Saturday, May 14, 2011

Avalanche Awareness and Kits

by White Blancmange - Alpine Experiences

A properly prepared avalanche kit could be the difference between life and death (and the life you save may well be your own). If you are thinking of heading off-piste, you need to know that you and everyone in your party are as safe as you can possibly be. This means hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst. When taking the road less travelled you are inevitably at greater risk than you would be when staying on the beaten path, primarily because you are further away from other skiers and the established infrastructure for dealing with mountain emergencies. Off-piste adventures can be extremely rewarding, but being ready for the challenge is of the utmost importance. When you are on the other side of the mountain, far away from your VIP ski chalet, you have to know how to react if things go wrong.

Advances in modern technology have led to the development of all sorts of innovative safety gadgets, but topping the (low-tech) list of must-have off-piste accessories are the humble snow shovel and avalanche probe. Fortunately, advances have also been made in the field of ultra-portable manual snow moving tools. This means that your collapsible (or foldable) snow shovel will take up less space and add less weight to your gear than ever before. For gadgetry, the number one high-tech device you will want to take with you off-piste is a working set of avalanche transceivers.

Avalanche transceivers are your best hope of being found/finding someone after an avalanche occurs. You should make certain that every member of your group is wearing one before heading out onto the slopes. You should also check that the batteries are charged and that all devices are connected and functioning correctly with a standard dry-run test. When setting out, all transceivers should be set to “transmit” and left that way for the duration of an uneventful trip. If the trip becomes eventful (in the negative sense of the word) you will be glad you’re wearing your transceiver.

All transceivers need to be worn as close to the body as possible to avoid them being torn off should you find yourself taking a tumble. If an avalanche occurs, those not caught in the deluge are able to switch their transceivers to “receive”, giving the best possible chance of finding those trapped in time to save their lives. Because approximately 90% of people found within 15 minutes of being buried will be found alive, quick action is vital. To impress this upon you even further, only 25% of buried people are found alive after 45 minutes. (These figures apply to those trapped in snow only).

Snow shovels and avalanche probes are both incredibly important pieces of equipment, but it is even more important that you know how to use them. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you don’t need them, because you may live to regret it. Modelled on turn of the century entrenching tools, modern collapsible snow shovels are light-weight and compact. Your probe is a long collapsible pole, not unlike the white sticks used by the visually impaired but extending to a length of around 2 ½ metres. Probes make it easier to determine a person’s exact location beneath the snow to better inform rescue efforts, and are also useful for creating air-holes to help them breathe.

Simply having this equipment is not enough, you must make sure you know how to use it and have a pre-planned response in mind should an emergency occur. There are a number of other items at varying levels of technological ingenuity (and financial expense) that are certainly worth considering, but the top three must have items are those listed on this page. Another necessary tool (which can’t be kept in your back pack) is training. Taking VIP ski lessons will help you prepare for the challenges you might have to face off-piste. Where ever your ski holiday is in the Alps, from Avoriaz to Zermatt, expert ski instructors will be on hand to help you advance to the off-piste level.

Based in the Alps at Chatel Portes Du Soleil, White Blancmange specialises in creating the ultimate Alpine experiences for corporate customers, private groups, couples and individuals during the ski season and throughout the rest of the year. Find out more at