The start of the 2015/2016 European ski season was without any doubt one of the latest anyone in our office can remember. Every time snow appeared on the forecast it quickly vanished again leaving high temperatures and destroying any snow that had already fallen. Most resorts managed to stay open but the snow cover was thin and the confused weather played havoc with the snow pack.

Being able to use your ski instructor qualifications after your course is a huge bonus.

A huge thank you to James Thompson for these awesome photos.

Then 2 weeks ago it started snowing and has barely stopped since. As the ski industry breathed a big sigh of relief piste security services were forced into overdrive. They had the mammoth task of making resorts as safe as possible as massive quantities of snow fell onto a very mixed base. The heavy snow combined with a whole host of other factors has led to a very high avalanche risk and unfortunately several fatalities.

We are not here to tell you not to ski off piste, but we do want to remind everyone to take extreme care at the moment. It is incredibly unstable and unpredictable out there. If you are heading off piste please make sure you do at least the following 5 things

  1. Get the right equipment – Transceiver, shovel and probe are the minimum you should be carrying. Carrying them is not enough though. You need to practise, do searches, make it hard for yourself practise multiple burials, add a time limit. The minimum requirement for the EMS is to find 2 transceivers in 8 minutes. Make sure everyone in your group has the correct equipment, if they don’t then send them home. Your friends are responsible for getting you out. If they don’t have the kit and know how to use it they can not do that.
  2. Get the training – Take an avalanche course. Learn how to read the snowpack and understand what the different layers can do and mean. You also need to understand what different weather conditions can do to the avalanche risk. If you are lucky enough to live in the mountains start to build a picture of what has happened and what is forecast to come. Has it been hot, cold, windy, rainy. On a training course you can start to understand the effect each of these will have.
  3. Check the forecast and risk – It seems obvious but when you are sprinting to get fresh tracks when it has not snowed for 3 weeks it is easy to forget. For france you can find an avalanche bulletin for your region on Meteo.FR and for switzerland on slf.ch.
  4. Understand and know the terrain. Then ski it wisely – Most avalanches occur on slopes steeper than 30 degrees but how steep a slope is, is not the only thing you need to be aware of. Are there terrain traps below you? Do you have to ski over a convexity? Is there some where safe to stop and regroup? Ski one at a time! Once you have skied something get out of harm’s way. Never follow tracks assuming that means it is safe.
  5. If you are not sure don’t go – Saying no can be tough, but if you are unsure  don’t ski it. The mountains have been around for millions of years, they are not going anywhere in a hurry. You can always come back another day.

This is not an exhaustive list of things to check and know before skiing off piste. It is the absolute bare minimum you should consider. If this has article has highlighted terms you are unsure of, or left you questioning what effect the weather can have on the snowpack it may be time to go and get some more training before heading off piste.

Skiing off piste is awesome, we have had some incredible days out over the last few weeks but please be careful. If you don’t know, don’t go!

In france there is nothing to stop you skiing anywhere on the mountain except your common sense. Your safety and that of the group you are skiing with are your responsibility and entirely in your hands.