Explore the Mountains Safely with a little Avalanche Knowledge

(2019-10-01 16:35:19)


Going off-piste is a thrilling and exciting way to explore the mountains, but it is very important to stay safe to avoid being caught in an avalanche. Fortunately, avalanches are very rare and are not random unpredictable events, in fact 9 out of 10 avalanche victims trigger the avalanche themselves!

Avalanche awareness signpost

Photo from unsplash.com

If you are in a secured area then the resort will take responsibility for ensuring that there is no avalanche risk, but as soon as you go beyond the piste markers you are ‘off piste’ and are then responsible for yourself. In order to stay safe on the mountains, we have outlined our top tips on how best to prepare and what to do if you get caught:

Check the weather

The majority of avalanches occur during or just after heavy snowfall so it is essential that you check the weather before you go. It is recommended that you wait at least 48 hours for the snow to settle after a storm but this will vary from resort. All weather information can be found in resort. Make sure you also study the avalanche bulletin and understand what the avalanche danger ratings mean, these are rated 1-5 with 1 being low risk and 5 extreme.

Have the right equipment and know how to use it

There are several pieces of equipment that are essential to carry to help mitigate any risks of being in terrain where avalanches can occur.

Avalanche transceivers offer the best chance of being rescued if you get caught in an avalanche. The transceiver sends out a signal that will be picked up by other transceivers so they are essential for locating a buried skier. It is all fair and well carry a transceiver but you need to be able to use it. Make sure that it has new batteries and that it is worn close to your body so it doesn’t get ripped off if you get caught in an avalanche.

An avalanche probe is a long collapsed pole that will help you pinpoint the exact location of the victim and also measure the burial depth too.

A shovel is another essential piece of safety equipment. They can be used to uncover an avalanche victim once they have been located.

An avalanche backpack with an airbag built in has shown to increase the chance of survival by 50%. Although it is an expensive piece of equipment it is definitely worth it. The piece is designed to make the person wearing it ‘inflate’ so they naturally rise to the surface of the snow and prevent them from being buried. .

Assess the slope angle

One of the best ways to assess the risk of avalanche terrain is to assess the angles of the slopes. Avalanches occur when four elements are present; a slab, a weak layer, a trigger and a slope angle steep enough to slide (between 25-45 degrees). Not all slopes are steep enough to avalanche and some are too steep, those that are 36-38 degrees are the most avalanche prone. The easiest way to measure a slope angle is to use an inclinometer.

Be confident about who are with and plan your route

Ensure that you are travelling with like-minded skiers and stay in small groups - between 3 and 5 people. When traversing across, make sure that you go one at a time. Avalanches are caused by weight causing the slab to fracture so the pressure of one person is less great than two or three. Keep tracks close together and make sure you are always aware of your surrounds, in particular what is below you. Look out for signs of recent avalanche activity and convexities, and avoid wind-loaded slopes

Boundary marker showing the edge of the ski area

Photo from unsplash.com

What to do if you get caught in an avalanche

Many avalanches are triggered by the victim themselves with the avalanche starting right beneath their feet. It will happen very quickly but if you can try to jump up the slope beyond the fracture line. If the avalanche starts above you then aim to move to the side if you can and try to get out of its path before it reaches you.

If you are caught and are wearing an avalanche backpack then immediately pull the trigger and release the airbag which will hopefully keep you on the surface. Get rid of your skis and poles (never wear wrist loops in potential avalanche zones) and any other heavy equipment that you might be carrying. Obviously don’t let go of any survival equipment as you will need these if you get buried.

Aim to swim as hard as you can to the surface making the biggest effort as the avalanche slows. If you are completely buried and have a radio transceiver then your survival rate is 34%, this will dramatically decrease after 15 minutes. If you are not fully buried then survival chances are over 90 per cent.

We hope that this information was both helpful and interesting. If you are looking to book a trip then do get in touch with our team on 020 3080 0202 or via our online chat service. Remember to stay safe on the mountains!