By David “Davalanche” Roberts.
In previous articles I’ve talked about buying the right kit to go ski-touring, going ski-touring and some of the emergency techniques that are part of the BASI Level 4 European Mountain Safety exam.
This blog is intended as a directory of useful links to FREE stuff that will help people to go on safer, more enjoyable, more fun days out on skis in the backcountry. At the moment the links are skewed towards the western Alps, where I work and play and in the winter.
As I find new links, I’ll add them in. It will be worthwhile bookmarking this page and checking back from time to time to see if extra resources have been added for the area that you ski in.
Current update: January 2017
Where to go – Free maps
If you print your own maps you can save a load of cash. However, always check with a ruler that they have printed to the correct scale (1km grid square is 4cm wide on 1:25,000 and 2cm wide on 1:50,000 maps). Always print maps at at least 300dpi. Laminating your print will make it easier to read and waterproof too. You can get A4 laminators for less than £15, which is roughly what one map will cost you. Always buy the “proper” maps to take on your BASI exams.
Switzerland Mobility Free Swiss maps. 1:25,000 and 1:50,000 scales available to print as PDF files. If you pay a small fee, you can download maps into your smartphone, to use with its GPS and the free Switzerland Mobility app. You can also store routes and waypoints.
map.geo.admin.ch More free Swiss maps. These come from the official government mapping portal and include overlays showing slopes over 30° and wildlife areas. 1:50,000 scale. This is a great place to look for ideas about where to go, with its overlay of red ski-touring routes. However, be aware that harder ski touring routes can involve the use of axes, crampons & climbing techniques, so check out the grade of the route on a site such as camptocamp.org
JGN Maps of France, Switzerland and Spain to 1:25,000 scale. The French and Spanish maps don’t have grid squares, so check the scale carefully.
Magic Map Thinking of touring in Scotland, Snowdonia or the English Lake District? DEFRA’s website enables you to print 1:25,000 or 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey maps. The sections are small, so this is best used as a route planning tool before you buy a full sized map.
FreizeiteKarte These aren’t maps you can print but ones to use in a mapping GPS. Combined with something like Garmin’s Basecamp software, you can plan trips, create waypoints & routes and download them into your GPS, along with the map. When you get home, you can upload tracks and waypoints into your library. GPS can be a great back-up if you’re not totally happy navigating in poor visibility with a map & compass. The FreizeiteKarte maps look different and take a bit of getting used to but they’re free and cover the whole of the Alps and the UK. Updates are available roughly every 6 months.
Where to go – Ski Touring Ideas
Camptocamp A website where users share their experiences in the mountains. Available in English but you’ll get more reports if you search in French where people speak French and German where they speak German. Route descriptions and GPS waypoints are available for many peaks. Very useful for finding out about the latest snow conditions and seeing recent photos of your route.
Skitour.fr Another site where people share recent trip reports but this one specialises in ski touring. The site also includes discussion forums and photos.
Bivouac.net This site has a ski touring specific section and a good selection of routes and descriptions.
British Backcountry The best group on Facebook, featuring reports and photos of skiing and boarding across the British Isles. The group also features some beautiful photography. Useful for seeing recent conditions if you’re planning a trip, asking questions and buying second hand gear.
When to go – Avalanche and Weather Forecasts
SLF The Swiss government’s institute for studying snow and avalanches, amongst other things. This is the place to find the current avalanche forecast, snowpack profiles and historical data. The archives also contain a wealth of information about rescue, snow science and equipment. Avalanche forecasts are available in French, German, Italian and English.
White Risk This Swiss app combines avalanche and weather forecasts with maps to help you plan you route. Available on the iPhone or Android.
Meteofrance – Avalanche forecasts for the French mountains, available in French. Google translate might be your friend here. Unlike the Swiss site, there is no archive of past forecasts available to help you build a picture of recent avalanche and snow pack activity.
Aoste/Aosta Avalanche forecasts for the Aoste valley, available in French, Italian and English.
SAIS The Scottish Avalanche Information Service. Apparently the average view time per page is just 45 seconds. If you’re planning a tour or off-piste adventure in Scotland, spend a few minutes studying the detailed forecasts on this website.
NZ Avalanche Advisor Avalanche forecasts for New Zealand.
YR.no The Norwegian state meteorological office provides accurate weather forecasts around the world. Their forecasts are more accurate and detailed than local forecasters in countries such as Argentina, Chile, Switzerland and Great Britain. If only they’d put their wind speeds in units that actually mean something to ordinary people. Metres per second: why??? Precipitation is in terms of mm of liquid water, rather than depth of snow. Available in English and three languages spoken in Norway.
Snow-forecast Notoriously optimistic with its forecasts of snowfall, this website does an excellent job of providing accurate weather data (wind speed & direction, temperature etc.), presented in a very accessible format. Many of the 3,100 resorts featured from around the world have more than one data point and historical data is available to registered users.
Things to know – Avalanche Education & Quizzes
American Avalanche Association An online tutorial from North America.
NZ Avalanche Advisory A detailed online course from New Zealand.
SLF Information about how avalanches form and flow, in English from the Swiss state.
White Risk A series of well presented lessons and tests
BCA A series of videos about avalanche safety & kit from the American equipment manufacturer.
FATMAP An avalanche quiz from the makers of the online off-piste skiing app.
Rocket & Lucy The deadpan duo explain how to travel safely in the backcountry in 3 videos.
Things to know – Mountain & Environmental Knowledge
Knowing some facts about the environment that you’re travelling through can make the day more interesting and safer for everyone. Amaze your mates with your knowledge of lichens, impress your clients with your ability to track animals in the snow and wow the guide on your BASI EMS assessment with your detailed understanding of wild animal poo.
Respect A great little Swiss website about animals in the winter mountains and how to travel respectfully in the areas where they live. Mainly in French or German but parts are in English too.
Plas y Brenin Many of the plants, animals and mountain features of the Alps can also be found in the British mountains. The English National Mountaineering Centre’s staff regularly post short blogs on what they’ve been seeing in the hills.
Notes from the Hill Still in Snowdonia, PyB instructor Mike Raine’s Facebook page features notes on the geology, plants and wildlife that he encounters at work & play. Again, much is relevant to what you can find in the Alps.
Glenmore Lodge The Scottish National Mountaineering Centre also has a blog. This one has a mix of articles about skills, journeys and mountain knowledge. Well worth browsing before your EMS exam are articles like this one by Nigel Williams about the basics of navigation.
Wikipedia Where would we be without it? There’s loads about the natural and cultural history of the Alps to be found on this site. A good start is to understand how the mountains that you’re living and working on were formed by reading this article.
Kit – Transceiver and other Equipment Reviews
DAV 2013-14 A comprehensive set of tests conducted by the German Alpine Club. In English.
BeaconReviews.com Another highly comprehensive set of tests and reviews of transceivers, this time from North America.
NZ Mountain Safety Council A page of links to reviews and academic papers on various types of equipment and avalanche safety and rescue techniques.
Avalanche Geeks Some thoughts on kit from the people who teach avalanche safety for a job.
All of the photos in this blog were taken by David Roberts in winter 2015-16 and feature current and former members of the instructor team at New Generation Verbier.