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Breaking news on BBC , avalanche Tignes

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
When I hear the words 'avalanche deaths' I almost expect them to be followed by 'in Tignes/Val d'Isere. There's so much lift-accessible off-piste, and so many [mostly young] ill-prepared, ill-informed and ill-equipped skiers and boarders attracted to EK. At least these poor souls had avi-gear and had hired an instructor, but why oh why did he take them down that slope? I stared at that 10:30am web cam picture and thought about the family who were about to lose them. Its so sad.

From memory, much of the popular EK off-piste terminates in steep sided gorges that simply fill with snow after an avalanche. Some of the victims are buried so deep they don't appear until the summer thaw. I hated some of the run-outs where you'd be watching skiers coming down the sides of the mountain, and have no means of exit if they caused an avalanche. I know a lot of people love the place, but it's not in my favourite list of resorts to visit again.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Completely agree with stewart woodward.
As galpinos wrote:
The one time I've got involved I had to tell two skiers who came to help to sod off as they were unable to get their transceivers into search mode and were just faffing
The equipment is only of use if you know how to use it.
Many "guides" i've gone out with have checked we all have The Magic Three, but very few have checked we knew how to use it.
I'm always happy to spend an hour or so doing hunt the backpack - and when i do, i'm always reminded how rubbish i am on the first search. You get better with practice.
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
@Jonpim, I have to say there was a definite split between Europe and Canada. In Canada whether going touring or heli-skiing, I was asked to read and sign 1 or 2 pages of paperwork, and perform as a minimum a transceiver search. In Europe, admittedly with a Guide I know, preparation was 'Ready'.......

In Japan, the Australian Guides started the assessment as soon as they saw you on the first morning with your boots/skis/equipment. Were you there on time, fully kitted out, carrying skis 'properly', clearing boots of snow before clicking in etc. Being typical direct no BS Aussie's any issues were sorted out immediately and only once.
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I've done two training sessions with my beep and know that I would be no where near as good in the real thing. But I'd like to think I have a grounding of experience with it. My beep doesn't offer me any protection, but it might let me save my mates or other people. That's the code. We only go off piste if we can save others.

For my protection, I have an avibag. They offer slim protection and would have offered none in this case. I am fully aware of that, so is my missus.

The best protection is always to learn about the snowpack, which is what makes this event so unbelievable. You can count the days that this face is 'safe' per season on one hand (I doubt it is ever totally safe as it is so steep). All of my old photos of Tignes, going back over 10 years, all show avalanches on the Wall. It's not somewhere I have ever looked at and thought I would like to do.
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Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
PowderAdict wrote:
@Jonpim, I have to say there was a definite split between Europe and Canada. In Canada whether going touring or heli-skiing, I was asked to read and sign 1 or 2 pages of paperwork, and perform as a minimum a transceiver search. In Europe, admittedly with a Guide I know, preparation was 'Ready'.......

In Japan, the Australian Guides started the assessment as soon as they saw you on the first morning with your boots/skis/equipment. Were you there on time, fully kitted out, carrying skis 'properly', clearing boots of snow before clicking in etc. Being typical direct no BS Aussie's any issues were sorted out immediately and only once.


Its funny you should say that. I get a handful of days skiing per year, maybe like 6. I would love to do a full avalanche awareness course with exercises but I simply cannot afford to sacrifice those days skiing to do it. I would,however, do one at home if it was offered. Surely there's a way they could at least offer meaningful exercises in a non snow environment to practice a recovery? I mean I'd buy an avalanche kit but at the moment it'd be perfectly useless to others as I don't think without practice I could even attempt to recover someone. Is there not a market for this? Or is someone doing it already?
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@bar shaker, Why does your beep offer you no protection, but it might save your mates? That makes no sense. Surely in a less drastic avalanche they may well find you in time with a beep?
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
@8611, Not sure where you ski but check out the local ski school for free Arva/avalanche training.

We do free intro lessons on a Tuesday evening, between ski time & bar time, or ask the pisterers who also do free intro's.
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
@8611,

Have you come across Henry's Avalanche talks and training ?

