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Avalanche-danger flags.

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
(Transfered from Spanish-deaths thread)

Are the resorts partly to blame for skiers ignoring avalanche warnings, because they cover themselves by just leaving warning flags out all the time, even when danger levels are low? (The signal lift at Val d'Isere, which accesses alot of off-piste is a good example) with the consequence that people learn to ignore them.
Also, should travel company reps point out avalanche danger warnings to their clients and where levels are publicised and what the warning flags mean? (For one thing it might make them learn about it themselves)
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It's better that these warnings are given from a centrally-controlled point, via electronic signals at various key points around the mountain. Yes, education is an issue, but people have read enough about avalanche deaths to know that they should regard remote parts of the mountain like the open sea.
It's easier than ever to access avalanche warnings via the internet, via national avalanche warning services (as far as I know, most European skiing nations including Scotland have them).
"Let's ignore the flag because it's up all the time" could be a good example of 'famous last words'.
That said, it would be good if individual ski resort websites could feature the current avalanche warning level, so that people can easily obtain the info locally or before travelling.
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snowball wrote:
(Transfered from Spanish-deaths thread)

Are the resorts partly to blame for skiers ignoring avalanche warnings, because they cover themselves by just leaving warning flags out all the time, even when danger levels are low? (The signal lift at Val d'Isere, which accesses alot of off-piste is a good example) with the consequence that people learn to ignore them.
Also, should travel company reps point out avalanche danger warnings to their clients and where levels are publicised and what the warning flags mean? (For one thing it might make them learn about it themselves)


No they aren't to blame, since the flags are not up unchanged all the time. You do realise the flags are color coded? For example, the yellow flag signifies risk of 1 to 2, here in Switzerland that's around 70% of days, I presume this is the flag you've seen. There is no 0 on the scale and no day that a flag should not be flying.

And, no, the travel company reps should not point out risk, that's ludicrous, for a start this Europe, you ski off piste at your own risk if you can't read and understand the warnings then you should be on the piste or with a guide. Personally I can't think of any people I'd less want off-piste advice from the holiday tour reps.
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At Tignes on Sunday you'd have to have been blind not to see the prominent warnings posted with respect to wind slab etc. Fresh cover well over a metre in some places, combined with very strong winds and rapidly rising temperatures early afternoon, well I think you'd have to be stupid as well as blind. And apparently blind and stupid people (mainly boarders) were there in plenty that day.


Last edited by You need to Login to know who's really who. on Tue 11-05-04 10:51; edited 1 time in total
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I agree, but the sort of person who would look on the internet isn't the main problem.
My point about the flags at the signal lift is that the danger flag is always there and it is the access to the largest area of off-piste at Val d'Isere. Consequently you just have to make your own assessment of the risk (hopefully with knowledge of the general danger level). But what about those who just follow other skiers over the back without this knowledge? Unless the flags and other warnings have a real meaning and people have it really pushed at them, most will not look for them and will remain oblivious.
A generalised knowledge that off-piste is dangerous is a starting point but not the way to get people onto the off-piste safely.
Need I also point out that many skiers don't have easy access to a computer where they stay.
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ise, not to mention the very real risk of litigation if reps gave out advice whether correct or incorrect that ends in disaster.
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Quote:
But what about those who just follow other skiers over the back without this knowledge? Unless the flags and other warnings have a real meaning and people have it really pushed at them, most will not look for them and will remain oblivious.

I agree there is room for improvement. But the bottom line is that we are talking about cocky, devil-may-care, nothing-can-touch-me-I'm-immortal youngsters in the main, and short of putting up a skull and crossbones flag and policing the slopes little will stop them copying their peers and taking stupid risks. Some consider it to be part of the 'fun'.


Last edited by Then you can post your own questions or snow reports... on Tue 11-05-04 10:51; edited 1 time in total
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Yes, I take your point, Hunter, I was thinking of reps being encouraged to find out and post the danger level, as some already do, and publicise souces and meanings, perhaps in their welcome-notes.
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Maybe the number of avalanche fatalities for recent winters could be posted in known danger areas. That might get through to the lemmings.
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snowball wrote:
My point about the flags at the signal lift is that the danger flag is always there and it is the access to the largest area of off-piste at Val d'Isere.


Obviously there's always a flag flying, the lowest possible risk level is 1 and the yellow flag flies on levels 1 (36%) and 2 (33%), the figures refer to percentage of days for Switzerland but it's representative. The flag colour changes when required and it does change.

