It’s snowing in the Northern French Alps. A familiar early season scenario…, but things are different.
Ski lifts will not be operating, but resorts will be open and ski touring is allowed. It looks like many ski resorts will be accommodating by doing a bit of grooming to help with the walk up. However, rescue services and avalanche control will be greatly reduced.
We’ll be looking at these issues and solutions on this weak’s HAT & ORTOVOX Off-Piste Essentials Talk live this Sunday the 13th at 5 pm GMT for part 1 and Sunday the 20th at 5 pm GMT for part 2.
Our basic advice is to be extra vigilant if you are going to go ski touring this early season; this means base your decisions on fact and evidence (i.e. not letting oneself get distracted by ‘gut feelings’ and what other people are up to). The HAT Accident reduction framework helps to achieve this goal and if applied, is much safer than just charging out onto the hill. There’s a downloadable version of it here.
Familiar and not uncommon is a weak layer forming at the beginning of the season Nov/Dec – it seems to happen happen to a greater or lesser extent each year. This year it is not so much worse than in years past, but it will be especially problematic ‘off-piste’ and touring in and around ski areas during this early winter season because of :
- No avalanche control taking place in/around ski areas, and
- Not enough skiers to compact the weak layer by ‘skier compaction’
- These, along with rain and natural purging, are the only ways to stabilize this weak layer in the short term… aside from you or me triggering a slab and thus purging the slope like the one above!
So ‘expert intuition’ without controls and judging things by ‘gut feeling’ could be even more dangerous than usual because everything will be more unstable than usual in around the ski area. Slopes that are usually fairly untouched away from the ski area will be the same as they always are.
There’s a long list of evidence that shows how applying simple frameworks, checklists and memory aids reduce risk in ‘high consequence, low feedback’ risk contexts prevalent in: aviation, military, finance, health care, avalanche terrain etc.
See our HAT quick reference ‘Safety is Freedom Framework’ for accident reduction in avalanche terrain. The Framework is aimed at all levels of off-piste and touring: for beginners: a point of departure; for experts: a guide for further learning; for pros: it’s a great framework for client training and quick memory aid.
The Framework is best if accompanied by training such as HAT events and on-snow courses, but it’s also a useful companion for all training as it focuses on the basic key points that all avalanche training courses address – it helps you to keep focused on the essential accident reduction points.