Tip of the week

This is our all-important quick reference framework for reducing the chance of an accident.


Winter season 2018/19 is now underway! Please find our tips below, updated weekly.

30/11/18: The HAT checklist (or Framework, as we call it) has “being well prepared” as one of its three answers to the question “Is it safe out there?”  This means being well prepared for a companion search and rescue – “prepared” to get the victim out in 15 minutes or less.

  • Check your equipment, and get trained on how to use it. HAT runs some great transceiver training events in the UK, as well as in Val d’Isère. You can make sure all works, so you can mend or replace things – particularly your transceiver, shovel and probe. Get it out, examine it all and make sure you know how to use it.
  • Always do a transceiver partner check (making sure everyone’s transmit and search functions work) before you set off. We’ll be publishing a blog on this next week!
  • Ensure your transceiver batteries are working, and functioning on at least 70%. (Remember they use a lot more power on ‘search’ mode).

Previous tips of the week. Winter season 2017/18:

5/4/18: Keep an eye on whether it freezes or not. For the first time all season, it’s sometimes staying above freezing point at altitudes of 2000 m and above, at night-time too. This can lead to all kinds of full-depth avalanches occurring (glide crack releases, etc).

You can have a fantastic time off piste and stay safe as long as you’re applying basic risk reduction measures. These can be found in our HAT off-piste checklist.

March 2018:

29/3/18: Pay attention to the warmth of the sun. The sun transforms the snowpack very quickly at this time of year. Shady north areas will still be powdery above 2300m. Sun affected areas will be variable.

22/3/18: Have fun and be safe by applying basic risk reduction measures: a) Apply the basic risk reduction measures that you can find in our HAT off-piste checklist to be safe off-piste. b) Use this in combination with our Essentials Talk that you can watch on-line.

14/2/18: Use recent avalanche activity and accidents as a clue for how unstable or stable things are on the day. Figure out what altitudes and exposures any slides/avalanches are happening on – and avoid similar ones yourself. Consult the avalanche bulletin the night before, talk to pisteurs on the day, and look what’s happening for yourself….

8/3/18: Keep to the ‘low hanging fruit’ in the first 24 hours after significant fresh snow fall. That means sticking to  low-angled slopes below 30° – the steepest part of a European red run). Look out for evidence of recent avalanche activity, and only venture onto steeper slopes when you’re really sure you know what you’re doing.

1/3/18: Be very aware when skiing on high, cold, steep N’ish facing slopes where the best quality snow will be found this week. It’s also where most of the wind slab are, and will be, forming on top of a layer of unconsolidated facets or ‘sugar snow’.

February 2018:

15/2/18: As snow and weather conditions evolve, keep an eye on our HAT Facebook updates for info on latest snow stability

7/2/18: The snowpack is broadly stable but there are pockets of risk in localised areas. These are mostly where you find windblown fresh snow creating a new slab. Keep an eye on the wind, look for these slabs, these often have the best snow, but carry some risk so you have to judge how safe it is using the HAT checlist and guidance.

1/2/18: Look out for recent avalanche activity, see which slopes are releasing and how much snow is involved. Observe the glide cracks. As snow and weather conditions evolve, keep an eye on our HAT Facebook updates for info on latest snow stability.

January 2018:

25/1/18: Observe the recent avalanche activity. This shows you which slopes might release, how big the releases will be and volume of snow that might go.

18/1/18: The big topic this week is the weather. Any instability in snowpack this week will mainly be related to the continuing snow storms. We’ll be closely following this, and doing regular Facebook updates about snow stability. See www.facebook.com/HenrysAvalancheTalk

11/1/18: Just because the avalanche danger rating is 3, that doesn’t mean that it is safe everywhere. There are pockets of instability here and there. Check out our updates and learn what the avalanche danger rating definitions mean on henrysavalanchetalk.com/hat-advice/danger-rating.

4/1/18: Keep checking regular weather and avalanche risk updates for your ski area, and follow the advice of local authorities i.e. road closures, security around AND in buildings so you don’t end up with a load of snow on your bed or worse! Excellent local information sources are your local radio station, and the piste patrol services.

