HAT Checklist

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


Winter season 2018/19 is nearly finished, but we’ll be back with our tips and off-piste snow reports from the start of December 2019 for next season!

Please find our tips below, updated weekly throughout the season.

11/4/19: Follow our tips on skiing smooth spring snow, but also be aware for potential dangers, especially those connected with warmer temperatures at this time of year.

4/4/19: With a lot of unpredictability around the weather this week, the best tip is to get out there into the off-piste, no matter how gloomy it looks. You may be pleasantly surprised!

28/3/19: Continue to follow our advice on the best ways to find the best spring snow skiing.

21/3/19: Learn how to ski the lovely smooth spring snow correctly for maximum enjoyment by following our advice here.

14/3/19: Pay attention to the avalanche bulletin for your area and look out for any recent accidental avalanche activity. Focus on the aspect and altitude of the slope that avalanched, and avoid similar slopes unless you really know what you’re doing.

7/3/19: Keep checking the avalanche bulletin. In particular look for mentions of the stability of the snowpack and any weaknesses observed. One of the best clues are mentions of recent accidental avalanches in your general area. See the advice below if we receive any fresh snowfall of more than 20 to 30 cm. Be particularly wary around those high N facing slopes with the sugary snow ‘patches’ underneath any freshly fallen snow.

1/3/19: Check the avalanche bulletins for snowpack reports as and when we get any fresh snowfall. In particular look for mentions of the stability of the snowpack and any weaknesses observed. If we receive any fresh snowfall of more than 20 to 30 cm (possibly around Tuesday next week), proceed cautiously and start off on slopes of 30° steepness or less unless you really know what you’re doing. Remember: the bigger the avalanche, the more vicious it is!

21/2/19: Don’t find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even though wet snow avalanches are predictable and only account for a very small number of avalanche accidents, we still need to watch out for them. Watch your timings, and be very cautious about venturing onto South-facing slopes on warm sunny afternoons. Similarly, never go on a closed piste. At this time of year it is usually closed because of avalanche danger.

14/2/19: With no fresh snow forecast, windblown slopes and milder temperatures ahead, some off piste slopes are going to get very slick. Avoid going for a big slide by managing your speed and staying in control.

7/2/19: Often nothing happens. Alain Duclos estimates that for every 100,000 turns on avalanche sensitive snow slabs, only 2 or 3 of those turns will trigger a slide. So often nothing happens. But that does not mean we can be complacent. When a slide happens it is often fatal at least very serious. Quite a lot has been happening with many slides reported this week. This will continue next week as we get more snow. Referring to our HAT framework (above) helps keep your mind sharp by reminding you to apply risk reduction measures to make your off-piste skiing safe. With this weak layer, if you are not sure, stay off and stay away from slopes that are steeper than 30 degrees.

31/1/19: Read and embrace the message of Henry’s previous blog: NOTHING HAPPENS… most of the time because the persistent weak layer in the snowpack is so psycho. We’ll be getting more snow over the next few days, which will be enough to bring things to a tipping point, so be very careful out there.

24/1/19: Observe the quality of the snow you find at different aspects and altitudes. This will help you predict which slopes offer good snow for skiing and which will be difficult. With cold temperatures and a snowpack which is not very thick, a persistent weak layer is forming, which we’ll need to watch out for for the rest of the season.

17/1/19: The biggest risk come from deeper slabs sitting on the weak layer. So watch out for accumulations of snow and fresh snow on any part of the mountain, even in just small localised areas. When these sit on top of a persistently fragile snowpack, like we have at the moment, an avalanche can easily be triggered by a skier passing by. With cold temperatures forecast for the next few days this new snow will turn into faceted grains and create another weak layer. So if we get significant new snowfall the snowpack will still be unstable.

10/1/19:  Fresh snowfall will sit on a persistent weak layer above 2500m in the snowpack, always be on your guard after fresh snowfall, even when there’s little sign of recent avalanche activity. After substantial amounts of fresh snowfall, always treat steep slopes above 2500 m with a lot of caution.

4/1/19: Do a snow dance! When we do get some snow, check the bulletin for details of any weak layers or not and this will tell us how stable the new snow will be.

28/12/18: As avalanche experts say “Recent avalanche activity is the mountain screaming at you”. Watch out for this and take heed! There has been plenty of evidence of recent avalanche activity throughout this week. Please pay attention to it.

20/12/18: See our HAT Risk Reduction Framework / Checklist and check out our on-line talk which explains it all.

13/12/18: If you’re not sure, then stay on slopes that are below 30 degree slope angle and pay attention to slopes above you. You may be on a 20 degree slope but could still trigger an avalanche on a 35 degree slope above you. Having spoken to people, they do not see the risk right now. The risk is higher than they think.

7/12/18: Read the avalanche bulletin. There’s a lot of new snow in the weather forecast for the next 7 days. And it will get much colder. The avalanche bulletin reports that there are faceted grains of snow in a weak layer under some slabs above 2500m. So read the avalanche bulletin to see how this develops as the new snow falls. In many places, it will fall on a weak layer. It is important to understand where the weak layer exists. This will determine the stability of the new snowpack during and after the new/recent snowfalls.

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.

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