Today we have good news and bad news. The good: spring is here. The bad: that means an increased risk of encountering an avalanche during your next ski trip.
Fortunately, there are some simple safety protocols you can follow to stay safe on the slopes and out of harm’s way during avalanche season. We spoke with Yoann Chapel, Founder of Anticonf, a Swiss board manufacturer, to learn what exactly to do in the event of an avalanche on the slopes.
Please note: Emerald does not take any responsibility for your safety on the slopes, but we hope this advice will help you make better decisions when it comes to springtime skiing!
What’s the first thing to do in case of an accident on the slopes?
First, secure the area of the accident: perform damage control by placing a snowboard or skis above the accident area to avoid another accident.
Secondly, notify emergency responders. In France, slopes services numbers are displayed on each station map (each station has a different number). You may call the number 112, the common emergency telephone number that can be dialed free of charge from most mobile telephones and, in some countries, fixed telephones in order to reach emergency services throughout the European Union and Switzerland.
Thirdly, provide direct assistance. Do not move the person unless the emergency responders ask you to. They will provide the instructions.
What about frostbite or hypothermia? What’s the best way to help?
Consult a specialist asap!
How can you safely do some off-piste?
To be clear: there is no safe off-piste.
You can take some precautions though:
- Check the weather report, in particular the avalanche risk level (out of 5) which is displayed at every lift, as well as the the snow conditions and the wind conditions of the previous days. If the avalanche risk level is 3 or above, you absolutely need to do off-piste with an expert.
- Have the basic safety equipment: AVD (Avalanche Victim Detector), DVA in French (Détecteur de Victimes d’Avalanche), + shovel + probe. You have to know how to use them, you can easily take a course on this (available in almost all ski stations nowadays) Find more safety resources here.
- Always ski with at least one other person.
- Let someone else (not present) know where you’re going.
- Optional but recommended: be equipped with an avalanche airbag. Suggested brands: ABS or Mammut (Swiss).
- Obviously, don’t go to risky places.
- Leave sufficient space between each skier/snowboarder and don’t be above/below someone else.
- Identify a “safe zone”, for instance the sides of a mountain pass, where you can take refuge if need be.
What do you do if you are caught in an avalanche?
If you see an avalanche, try to take refuge in the “safe zone” you have identified.
Try to remain above the avalanche (standing) for as long as possible. When you are falling in it, open your airbag. Wait for help.
On the other hand, if one of your companions is caught in an avalanche, here’s what you should do:
- Follow your companion in the avalanche with your eyes for as long as you can. The starting point of your search will be where you last saw them.
- Once the avalanche is “over” (things have calmed down), go to that point.
- Check visually everywhere underneath to see if you can see any sign: a ski or anything else. In this case, try underneath this object first.
- Otherwise, start your search with your AVD, as detailed below.
How do you use an AVD, the shovel and the probe?
An AVD works in two modes: receiving and transmit or search mode. All people who are not under the avalanche have to move from the “receiving and transmit” to the “search mode”.
You have to go horizontally throughout the avalanche. Go down 20 meters. Go back in the other direction horizontally. Go down 20 meters. Etc. Once the AVD rings, you have to narrow your search (applying what you learnt in your course). The shovel and the probe will finally enable you to find and hopefully save your companion.