Avalanches: 5 Survival Tips You Should Know About

Xavier-de-le-Rue-Avalanche
A few seasons back Xavier de le Rue got caught up in this mother of all avalanches. Read how he survived it here. Photo: Christopher Sjostrom

So us Europeans have been pretty lucky the last few winters (let’s just forget 2010/11); epic snowfall gave us almost guaranteed rooster tails, face shots and ear to ear grins on almost any trip, but best of all fairly good snowpack kept us relatively safe. Just like city bankers leading up to 2008, it’s the bubble we never wanted to burst.

Not so this year. Poor early season coverage and steadily warm temperatures essentially mean that, without going into too much scientific nerd-ery, the snowpack is fucked. The conditions in the European Alps right now are very similar to those found at the start of the ‘05/06 season, one that saw one of the worst avalanche seasons recorded and caused 57 deaths in France alone.

Conditions in the Alps right now are very similar to those in the ’05/06 season, one of the worst recorded, with 57  avalanche deaths in France alone.

Since then there has been an explosion in the micro-industry of equipment for backcountry skiers and snowboarders and vastly increased numbers of people going off-piste to search out the white-stuff. Sadly there has already been several avalanche related deaths, including many last week, and the toll is only going to grow higher.

So to help you this winter, and in future winters, here is some backcountry and avalanche information for you to take in before your season or holiday this year. It’s scary stuff but well worth taking in, it could just save your life.

As a disclaimer, I would in no way call myself an off-piste or avalanche expert. This is a collection of essential information I have collected over my years in the snow, but it is in no way complete or a substitute for proper avalanche training. If you’re really serious about going off-piste this year you should invest in a professional course, alongside some reading material (I’d recommend ‘Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain’ by Bruce Tremper) and regular practice with your gear.

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