They do lectures in the U.K. on avalanches and mountain safety including training in the U.K. using beepers :

http://www.henrysavalanchetalk.com/uk-events/transceivertraining/

I attended one of them a long time ago in Wimbolden Common and it was very good even without the snow! The bracken and bushes/light forest presented a barrier to finding the "victim(s)" beeper. With the instructors and setup they were able to inject a certain amount of context and pressure to each exercise/search.
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Now, any training is probably better than no training, but i'm very sceptical of Avalanche Rescue Training in a UK park.
I've done it. Great fun, and you do learn how to turn your Transceiver to Search Mode and how it displays your progress.
You can do this yourself with a few friends.
But nothing in the UK at sea level on stable solid ground is like trudging round in snow (or avalanche debris) at altitude.
It is exhausting. You get disorientated. You get confused. And the clock is ticking.
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@geepee, the beep may find you or a friend in a less drastic avalanche. However I think the point is it should be treated like cpr in that if you are giving someone CPR they are dead and you may bring them back to life if it works.
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pieman666 wrote:
@geepee, the beep may find you or a friend in a less drastic avalanche. However I think the point is it should be treated like cpr in that if you are giving someone CPR they are dead and you may bring them back to life if it works.


this is rather misleading. Most avalanche victims die of suffocation due to their breath condensing and then freezing which blocks any more air getting to them. This is why a beep is so important as quick rescue is the key to survival. For most people caught in an avalanche, for the first 20 to 30 minutes they are very much alive. Avi lungs seems like a very good idea to me for off piste skiers.
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
Sorry I was trying to emphasise the fact that it is so much better to avoid the situation rather than ever think a beep will save me from a small avalanche so I will continue onto a slope.
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So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
@Jonpim, done avalanche victim detection practice both in Richmond Park (when the beep in a bag could be buried deep in the autumn leaves) and with guides in the Alps. Both were useful, both were a similar experience. As you suggest, I am sure that they did not accurately simulate a real experience - but even so I think that they would have helped kick-start me into action. I am very grateful that I never had to prove that.

I don't recall doing much training using a probe - which I guess would be a lot more realistic in snow. If I were still skiing off piste I wold think practice using a probe would be a good idea.
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
Terrible Rip the victims!

In some ways similar to the avalanche here last year, 3 killed after being carried into a terràin trap and being buried under several metres of snow. Although that was on a closed piste triggered from above. I witnessed the search and some friends were involved. The effort (all available pisteurs, instructors and volunteers) and organisation was tremendous but with the victims being buried so deeply even with 7m probes it just took too long to locate them although I think 3 others were recovered quicker and resucitated.

One friend a pisteur came into the bar at 10pm straight off thé mountain after searching for 6 hours. I've never seen anyone look as physically and emotionally drained. Another friend was a volunteer in the probe line and was there after several hours when the bodies were recovered. The next day at a memorial ceremony in thé main square he just broke down in floods of tears.

I'm sure the effort and after effects in Tignes are similar. Heavens knows what the family and friends of thé family are going through.
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
8611 wrote:
Its funny you should say that. I get a handful of days skiing per year, maybe like 6. I would love to do a full avalanche awareness course with exercises but I simply cannot afford to sacrifice those days skiing to do it. I would,however, do one at home if it was offered. Surely there's a way they could at least offer meaningful exercises in a non snow environment to practice a recovery? I mean I'd buy an avalanche kit but at the moment it'd be perfectly useless to others as I don't think without practice I could even attempt to recover someone. Is there not a market for this? Or is someone doing it already?

If you google 'avalanche training Scotland', you'll find that there are lots of safety and training sessions available 'at home'. I've attended several, but even one's enough to get you familiar with your kit, to give you some insight into effective searching, and to make you readier to deploy it in a crisis if required.

P.S. Digging a snow hole is not just good exercise, but it's a good exercise in cooperative excavation too.

http://rossofmoffat.com/albums/lowther-hills-ski-club/content/snowhole/
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
I'd say any kind of learning helps, whether it be books or online resources, the kind of stuff that Henry does, getting an intro to how transceivers work in your garden or local park, practising in resort avalanche parks, resort training sessions, to full blown off-piste safety courses. Plenty of opportunities to improve your knowledge, although none of this will give you an understanding of local snowpack conditions when you are in resort, or a knowledge of well known dangerous slopes or safer routes in an unfamiliar resort. For that you can improve your knowledge with avalanche reports, chatting to pisteurs and using the services of a local friend/instructor/guide. The more you learn about how to avoid getting caught in the first place and the immediate actions necessary if the worst happens, the safer you are likely to be off-piste (although there is no such thing as 100% safe).

