‘Piste’ is a French term for a designated ski path for skiing, snowboarding or any kind of mountain sport
Major news developments often expose us to new words. When Formula 1 legend Michael Schumacher had an accident while skiing in the French Alps a few days ago, a phrase that was commonly used in the reports was ‘off-piste’.
A piste is French for a designated ski run or path down a mountain for snow skiing, snowboarding, or other mountain sports. In England, the word is pronounced with a long ‘e’, so it rhymes with ‘feast’). The American pronunciation uses a short ‘I’, so it rhymes with ‘mist’.
Pistes are usually maintained using tracked vehicles known as snowcats to even out trail conditions, level moguls (small mounds of snow) or redistribute snow. Natural snow is often augmented with snow making machines early in the season or when the snowpack is low.
Off-piste is the opposite of piste. It refers to areas beyond designated skiing tracks. Schumacher was skiing in one such zone in the resort of Meribel in the French Alps. Schumacher is an experienced skier, and his accident could be attributed to bad luck. He wasn’t even going too fast. He just happened to land on his head.
But off-piste skiing is deemed dangerous for even skilled skiers, especially this year since Europe did not receive much snow, leaving rocks exposed on mountain slopes. A spokesman for the company in charge of the ski area, Meribel-Alpina, said: “Michael Schumacher has been faithful to Meribel for many years and knows the area. He made the choice to ski offpiste and given the current circumstances, it is a choice that presents a number of risks. We have had low snowfall in recent days and the snow is unstable. The rocks protrude or are partially hidden. You can’t do whatever you want. Skiers should stay on the pistes.”