Here are a few insights into minimising the risk of being caught in an avalanche. Please view it not as a definitive guide, but merely a catalyst to stimulate your interest and then go and research it properly with the help of professionals. Experts in avalanche science often find that the more they learn, the more they have yet to understand.
Avalanches are a very real risk to off-piste skiers. The resorts tend not to publicise the accidents that do happen and the risks can consequently be understated. There have been several accidents and deaths already this winter, in places where you might find yourself skiing. Nevertheless, for most good skiers, getting off-piste and finding fresh tracks is the holy grail of skiing and if you understand the risks and respect them, they can be minimised and skiing off-piste can be enjoyed in relative safety.
Since snowboarding stormed onto the scene and skis got fatter, riding powder has never been more accessible, more popular or more fashionable and the risks run have significantly increased as many more people are venturing off-piste, many of them showing scant regard for their safety and that of others.
You may have seen videos of professional skiers and snowboarders successfully riding out of avalanches. Videos give little idea of how fast these guys are going and for mere mortals, out-riding an avalanche is not an option. If you are buried in an avalanche, you have approximately 15 minutes to be dug out, after which you are unlikely to survive. If you have ever tried walking back up a mountain in deep powder, you will know how little distance you can cover in 15 minutes. Imagine trying to do this, panicking after a friend has been buried and you will realise that avoiding the scenario altogether is vastly preferable.
Avalanches happen for numerous different reasons, many of which are easy to recognise in hindsight but can be much more difficult to forecast.
This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of understanding avalanches, if you are interested in learning more about avalanche safety, our Ski team can put you in contact with the best guides and instructors in each of our resorts. We also recommend Henry’s Avalanche Talk in Val d’Isère. Henry has been training people on avalanche safety for years and his talk in Val d’Isère costs only €9.50.
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