Safety on the mountainThe first times in your life that you go off-pist skiing are magic moments for most people. During the first times, most people just go with the flow and seem to mostly focus on taking it all in and just surviving the ride. Avalanches are not really on your mind, unless someone has specifically warned you before. The second time you start to consider the safety more and realize you have some things to learn.
Going off-pist requires a good deal of knowledge about security. You need to be able to read and understand weather conditions, snow conditions and the terrain. There are natural obstacles you need to understand such as glaciers and drops, rocks and trees.
Being in the mountains can also results in quick changes of weather. One hour the sun could shine and one hour later a severe snow storm could have appeared. You need to be prepared to handle conditions like these.
Our main recommendation is to have the right knowledge, company and equipment as soon as you get off the pist.
- Don’t ski alone!
- Leave a note saying where you are going
- Check that your equipment has new batteries
- Wear protective clothing and bring extra clothes
- Have a sturdy breakfast and bring extra food and snacks
- Study the weather report and the risk of avalanche stated for the area
Stay out of avalanchesWhen you head out into a terrain where avalanches occur, your main aim should be to stay out of avalanches but still get the best skiing possible.
These are some golden rules to keep in mind:
- If you feel unsure, select the easiest route. Avalanches are more prone to occur if the slope is steep. There are ways to measure the gradient with your ski pole, study and apply them.
- If new snow has fallen or if snow conditions have rapidly changed you should take extra caution.
- Don’t cross a big snowfield horizontally but cross by going in the middle and take short turns.
- Don’t stop to rest in the middle of a slope but wait until you are close a protected area, such as behind a big rock.
Make sure you know exactly how your transceiver works and have fresh batteries. Keep it on during any breaks as you might forget to switch it back on. Keep it close to you, under your jacket, and make sure you strap it on correctly. It could save your life!
Finally, ski with experienced people and never alone.
In case of an avalancheIn case an avalanche really goes off there is just one thing to think about – fight for your life. If you are in the middle of an avalanche, kick off your skis and try to ‘swim’ in the snow to get as high up as possible.
If you see an avalanche go off from a distance, keep an eye out for any people and track them with your eyes and try to note where you last saw them. Start the search for them from this point. Mark any spots where you last saw them. The probability of finding people is usually higher close to trees, rocks and boulders. Call for help immediately and then start searching, you only have minutes. Use your transceiver and shovel.
EquipmentThere are some things I never head off into the unknown without. I always pack some extra clothes such as a hat and gloves, my shovel, transceiver and any other avalanche equipment you have. Some people have Avalung backpacks, which help transform the oxygen in the snow into breathable oxygen via a snorkel. It could help you survive longer if you are trapped under snow. Some snacks such as chocolate and some water is also good to pack.
If the weather report shows any indication of stormy weather I pack a wind bag for one or two people. If you are surprised by very bad weather and need to take shelter, it will protect you and keep you warm and dry.
A watch with compass and altitude meter can be very useful in case of poor weather or just general navigation problems.
In case I head off into areas with glaciers I also bring some basic climbing gear such as a harness, rope, some ice screws and carabiners.
A first-aid-kit is of course also a necessity and should always be part of your standard equipment. Make sure sunscreen never leaves your backpack as the sun can be very strong and damaging in the mountains.