Safety when ski touring | Swiss Alpine Club SAC
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Finsteraarhorngebiet Eveline JeanRichard 2016

Safety when ski touring Ten tips

Ski touring offers great opportunities to discover nature, share experiences, take on responsibilities and keep fit. The following advice will help you deal with any danger you may have to face in the winter.

These ten points are based on the recommendations made by the CAA and have been completed by the SAC training and safety experts. However, they can’t replace training courses, which provide a solid base and help you expand your competences and improve your technique with qualified instructors.

Ten tips

1. Fit and healthy

Ski touring is an endurance sport. The effort it demands, which is beneficial for the heart and circulation, requires you to be in good health and able to assess your abilities. Avoid being pushed by time and adopt a pace which is suited to all members of the group. Bear in mind that you will need to save energy for the descent.

2. Careful planning

Information about distance, height differences, the level of difficulty and the conditions can be found on maps, in guide books, online or by asking experts. The weather forecast is particularly important as storms, snow, wind and cold weather can greatly increase the risk of accidents. Make sure that the itinerary is adapted to the level of the group and always plan alternative ones. Take note of the emergency mountain rescue phone numbers of the country (REGA: 1414; European emergency number: 112).

3. Appropriate equipment

Make sure your equipment is suitable for winter conditions and for your destination. If you’re headed for areas prone to avalanches, avalanche transceivers, spade and snow probe, first aid kit, bivouac sack and mobile phone constitute the standard emergency equipment which everyone should carry. An airbag rucksack increases the chances of survival. Check your equipment before every outing and emphasise the importance of this to all the other members of the group. For outings on glaciers, it is essential to have a harness and other specialized equipment.

4. Avalanche report and snow conditions

Before setting out, get detailed information concerning the risk of avalanches. Check the avalanche report, paying particular attention to the danger level (1-5), and information about the type of danger (what is the main danger today?), exposure and altitude. Take note of the dangerous sections (what dangerous parts will I be confronted with?) and the weather evolution during the day.

5. Evaluate the danger of avalanches

It is very difficult to determine the risk of avalanches. Base your decision on strategic methods to estimate the risk and learn to recognise the warning signs (e.g. snowdrifts). Steer well clear of dangerous areas and turn back if in doubt. Bear in mind that avalanches can also occur in the forest.

6. Breaks and orientation

To keep up your energy levels and stay concentrated, it is important to take breaks, to eat and to drink. Hot, isotonic drinks are ideal for quenching your thirst and warming you up, especially in the winter. Always use your sense of direction to find where you are and check it by using a map, a compass, an altimeter or a GPS. It is essential to have this equipment on you for orientation. Other skiers’ tracks provide no guarantee so be wary of them!

7. Respect distances and instructions

Keeping a certain distance between everyone helps spare the snow cover and reduces the danger if there is an avalanche. In addition, kick turns on steep slopes are easier when there is a distance of 10 meters between everyone. During the descent, the distance should be of 30 meters. On steep slopes, skiers should go down one after the other and each one should stay on a defined line.

8. Avoid falls

Falls on the descent are the most frequent cause of ski touring accidents. They put extra stress on the snow cover. A good skiing technique and an appropriate speed (depending on your ability) help reduce the risk. Wearing a helmet protects your head. NB Be particularly careful if the snow is frozen and if there are stones or rocks.

9. Small groups

There are fewer risks with small groups (up to 6 people). Dangerous situations can be avoided by communicating clearly with the other participants and respecting one another. Stay in a group and share your impressions. Every member of the group must know where you’re going and what route they are taking. Make sure a family member knows your destination, what itinerary you have planned and when you expect to be back. If you’ve planned an outing on your own, beware – minor incidents can easily turn into serious emergencies.

10. Respect nature and the environment

High mountain areas are the perfect place to discover the uniqueness of nature. Appreciate this freedom and respect the fragile environment and the areas where animals take refuge. Stay on the official paths and avoid reforestation areas. Use public transport or car sharing.