Off Piste – Henry Schniewind is one of the most experienced off piste guides in the French Alps and talks to us about avalanches...
Henry’s Avalanche Talk ( HAT ) has been helping off-piste skiers and riders to get more from the mountain for 20 years. You can discover how to demystify the ski professional’s expertise so you know how to manage risks.
- Ever felt you could have had a better day off-piste?
- Are you unsure how to find the best snow?
- Do you want to know which slopes are safe and which to avoid in the off-piste?
- Do you worry about the risks when you go off piste? Are there some concerns that are holding you back?
- Do you want to have more fun when you go off piste, whether it is with or without a guide?
- Would you like to understand how to stay safe and still have great fun at the same time? Would you like some practical help to be more confident when you go off piste?
In 90% of avalanche accidents, the slide is triggered by a person - either the victim, or someone in their group sets it off, or someone above them triggers it. It is almost always a dry slab avalanche that is triggered by the victim(s), not a spontaneous wet snow avalanche that comes down from above. This is good news, because it means that we are in control. We can manage the risk.
Is it safe out there?
The answer is, it depends .... it depends on ...
- Where you go and when.
- How you go down or up.
- How well prepared you are.
A good short video summary
In the off-piste areas, if you have an understanding of where to go and when, how to go down (or up) a slope and how to be well prepared, you should be fine. You may get close to danger at times, but at least you are aware of it and therefore you can avoid it much the same way that you avoid danger close danger on a regular basis on the motorways or driving in London!
On nice slopes with fresh powder there is always a risk, but if you are aware then you can
manage the risk and make off-piste about as safe as driving your car to work and much more fun!
Where you go and when
Slope angles matter: in general according to the experts avalanches in Europe don’t release on slope angles less than 28° (about where black runs begin or a very steep part of a red run). In the cold continental climates like North America the minimum angle is 25°.
A slab avalanche may only release on slopes above 28°, but there is a difference between where the avalanche releases and where you actually trigger it. The trigger happens under your skis, but avalanche frequently releases above you. Remember, you can be on a low angle slope and still trigger an avalanche that releases on a steeper slope that is above you.
So, slope angles are critical to think about when you’re deciding where to go.
To find out more visit HAT’s website at www.henrysavalanchetalk.com or view the video