiing: balance and turning.

How do the rocker designed skis help for balance?

The front of the skis are bent upwards towards the skier. This provides for more forward balance support, preventing the tips of the skis from diving deep into the snow.  This is revolutionary.  In fact, this one design improvement alone is helping many people to master off-piste & deep powder snow skiing. 

On conventional skis, it would have taken a skier much more balance practicing and forward face planting in the snow to learn the skills required to stop the ski tips from diving deep into the snow.

How do the rocker designed skis help for turning?

As the front and back of the skis are bent upwards towards the skier, they sit higher up in the snow pack than the middle of the ski.  This means there is less snow encasing the front and back of the skis.  Less snow equates to less resistance around the front and back of the skis.  This reduction of resistance allows easier rotation or pivoting movement of the skis. In simple terms, twisting the skis becomes easier.

Remember safety first!

There is a downside to this speeding up of the learning curve. It is now possible for an intermediate skier to venture off-piste into potentially dangerous terrain and snow conditions without having learned avalanche awareness skills through experience and time.  In the past, it would have taken an intermediate level skier years to master the correct off-piste technique, and in doing so, they should have also had the time to develope mountain awareness and avalanche safety skills.

With this in mind, it is highly reccommended to learn off-piste skiing with a qualified ski instructor who can also help with the mountain awareness skills needed to ski safely off piste.


By Mark Gear, head ski instructor at All Mountain Performance Chamonix.


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