Avalanche safety is one of the hot button topics in the Alps right now. After a big snowfall, there is always a rush to hit the slopes and make the most of the amazing powdery conditions.
There is a caveat that comes with such amazing conditions, the avalanche risk. The sad news has come to light that a member of the public sadly passed away in Val d’Isère after being trapped by an avalanche on Tuesday 5th January.
Ken Smith, owner of Progression Ski & Snowboard School in Val d’Isère, told us some of his tips for staying safe while the off-piste conditions are so dangerous.
Don’t dive straight in
“When large snowfalls are followed by sunny days people always dive in because the snow looks amazing but this is often the most dangerous time to get carried away with the excitement.” With this year’s large snowfall falling on an icy base, the conditions are particularly dangerous.
Don’t just base it on the avalanche rating
“Most people are killed when the avalanche rating is 3/5. You would think it would be when the rating is 4 or 5 but people often make mistakes when they let their guard down and get lax about the snow conditions. Never leave the piste without engaging your brain, no matter the avalanche rating.”
Have the gear and know how to use it
“Just because you have a transceiver doesn’t mean you are safe to ski or ride off piste. If you get buried the transceiver may help your friend find you but then they need to find out exactly where you are under the snow pack and then dig you out. If you don’t have a shovel and probe then it will take an awful lot longer to find the casualty quickly and dig them out. The longer the casualty is buried the greater the chance of brain damage or death.”
“Only go out with people who have all the appropriate equipment… Transceiver, shovel and probe. Double check that your transceiver works and that the batteries have a good amount of charge in them each and every time you go on the mountain. Attend a training course so you know how to use your transceiver most efficiently. Every minute counts when someone is buried.”
Read up, look and listen
“Read Henry Avalanche Talk with good advice and regular updates and attend one of Henry’s talks if at all possible. Read the Meteo France daily updates. Even if your French isn’t that good you can get an idea from many of the diagrams and pictures on the page. Look at the avalanche risk flags each morning if you havent checked out the websites. Listen to the radio each morning and try and get a feel for what is going on on a regular basis.”
Speak to (and listen to) the experts
“Talking to the pisteurs is a great way to find out the real conditions. They are extremely friendly and there to help. Respect the closed signs. The pisteurs have more than likely closed the piste for your own safety and security. Hiring a guide is always safer than going alone. Guides know these mountains like the back of their hand and following their advice is paramount for staying safe in dangerous conditions.
To book a lesson with Progression Ski and Snowboard School, call 0208 123 3001 or visit http://www.progressionski.com/. To book a trip with Scott Dunn to Val d’Isère visit our website or call a Travel Consultant on 0203 603 3555.