13/9/11 – Here’s something useful for off-pisters

A slab avalanche right next to the piste in Zermatt in January - a potential killer, even though snow cover was thin

I’ve heard about a pre-ski-season class that I’d recommend to any skier or boarder who wants to go off-piste, or already does (with the statistic in mind that 90 per cent of avalanches that cause accidents are triggered by the victim). I have no vested interest in the course, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that it could save your life – or somebody else’s.

It’s to do with- you’ll have guessed – learning about avalanches. I’ve been aware of them since the age of five when my parents, my sister, a friend of the family and I were lucky not to be caught in a colossal powder avalanche that killed three people in a lift queue. We’d decided to ski on down rather than wait in the queue, and moments later a wall of snow sped down from a bowl a couple of kilometres away. I’ve seen other avalanches – I remember one in Obergurgl that swept a snowboarder over some rocks on a slope just above the umbrella bar at the top of the Festkogl. He was shaken but unhurt. It shook me, too, as it is an often-tracked slope that I skied regularly.

Transceiver training at the Ski Club leaders' course in 2010

I finally got round to getting proper avalanche training – part of the Ski Club of GB leaders’ course – last year in Tignes. You can read about the course in the first five posts on this blog – starting with this one http://tinyurl.com/69mgah9. It has made me even more careful than before, more aware of danger – and it has given me the skills to find people who are buried. After all, there’s little point in carrying transceiver, shovel and probe unless you know how to use them. Plenty of avalanche training and mountaincraft courses take place in the Alps – some  as part of ski touring skills courses (Mountain Tracks and Ski Club Freshtracks are among operators).

The course I heard about this week, though, which starts this month, involves beeper training on Wimbledon Common and Monday evening seminars. It’s run by Henry’s Avalanche Talk (HAT), an excellent organisation that has been holding avalanche awareness talks in the UK and in French resorts for a few years. It start on Monday 26 September, then there’s outdoor training on Saturday 1 October beore three further Monday seminars. There’s also a full-weekend option from 15-16 October. It costs £250 (discounts for Ski Club and HAT members). They’re calling it the HAT Academy and you can find details here http://tinyurl.com/6hzbagd.

HAT’s UK autumn tour dates in late October and early November are also finalised – a bargain at £8 a head for an evening talk all about avalanches, at venues such as dry slopes and ski shops. See them here http://tinyurl.com/65t5jxr.

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Filed under Austria, France, Off-piste

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