If off-piste skiing or snowboarding is your thing then you’ve probably heard that this winter’s snow pack is far less stable than in recent years. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we must stay on-piste all season but it does mean that having more knowledge of avalanches and the topics surrounding them is definitely a good idea.
A photo of a large avalanche on a “tracked out” off-piste area that has been doing the rounds on social networks recently.
With this in mind, last Wednesday some of the More Mountain staffers attended an avalanche awareness course with Tammy from Mint Snowboarding.
Tammy and Phil enjoying the afternoon sunshine.
The aim of the course was to address three main issues:
1. To gain a understanding of the factors that increase the risk of avalanche so you can make better-informed decisions when going off-piste.
2. To know how to properly use the avalanche rescue essentials of a transceiver, probe and shovel.
3. To learn and practice the process of what to do if someone gets caught in an avalanche.
For the first part of the course we holed up in the “world famous” Changabangs in Avoriaz where Tammy went through the theoretical part of the lesson.
One of the most important topics covered was the factors to consider when evaluating the risk of avalanche – after all, if you can make smart decisions and avoid avalanche prone slopes you can significantly reduce the danger of riding off-piste. These factors included recent and historical weather conditions, terrain, the snow pack and human factors.
We also discussed how and why avalanches occur, how to understand the daily avalanche bulletin, and the steps of the process to follow if someone is caught in an avalanche.
Practicing searching for victims buried in an avalanche.
Theory completed, we headed out onto the mountain to practice what we had just learnt. Tammy took us to an area of off-piste near the top of the Chaux Fleurie chairlift to do some practical exercises – finding transceivers in backpacks that has been buried in the snow.
Using the transceivers to search for the backpacks before probing for them and digging them out was eye opening! It was much more difficult than we had imagined, we were making mistakes and it was taking us a long time!
Found it! Let’s dig!
As we practiced we became quicker at the process but it is apparent that if someone is caught in an avalanche then it is imperative that the people looking for them know what they are doing and are practiced at it.
Our other practical lesson was to dig a pit to inspect the layers of the snow pack. This allows you to identify weak layers that may fail under the pressure of someone travelling over the snow. We also conducted a Compression Test by isolating a block of snow and then subjecting it to progressively bigger loads using a shovel. This tests any weak layers in the snow to see if/when the snow pack would fail. Interesting, our column stayed firm even under a largest test load.
Tammy in our pit explaining how to inspect the snow pack’s layers.
After packing up all the gear we were lucky enough to grab a powder filled cruise back down a safe face which was bathed in the setting sun before jumping on the last lift to get us home – an enjoyable, educational and potentially life saving day was had by all!
A beauty of a sunset from Chaux Fleurie.
If you plan on skiing or snowboarding off-piste then we would thoroughly recommended attending an avalanche awareness course to learn new skills or refresh your existing knowledge.
Why not booking one with Mint Snowboarding next time you are staying in Morzine with More Mountain?