January 20, 2006

Avalanche risk

If you're even just thinking of maybe, perhaps, doing some off-piste/backcountry skiing this season take some time to learn about avalanche risk. At first, you don't really need to learn that much; just enough to be appropriately scared so that you don't do stupid things just because you don't appreciate the risks. Learn just enough to realise that you need to learn so much more before you are in a position to be able to make an informed decision about the safety of a particular route on a particular day. Read the reports to get a feel for the kind of things that happen, chances are that doing this will make you less keen to head off-piste onto unknown slopes in unknown conditions just because there's heaps of new snow...

5 people died yesterday afternoon in avalanches at various places in the French Alps. Read the report over at PistHors.com and you'll see that most of the people involved were likely to be considerably more skilled and knowledgeable than you are; avalanches don't care how experienced you are. Now go and read the piece on "Off-Piste Avalanches" and understand that in France, if you're outside the marked run then you are off-piste. Just cutting between two runs across a nice bowl with several sets of tracks from previous skiers can be dangerous! As the piste director at Tignes says “I want to make this clear, you stray over the piste markers and you are off piste” and you don't want to be doing that if the reports and warning flags are warning of the likelihood of skier triggered off-piste avalanches...

Learn enough about the dangers to be appropriately scared. Then, perhaps, start to learn more so that you can start to make decisions as to the risks involved. In France, Henry's Avalanche Talks offers instruction and information in various locations. Be aware that there will always be an element of risk, even long in the tooth mountain guides get caught out. The warning flags fly for a reason. Understand them and be appropriately afraid.

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Posted by Len at January 20, 2006 11:11 AM | Categories: General

Speaking of avalanches, a friend of mine was nordic skiing a week ago -- and triggered one. His account of that is here:www.newwest.net/index.php/city/article/5465/C426/L426


Posted by: dan at January 23, 2006 06:24 PM

In the US everything that is within the perimeter of the ski resort is usually inbounds, as we call it. The Ski Patrol either closes that area or it is considered safe to ski.

I remember one day out a Kirkwood that practically the whole mountain was roped off because of avalanche danger. That take that pretty seriously and the sheriff was carting violators away.

Point is, if there is a high risk of avalanches inbounds you are going to here about it.

Of course somebody always skis off the back side of KT22 at Squaw down toward Alpine Meadows even though it is clearly marked as out of bounds with avalanche warnings, and triggers an avalanche.

I've taken three avalanche classes and I feel like I only know enough to be scared.

Posted by: christopher baus at January 23, 2006 06:40 PM

Good topic. I'm off to La Clusaz in a month or so. Am reading your links now.

Thanks for the info,

Posted by: Pete at January 31, 2006 02:19 PM


It's a little more flexible/dangerous in europe.

We did some avalanche beacon search exercises last season and I've been reading a few books but I'm only at the "enough to be scared" stage; which, I think, could be the safest place to stay ;)

Posted by: Len at February 6, 2006 09:40 AM
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