With the winter season in full swing, many skiers will be tempted to try off-piste skiing, which can offer an unforgettable experience in untouched territory, but also demands a high level of security and vigilance.
To help make your off-piste excursion a safe success, here are a few tips skiers should heed.
Pay attention: Before leaving, consult the weather forecasts, snow bulletins, and avalanche risks. In France Meteofrance.com provides this information, as do local professionals in the ski resorts like Courchevel, Méribel, or Chamonix. These experts are especially helpful.
Don't go it alone: Never go off-pisting alone. Better round up a small group of skiers with the same level and physical condition or go with a professional guide.
Equip yourself: Whenever possible, arm yourself with an Arva avalanche transceiver, an ABS avalanche airbag, an Avalung vest (for breathing the air contained in the snow), and Recco avalanche rescue reflectors. You may also want to take some emergency food, water, a survival blanket, compass, and map.
Prepare your itinerary: Your path must be prepared before leaving, taking the day's weather conditions into consideration. Don't be too ambitious, so as to be sure to return before nightfall.
Take regular head counts: The Anena (National Association for Snow and Avalanche Studies in France) recommends leaving a little distance between skiers, as well as regularly stopping to make sure everyone is keeping up.
Find a good place to stop: When planning your itinerary, include resting or waiting areas in minimum-risk zones. Don't stop on a downhill path, but rather in a zone protected from possible avalanches or snow slides.
Don't speed: In general, better maintain a moderate speed, avoid abrupt turns and do everything possible to avoid falling. These sudden movements could trigger an avalanche.
Listen to your gut: In case of doubt, remove the security straps on your poles and skis. If you think the situation might be dangerous, better head back to the resort.
If an avalanche does happen, stay calm: If you get caught in a snow slide, Anena recommends trying to escape perpendicularly to the movement rather than trying to go with the flow. To avoid being buried, let go of your poles and remove your skis or board and leave behind any heavy objects, such as your backpack.
Once you get caught in an avalanche, try to remain on the surface. Lay on the snow if possible, making large swimming movements. Keep your mouth closed so as to avoid swallowing snow and try to protect your face with your hands, arms, or jacket collar. Above all, don't panic.