One thing which I think can help is to spend a bit more time trying to read off-piste terrain and think about what the risks might be if you were on that slope. So things like how steep do you think the pitch is? Is there a steeper pitch above the slope you would ski? Is it convex or concave? Terrain trap at the bottom of the fall line (which is different to a terrain trap at the bottom of the route you would ski)? Face, gully or ridge? Cornice and signs of wind-loading? Avalanche debris or scars on nearby similar slopes? Are the slopes below protected by gasex or catex on the slope you might want to ski? Is there an obvious line which is clear of trees? Etc, etc. I don't think that many skiers give much thought to that kind of stuff before they routinely ski off-piste, so when they are in resort and there is some fresh snow there is the temptation to make fresh tracks by heading to terrain that they don't give much thought to. So reading about how terrain and weather affect snowpack stability, and then trying to apply that to theoretical route planning when you are in resort would seem to me to be a good use of time.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Downloaded Henry's avalanche talk on Vimeo. A very good watch.
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
For anyone coming here there is a free offpiste and avalanche awareness course every Tuesday. Book at the tourist office. Theory, followed by practise in thé DVA Park followed by skiing offpiste, digging snowholes, etc. Delivered by a guide and pisteur. Gear provided if you dont have your own. I do it most years.
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@8611, we've done beep practise after skiing in and around chalets/hotels etc. If your with kid they enjoy burying things for you to find as well. Can even be done with an apres beer!
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Claude B wrote:
For anyone coming here there is a free offpiste and avalanche awareness course every Tuesday. Book at the tourist office. Theory, followed by practise in thé DVA Park followed by skiing offpiste, digging snowholes, etc. Delivered by a guide and pisteur. Gear provided if you dont have your own. I do it most years.


Something to be promoted and shared by other resorts.

I guess there is always the danger that some knowledge can be dangerous which is why it's probably best to always go with a local guide. I can imagine myself at 21, having done an avalanche course and then thinking I'm an expert and start leading my friends here there and everywhere.
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There's an Arvapark at the top of the Bachas lift in Serre Chevalier (Monetier sector). I know there are often pisteurs available there but can't find information on times .
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Like I mentioned a few pages back, in the Off Piste section there's a very good thread with loads of thought provoking advice and best practice.

Sorry it's not a game, there's a lot more to it than searching with your kids with an apres beer or in a park.

If your kids were hit you might be able to sort of locate them, then what?

Like I said worth a read http://snowheads.com/ski-forum/viewtopic.php?t=130216
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
@Weathercam, I never said it's a game but any practise be it with your kids and a beer in the hotel garden is better than none IMHO. Not all of us live in the Alps and have the time you have in the snow.

Common sense would also mean you bury it deep and have to dig it out when your practising.
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@kitenski, trouble is a lot or people think if you've done a few practice searches or go on a "Henry's" that's all they need to know.

It's only when you broaden your knowledge do you realise how little you actually know.
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@Weathercam, yes agree the more I learn the less I know but starting somewhere is good IMHO
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Here is an article that explains a lot about the event and the rescue
http://www.planetski.eu/news/8786
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
Weathercam wrote:
@kitenski, trouble is a lot or people think if you've done a few practice searches or go on a "Henry's" that's all they need to know.

It's only when you broaden your knowledge do you realise how little you actually know.


This is true but you know more than most here and you still got caught. There was an incident where a prolific Canadian backcountry skier on TGR got caught in an incident a few years ago and he put it down to complacency, over familiarity with the terrain and a touch of group heuristics IIRC. The point is no one ever knows it all or even what "enough" is . Bruce Tremper could probably still get caught in a slide, his being an expert isn't a magic halo.

So I try not to judge people who do get caught, provided they at least demonstrate the basics of being prepared like having kit. I really really hope I am never involved in an incident of any kind but I am pragmatic enough to recognise that the greater the cumulative amount of time I spend in off piste terrain the more likely it becomes. Powder "competition" doesn't help - it only takes one crazy to open a face and then FOMO kicks in and lots of people risk making sub-optimal decisions.

I don't think anyone should lord it with their knowledge or experience over anyone else, the culture we aspire to should be free and open sharing and discussion of why we make the choices we do. It helps being prepared to be very conservative so I also don't judge those who prefer to stick to pistes on safety grounds, even though that isn't my choice. As a result I've found the necessity of getting "pure" fresh tracks has diminished over time.
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 So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
Best / most realistic / most worrying avi training we did was with an Alaskan guide in Japan. I've done a fair few "find the buried rucsac" and "team digging" training sessions, but the difference in Japan was that the guide took us to the side of a recently cleared car park and did the training in the frozen crud and death cookies where the machines had dumped all the cleared snow. Much more realistic that digging in fresh powder and quite sobering how bloody hard it is!
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
@Dave of the Marmottes, what a great post.