Any other system is absurd, no flag tells us only there's no flag. A positive confirmation system of a flag coding for lowest risk is obviously logical.

Sorry, but the point is whether people understand the grading and flags and if they don't then, sorry, but who gives a toss? I only care at the point they start endangering me or tracking out slopes they should not be on.

It's perectly simple surely? If people don't understand the flags they should not be off-piste. If people are stupid enough to ignore a flag because it's correctly always flying rather than understand or expect their Crystal rep to tell them it's dangerous then we're seeing Darwinism in action surely ?
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No, Ise, I meant it is always the high risk flag there. I didn't mean there was just always some flag.

Yes, David, you mean like they do on some roads. The trouble is the danger is often specific. Eg if you go over the back at the top of Signal and then cut left. But its relatively safe down the middle of the valley.
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snowball wrote:
No, Ise, I meant it is always the high risk flag there. I didn't mean there was just always some flag.


sorry then, but you're wrong, the flags change.
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OK perhaps its just a local decision at Signal but I thought it probably happened elsewhere too. I agree that the flags do change in many places.
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
I've never seen the Signal- lift flag change, from high level danger, even when the level for the resort is low.
Thinking about it, perhaps the Grand Vallon and the Vallonet (sp?) areas off the back of Signal are so huge and various that they reckon there will always be some slope somewhere that is dangerous, but surely the flag should say something general about relative danger.
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
FIS states the following in its rules and regs....

Quote:
Off-Piste

Users are obliged to fully inform themselves locally and regionally about current weather conditions and more specifically, avalanche risk, off-piste skiing is carried out under the sole responsibility of practitioners, their guides and trainers.

It's the total irresponsibility that gets me. Imagine being caught by this....
http://www.lpjda.com/archives/web_fevrier_dru/avalanche.jpg

At Tignes last weekend the yellow/black chequered flag was flying (risk 3/4), and plenty of warnings in English and French were posted at the bottom funicular station and elsewhere, but they were simply ignored by many.

snowball, are you saying that it's always the chequered yellow/black flag by the Signal, or the all black risk 5 one?
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
On the right of this photo, you'll see a dial with avalanche warning level on it...
http://www.theskishop.co.uk/stewart/images/epic04/107_0774.JPG

Beside it is advice (like, "don't do it"), and various points explaining that you are doing so at your own risk.
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That dial looks good (and everything else there too).

PG - Hm, I'm trying to remember. I might be wrong, it might just be just the yellow and black one, with a written warning saying Danger of Avalanches (or words to that effect).
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I seem to recall there is always a yellow and black flag there.
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Quote:
I seem to recall there is always a yellow and black flag there.

Except that that doesn't make sense - when the risk factor is elevated to 5 (which it obviously is on occasion) it has to be replaced by the appropriate warning. Likewise when the risk is low.
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PG wrote:
Quote:
I seem to recall there is always a yellow and black flag there.

Except that that doesn't make sense - when the risk factor is elevated to 5 (which it obviously is on occasion) it has to be replaced by the appropriate warning. Likewise when the risk is low.


It's also not true Very Happy It was yellow when you and I went past the the other week, it's a shame your photo is pointing the wrong way Very Happy
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It is certainly possible that I have just never skied there except when
the risk was 3/4. I dont think I have skied anywhere when it was 5...
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ise, Now you mention it, of course it was! Smile The problem is partly that not enough people are aware of the different flags and what they represent. Ok, there are only three of them, but unless you take the trouble to check out the system, or someone explains it to you, you can go for a long time in blissful ignorance...

Why is nothing written on them? Well, obviously in Europe you'd need it in a large number of languages, so it would be impractical. The current warning system is simple and it makes sense... and the fact remains, as I quoted from FIS earlier, that...

Quote:
...users are obliged to fully inform themselves locally and regionally about current weather conditions and more specifically, avalanche risk, off-piste skiing is carried out under the sole responsibility of practitioners, their guides and trainers.

With the proviso that more should be done to educate and inform of course.
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PG wrote:
ise, Now you mention it, of course it was! Smile The problem is partly that not enough people are aware of the different flags and what they represent. Ok, there are only three of them, but unless you take the trouble to check out the system, or someone explains it to you, you can go for a long time in blissful ignorance...

Why is nothing written on them? Well, obviously in Europe you'd need it in a large number of languages, so it would be impractical. The current warning system is simple and it makes sense... and the fact remains, as I quoted from FIS earlier, that...

