Snow conditions have resulted in extremely high avalanche risks across Europe. The Swiss Guides Association held a press conference this weekend reiterating the dangers of venturing off piste and the continued high risk of avalanche.
Avalanches typically happen on 30% - 40%, north facing slopes. The advice is always is to know the degree of avalanche risk for the area you are skiing/boarding in before you go out and not to ignore avalanche warnings. Remember, just because others may be skiing in a particular area, doesn't make it safe! Always carry a tranceiver, probe and shovel when going off-piste in any conditions and most importantly know how to use all the equipment you carry.
The following is an abbreviated version of an article which appeared this weekend in Swiss newspaper 'Le Matin'
Watch Out! Say Swiss Mountain Guides
After the deadliest start to the ski season for 15 years in the Swiss Alps an article in Swiss newspaper Le Matin warns that the avalanche situation is so bad that even pros don't want to go off piste and it doesn't seem like things are going to improve any time soon.
Seven victims in five days in seven separate incidents. 6 of them ski touring. The “White Death” has not stopped since the season began in the Swiss Alps. To such an extent that the Swiss Guides Association held a press conference this morning to warn of the danger of a catastrophic snowpack that has little chance of improving over time.
“It is as if there are ball bearings under the recent snow”
, avalanche specialist Robert Bolognesi tries to give a simple idea of the situation. “There is the risk of slab avalanches, probably triggered by the victims themselves, and especially on north sector slopes. We need to be careful all winter”. Unless of course a period of cold weather is followed by thaw, ideally with rain. Then the “ball bearings” will have better cohesion as they freeze together. But that is unlikely.
Freeriders who themselves spend most of their time in snowy bowls and couloirs know the dangers. Confronted by a “hyper dangerous” start to the season the Vaudoise Géraldine Fasnacht has decided to go to Ethopia for a spell! At Verbier Dominique Perret is pretty much staying on open and secured ski runs, elsewhere there are “at best rocks, at worst avalanches... why bother looking for trouble for nothing? The problem is that all winter will be difficult and frustrating in comparison with 2013 which was perfect in terms of the quality of snow and the stability of the snowpack. This season you will need to take great care!”
Not good news for your average skier who only has his holiday to slake his, frequently unreasonable, thirst for powder. Coupled with the fact he probably doesn't have knowledge at the level of his ambitions. “I advise people to carefully analyse the avalanche bulletin before going off piste, ask professionals or even hire a guide”, advises Xavier de le Rue. The four time champion of Xtreme Verbier, who himself survived an enormous avalanche in 2008, has packed his bags for the Pyrenees where he thinks conditions are less dangerous.
Like Perret, Anne-Flore Marxer, 4th best snowboarder of all time, is training on-piste at Crans-Montana. “Off piste is really dangerous at the moment. It is more intelligent to not take unnecessary risks”. Still she advises those who insist on going off piste to take the famous trio of “snow shovel, probe and avalanche beacon and more importantly “know how to use them”. She also suggests wearing an ABS rucksack.
Dominique Perret warns that an ABS is not a miracle solution. “An ABS rucksack cannot trigger itself when you are caught by a slide”. Perret, who has also escaped a huge slide warns that “In Switzerland people are equipped far in advance of their knowledge, they would do better to invest in some avalanche education than buy the latest airbag. This season they need to know when not to go out or to change their route even if fresh powder is calling”.