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5 tips to avoid setting off an avalanche

Winter is coming… After a period of warm weather days, we are set to see a drop in temperatures and, with a bit of luck and a fair wind, a lot of snow. 

When there’s a big dump of snow after a warm period like we have had, the likelihood of avalanches occuring is greatly increased. It is important to be vigilant when heading off-piste and making sure you are as safe as possible.

1. Look at the gradient of the terrain

It sounds obvious, but steeper slopes are more likely to slide than shallower slopes. As a general rule of thumb, if a piste is at a gradient of over 30° the chances of sliding are much higher. What does a 30° piste look like? A steep red or an easy black piste is generally above 30°.

2. Stick to ridges

Ridges are one of the “Islands of Safety” when it comes to skiing on a steep, powder pitch. If you stop at the top of a ridge, you are in a safer place than at the bottom. Should the slope slide, it will go either side of the ridge, not on the top.

3. Look for older trees

If a group of young trees are growing, that suggests that the piste has slipped in the past and destroyed the trees. Older trees normally provide a safer place to stop than an open section. Similarly, stopping below a large rock or boulder on the piste is generally regarded as a safer option. These are two more “Islands of Safety” that are usually safer to stop by.

4. Go down one at a time

As amazing as a GoPro video of you and your friends all hitting the powder looks, to disturb less snow skiing one at a time is recommended. Taking it one by one, each time stopping at an “Island of Safety”, is highly recommended for pitches with a steep gradient. Make sure you are watching each person closely, so should they be trapped under the snow, they are easier to locate.

5. Have the correct equipment (and know how to use it)

Having the correct safety gear and technology is imperative when going off-piste. The minimum everyone heading off-piste should have is a transceiver, shovel and probe. ABS bags are highly recommended, but not as important as the other key pieces of equipment. Everyone in the group should know how to use the transceiver and at minimum attempted a few practice searches. The more practice you have the more chance you have to have the best response should an avalanche occur.

The following tips were given by Mark Jones of ICE and Mountain Masters at a talk on behalf of Vie Val d’Is in Val d’Isère. 

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