Going off Leash

Going off Leash

Skiing is cancelled today due to rain & warm temperatures, so time for a blog. We rarely use the bunny hill with sit skis at the Edelweiss program, it is too full of small children on the days our program runs. So, our sit skier progression is mainly about running a green trial top to bottom repeatedly on tethers. The first run is 99% tetherer controlled with the skier as a passenger, then slowly responsibility for speed control, turn initiation and route planning are transferred to the sit skier.

The goal is that at some point the skier is released from the tethers and skis independently. How long it takes to set the skier free varies tremendously but it can stretch out. Let’s say takes 10 days of skiing on average; our program only runs for 8 weeks, with a skier skiing 1 day a week, so that is over a year in elapsed time.

During that time a strong bond of trust has built up between the skier and their favorite tetherer/instructor. This can lead to a problem when the first off tether run is attempted. I’ve seen several skiers who can ski with good technique and confidence when on tethers, and don’t need them any more, but when they try to ski off tethers their confidence disappears, and with it their technique.

So, this blog is about things I’ve tried to get over this hump. Your skier may not have this problem at all, and some tricks may work better with some skiers than others, it’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all situation.


  • The first step is usually to ski with slack tethers. The tetherer skis behind as usual but keep the tethers hanging close to the ground with no tension on them.  If there is an emergency you could probably engage the tethers in a couple of seconds, but the goal is to do the run with no such emergencies. This will prove to the tetherer (and any onlookers) that the skier is ready to go off tethers. But not to the skier, they are in the one place where they can’t see how loose the tethers are.
  • One way to show the skier how slack & irrelevant the tethers are is to video a run with slack tethers and show it to them. The non-tethering buddy is in the best position to do this. It doesn’t have to be a great piece of video, a 1-minute clip filmed on a handheld phone should be enough to show the skier what everybody else can see, that they are skiing without help from the tethers.
  • Another option is to switch down to one long tether. Ideally this is attached at a central spot somewhere around the butt or the lower back. With just one tether the tetherer can’t assist with lean or turns, but they can pull on it as an emergency brake if things go horribly wrong. Both the tetherer and the skier know this, so the skier knows they are controlling the run, but have a safety net if it gets out of control.
  • Finally, there is the possibility of “Invisible tethers”.  In this case, you tell their skier that you will be following them with slack tethers, and you follow them closely with your hands in the tethering position, but in fact the tethers have been put away and you are just following them. When this works, they ski with confidence as through they are being tethered, and at the end of the run you tell them they weren’t. The success of this depends a lot on the personality of the skier and relationship between the skier and tetherer, clearly it could go horribly wrong in many ways.

Generally, once the skier has done 1 successful run off tethers their confidence starts to grow back and they quickly become very independent. This is just about getting them over the trepidation of that first solo flight.



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