28/12/17: The best way to stay safe off-piste over the next few days is to track how much fresh snow falls, and keep an eye on the avalanche danger ratings. Once the danger rating goes to 3 and above, adjust your skiing accordingly. In particular stick to slopes of 30° or less, unless you really know what you’re doing, and remember about the increased danger on those high N facing slopes, where the snowpack is still unconsolidated.

21/12/17: Keep it safe and keep applying risk assessment and reduction methods. You can greatly reduce the chances of having an accident (and have more fun) off-piste with our simple downloadable Off-Piste checklist.

14/12/17:Meteo France are now producing their daily avalanche bulletins. Check them out before you go off-piste on www.meteofrance.com/previsions-meteo-montagne/bulletin-avalanches.

Previous tips of the week 2016/17

See our basic framework of risk assessment and reduction methods in our previous blog: www.henrysavalanchetalk.com/off-piste-quick-reference. Even if you don’t apply all the methods perfectly, you’re going to be way safer than if you don’t apply them at all!

A Simple Framework for Reducing the Chance of an Accident

An ‘Off-Piste-checklist-Quick-Reference

Research has shown that checklists work to reduce errors that lead to accidents in many risk professions and endeavours. Once you have some training (for example on subjects outlined in our ‘Essentials’ Talk), a checklist or framework that you can refer to can help to reduce avalanche accidents in off-piste skiing. Many accidents can be avoided if you use a framework that helps you to consistently pay attention to simple observable clues and information from the environment, as well as, clues  from people around you. The same is true in risk professions such as surgery and the military.

To increase your safety, you don’t need to be perfect, just follow this off piste checklist and quick reference on a regular basis – review it the night before, in the morning before you head out and several times during the day. It will help you make decisions based on facts and things you can see rather than on distractions like ‘powder fever’ for example.

So Henry has made this ‘Off-Piste-checklist-Quick-Reference‘ available not only as a quick review of the ‘Essentials’, but also as a simple way for you and your friends to apply what you have learned, have fun and be safe! You can greatly reduce the chances of having an accident (and have more fun) off-piste with this simple downloadable ‘Off-Piste checklist-Quick-Reference‘  A5 card.

Learn how to get your timings right when skiing spring snow. See this blog post henrysavalanchetalk.com/ski-smooth-tips-spring-skiing-off-piste. Get it right, and you’ll find some lovely skiing conditions. You can even apply this to on-piste skiing!

Get out there whatever the weather looks like first thing in the morning. There are bound to be some clear spells that you won’t want to miss! From our experience, there’s always lots of room on safe slopes when a sudden clearing appears… and if no clear spell happens… well, you can always go back down or ski in safe areas of the trees.

Watch out for steep N’ish facing slopes (NE through N to NW). These will be particularly unstable for the next few days.

Watch out on steep N facing slopes. This is where the best snow is to be found, but also where the most instability will be if we get much fresh on top of that weak layer of “sugar snow”.

If you intend to ski a steep pitch, ask yourself: “If this slope should avalanche, what will happen to us?”

Watch out for terrain traps (troughs, cliffs, holes, trees, lake….).  Holes and gullies or anywhere the snow could pile up; cliffs that you could fall off; lakes that you could end up in.  These hazards mean that the consequences of an avalanche will be much more severe.

See report on Tignes avalanche accident

Look out for slopes where there has been recent avalanche activity, and avoid similar slopes of a similar direction.

Play close attention to the official avalanche bulletins. See here to find the bulletin in your area http://www.avalanches.org/eaws/en/main.php

As the avalanche danger diminishes we tend to get more complacent. So remember to apply our Off-Piste Checklist. This will reduce your chances of having an accident (and help you to have more fun): www.henrysavalanchetalk.com/off-piste-quick-reference.  Avalanche risk 2 means moderate with specific risks in specific places.  Read the bulletin to see where those risks exist

Download the Meteo Ski app to your phone.  It will give you fast access to the Meteo France weather forecast for all French resorts and even more importantly, you will get immediate, easy access to the avalanche bulletins without having to fight with the Meteo France website.  The app is refreshingly lacking in adverts and seems to be focused on what the off piste skier needs.

Check your insurance covers you for off piste with or without a guide and without undue restrictions.  You can read more about how to be sure you are covered click here