Heading off piste always carries its own risks with it. Checking the snow report allows skiers and boarders to be aware of the risks involved. Whilst off piste is one of the most enjoyable aspects of skiing, it is important to stay safe. Avalanches are one of the biggest dangers in the mountains, but they are also one of the easiest to avoid with a bit of knowledge.
Off Piste Dangers
A bit of awareness of the avalanche risk is a simple way to be aware of the dangers. Every day an avalanche report is compiled for the area. This can be found online or at the lift stations. The scale goes from one (mostly safe) to five (severe danger). The scale is never set to zero as there is always some risk. The avalanche risk can be affected by different factors. Wind increases the risk significantly. Most avalanches happen during or immediately following a snow storm. When the avalanche risk is high the best thing to do is to stay on piste or on less steep slopes. The majority of avalanches occur on slopes between thirty and forty five degrees. Gullies, ravines and cliffs increase the consequences of an avalanche. Overhanging snow, known as cornices, can break away under the skiers weight.
No one should head off piste on their own. There is certainly safety in numbers. Al members of the group should stay within sight of one another at all times and be equipped with avalanche gear - a transceiver, a probe and a shovel. ABS bags are also becoming increasingly popular. It is a good idea to let others know where you are going and what time you expect to be back so that they can raise the alarm if the worst case scenario does happen.
If An Avalanche Happens
If things do go wrong and you find yourself caught in an avalanche, try to get to the side or grab hold of a tree or rock if possible. Attempting to ìswimî will also help stay on top of the snow. Hold your hands in front of your face in order to form an air pocket.
If someone you are with gets caught by an avalanche watch them so that you can see where they get buried. Contact emergency services and then begin searching with your transceiver. When you think you have a location use your probe to locate them and then start digging.