I’m often asked by people “aren’t you scared of avalanches when you ski so much?” Short answer: Yes. Any skier/rider worth their weight that spends time in the mountains KNOWS this is a permanent risk underlying our favourite activity. Avalanches are real. They kill real people every year. They are not exclusive to the Alps and they can happen anywhere with mountains/hills and at almost any time.
So, if that’s true, then what the heck makes me go up a mountain, with my children and ignore this reality.
Several factors lead to this; none of which I intend to sound smug or dismissive. I am forever aware that this is part of mountain life and sports and try to be smart and prepared.
5 Tips For Getting Over Avalanche Fear:
- Trust the mountain rescue workers to do their jobs. That does NOT mean only after an avalanche has struck. Mountain rescue workers around the world are working day in and out to secure mountains and make sure they are safe for us to enjoy. They post daily risk factor scales (usually 1-5 rating or a flag system) and shut down mountains they deem unsafe. They routinely bomb mountains to set off avalanches (in secure situations) that seem evident. Watch the following video of a purpose-led avalanche by the amazing staff at Glacier 3000/Les Diablerets:https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fglacier3000%2Fvideos%2F907671902668989%2F&show_text=1&width=560
- Wear Recco reflector strips. My entire family does. We wear them in the recommended manner of one on one boot and one on the helmet. Recco is a trademarked avalanche rescue system that almost every ski resort in the world uses to find people trapped in an avalanche. There are several clothing companies that now make winter wear with Recco sewn into their clothes. Their transmitters are the best in the world and when the juniors start wanting to experience more freeride and off piste adventures, we will buy one for each of us.
- Stay on piste and listen to the advice of the mountain staff. If they have closed my favourite piste for the day, I don’t argue or think I’m above their decisions. I listen to their advice and stay where it is safe.
- On my personal to-do list is to take one of the numerous FREE avalanche safety training courses offered throughout Switzerland next year. Anyone can attend and as my juniors get older and push the boundaries of their skiing, I will make sure they are fully trained up in this area. Look to see if courses are offered near where you ski or at your favourite mountain gear shop.
- ABS Airbag systems. We don’t have these yet but we will all get them when/if freeride becomes a part of our lives. Check them out!
Until then, I have discussed avalanches with the kids and we have practices the dog-paddle move you are meant to do to help create breathing space if you are ever caught in an avalanche. Our needs and the safety items on our list will expand as their skiing does but for now, I take comfort in playing it safe and only skiing when the pisteur/mountain staff say it is a moderate risk day. Their job is to make us safe and if I didn’t have faith in them, I don’t think I could ever take my precious children to 3000m/10 000ft.
Photo/Video credit: Glacier 3000/Les Diablerets, ABS Airbag System, Fotolia, Jennifer Hart