Sadly, I have realised that I left it far too late to start accumulating even the minimum of knowledge and technical skills, and now I have added lack of sufficient physical fitness (which I can't do anything about) to the mix. Therefore I am no longer going to venture off-piste. Never mind, there's still plenty to enjoy on safety-controlled terrain.
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Dave of the Marmottes wrote:
Powder "competition" doesn't help - it only takes one crazy to open a face and then FOMO kicks in and lots of people risk making sub-optimal decisions.


I have often thought that if the Loop Bar wasn't at the base of the Lavachet Wall, no one would ever attempt to ski it. That it is there and that the first 'tags' get seen by everyone at lunchtime and apres means people will be back on the Wall straight after the next snowfall.
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
@Dave of the Marmottes, as I think I posted in the other thread, I was pretty complacent when it happened, with an element of powder mist taking over affecting my judgment as I thought I was in safe terrain.

And many locals I've spoken to were equally stunned that it had "gone" there.

But the fatality involving an instructor close to here on Sat and Tignes and no doubt many more to come involving guides / instructors demonstrates that even the most experienced people can't judge the conditions 100% all the time.

I'm just back from cycling up to the Lautaret as it's such a cracking day, and had me thinking, will the dodgy layer still be there even after a few days of freeze melt?

I'll ask some people that should know tomorrow night and see what route(s) they're thinking of for the weekend.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
@Hurtle, I've decided that I am no longer prepared to take the risks, even though I always tried to be with sensible groups. Mind you, in my case, age has a lot to do with it.

That said, I had some fantastic days off piste - glad I have the memories.
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
I think Dave hits the nail on the head. It's often experienced people who get hit as experience is gained by being off piste a lot.
One thing that's always amazed me is just how different pistes can be over relatively short distance. You only have to meet a bit that's been in the sun or windswept and its completely different to what was 50 metres up the slope. This is on something that gets bashed every night and is fairly homogenous by morning. Off piste slopes must have greater variability with often weeks of changeable conditions without being touched. Predicting avalanches is big science, all over world, and we are a long long way off getting close to accurate.
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I've never forgotten seeing a film made by the real experts in avalanche science in Davos. Time and time again they emphasised how little they knew!
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
bar shaker wrote:

I have often thought that if the Loop Bar wasn't at the base of the Lavachet Wall, no one would ever attempt to ski it. That it is there and that the first 'tags' get seen by everyone at lunchtime and apres means people will be back on the Wall straight after the next snowfall.


The Loop bar has only been there since 2007. People have been skiing the wall for much longer.
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People don't give up completely, I know fitness can be an issue for some, but a gentle spring ski tour can be so rewarding, and is way safer than powder.

If your piste technique is at least intermediate then you'll have no issues at all skiing spring snow off piste, and the beauty is of climbing up on mellow gradients you don't want to take the steepest line to get back down, but again take it easy.

On the way up stop every now and again for drinks / food - then picnic at the top and then back down in time for lunch and taking in the sunshine on the terrace in the afternoon/

In fact spring skiing off piste could be deemed to be a lot better on the body that trying to learn to ski powder etc off piste.

I know this is way off topic, but if you are concerned at being off piste etc be it for safety or skiing technique then spring ski randonnée is something to think about.
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
I see this accident has brought up the topic of metal v plastic shovels again.

For a number of years I had been using a plastic Ortovox shovel, however probably after reading some of the discussions here, I decided to buy a new metal one a few years ago. So I turn up for my next off piste trip and as we prepared to do an avalanche practice drill on the first morning, what does the guide pull out of his backpack, but a red Ortovox shovel just like the one I had just replaced! I have seen other guides since using the same Ortovox plastic shovels.

I suppose there are other makers of plastic shovels, but it is the Ortovox ones that come to mind for me as they seem to be so widely sold. Are they really that bad? They still sell them saying that they are unbreakable.

My Ortovox shovel seemed to be pretty tough and I would have thought that if it could not penetrate hard packed snow where someone is buried, that the victim would probably have no chance anyway. Any thoughts?
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
@Weathercam, spring touring does sound lovely. Guess that, since I love hill walking, I'd enjoy a similar activity on skis. Confused
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@richjp, when I was skiing off-piste, I changed my Black Diamond metal-bladed shovel for an Ortovox polycarbonate bladed one. The theory was that every bit of weight saved helped me be less tired, so enhancing primary safety. I also felt that if the snow was so dense and compacted that it was impossible to use the Ortovox shovel, then even with a metal bladed one the victim would be dead before they were dug out.
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@richjp, it's not so much that plastic shovels break; it's more that they don't penetrate hard set avalanche debris anything like as well as a good metal shovel
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