Quote:
...users are obliged to fully inform themselves locally and regionally about current weather conditions and more specifically, avalanche risk, off-piste skiing is carried out under the sole responsibility of practitioners, their guides and trainers.

With the proviso that more should be done to educate and inform of course.


At least the grades are universal now though, the Swiss at least used to have a 7 level scale IIRC.
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Mark, If the risk factor changes/increases and the resort authorities don't put the appropriate warning in place then they would be liable for any accidents that resulted from such carelessness.... so I reckon you must just have been there in similar conditions each time.
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I don't think I've been there when the level was 5 (I doubt if the lift even opens then). But I've certainly skied there when the general level was 2 and the warning and flags were as described.
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PG, Well at least I knew there was a scale and that there were different
flags. I must confess I tend to assume 3 means "pay attention but give it a
go" and 4 means "follow a canary (but not too closely obviously)". So I guess I
have three personal levels 1-3, 4 and shouldnt I be in a bar somewhere?
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Mark Lehto wrote:
PG, Well at least I knew there was a scale and that there were different
flags. I must confess I tend to assume 3 means "pay attention but give it a
go" and 4 means "follow a canary (but not too closely obviously)". So I guess I
have three personal levels 1-3, 4 and shouldnt I be in a bar somewhere?


I have no way of telling what slopes you're on or what knowledge you posess about avalanche risk. What you say reflects a common belief though and is worthy of comment.

Would it surprise you to know that here in Switzerland the figures show that 48% of all fatalities in avalanches occur at level 3? At level 4 it's around 15% and at level 5 it's 2%.
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I dont tend to get too far from the piste or what I would
regard as well travelled off piste (itineraries?).
Beginning to want to travel further (in the company of guides).

What percentage of time is the risk at 4 or 5? But no it wouldnt surprise me...
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
At 3 people think its fairly safe and so don't take enough care.
The time I was in an avalanche I think the level was was 2, or just possibly 3 (off-piste snow well settled to make a firm surface on a moderate slope and not hot). I'd like to know how many there are when the level is 2.
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Again with the qualification that these are the Swiss figures, the full set looks like :

level 1 - 33% of time, 7% fatalities
level 2 - 36% of time, 26% fatalities
level 3 - 24% of time, 48% fatalities
level 4 - 5% of time, 13% fatalities
level 5 - 2% of time, 6% fatalities

3 is not a safe level, after all it's termed :

Level 3: Considerable hazard
The snowpack is only moderately or poorly bonded on many steep slopes. Above all, on the steep slopes having the exposure conditions and altitude indicated, even a small additional stress, for instance caused by a single skier, could trigger an avalanche.

I just can't read 3 as "means pay attention but give it a go", it reads as local knowledge required and general awareness of hazards.
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snowball, French avalanche stats 1993-1998 give the following figures....

15% of accidents occur at risk 1 level
39% risk 2
34% risk 3
10% risk 4
2% at risk 5

Swiss data (1986 to 1995) also mentions that out of 100 buried avalanche victims, when found by friends 66% were saved whereas only 23% survive when organised rescue services are involved. All the more reason to go off-piste accompanied by others, and properly equipped...
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ise, those figures suggest to me that many people use snowball's rules of thumb.
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Ian Hopkinson wrote:
ise, those figures suggest to me that many people use snowball's rules of thumb.


That's exactly what how I read them as well. What's not possible is to get good figures for how many ski off-piste at different warning levels so some context is missing of course.
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In fact, I'd say all context is missing. Whilst one could say that low risk = more people skiing off piste more safely, the point at which the correlation between the increased risk and the decrease in off pist activity is difficult to pinpoint. Not all off piste sking may be in noticeably greater avalanche risk areas - ie, the off piste adjacent to the piste, so again, this clouds the picture. As such, IMHO, the figures could be quite misleading.
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Um, wasn't my rule of thumb, it was Marks. As someone who skis off-piste 80 or 90 percent of the time I think I'm fairly knowledgeable about snowcraft, though I know my limits and ski with guides most of the time (and play safe with slope choices when not).
As I said in another thread I was with a guide when we were caught, but we were several miles from any piste. (I'm fairly sure the risk level was 2).
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My apologies, snowball
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Yea - that was my idiocy!
Though admittedly several miles from any piste is not where I
am to be found without a guide... (though whether I have enough knowledge
to play safe with slope choices is also open to question
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Although I have not ventured into the off piste it would have been my interpretation too.
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