5 hot avalanche safety tips to stay avalanche free and still enjoy off piste skiing
A guest blog from Kiera Leeming an off-piste ski specialist, i-Ski in Val d'Isere
So, spring is most definitely here and we've enjoyed some pretty warm weather here in Val d'Isere over the last few weeks. Positively hot, in fact, at times. However, spring is a fickle mistress and up in the mountains you can rarely rely on good weather lasting for too long, so you do need to check the weather forecast very carefully before venturing off piste. Snow conditions at this time of year can vary enormously from powder to spring snow and everything in between including breakable crust (nightmare!) soufflé doux (nice soft snow but not powder), soufflé dur (hard, chalky-textured snow with a good grip) to just plain, unskiable rubbish!
It's traditionally the time of year where the hard-bitten off-piste skiers start getting out their skins to go ski-touring in order to find some nice snow to ski, be it spring or powder. Apart from anything else, on a nice day, it's a great way to be out in the mountains away from the madding crowds. Skinning itself is not a technically difficult activity, but you do need to be reasonably fit if you want to enjoy it – after all, you are walking up hill at altitude with your skis and boots on, plus a backpack, so it's not quite a Sunday stroll in the park! However, you do get out to places that you're unlikely (or less likely) to get to in the depths of winter where you can happily ski off piste in great snow by gravity every day of the week. Well, hopefully, anyway!
Spring snow itself can also be pretty challenging to find as it depends on so many factors – firstly you need to have had a decent period of good, warm, sunny weather for the snow to start to transform – and after that, it's all a question of timing! Too early, and it's still frozen solid, too late and you break through, so you really have to time your runs very carefully. And on a nasty dull day, or if the wind remains brisk, you may not get any spring at all if the top layer stays frozen. What's more, if skiers ski spring slopes too late in the day and leave huge ruts in the snow, it's then pretty much unskiable after that, whatever the weather conditions, so skiing real spring conditions is a very delicate business! It's also quite dangerous if you arrive too late on steep slopes as the whole side of the mountain can start to slide as the snow begins to melt – not good!
So, top avalanche safety tips for staying safe off piste include:
1. Firstly, if you can, go with a guide. They'll know the best and safest spots and the right time to be skiing them.
2. Generally speaking, if you're looking to ski spring snow, south and east-facing slopes will be the first to “cook” so do those first. You can save the north-facing slopes for later, and you'll usually find cold snow to ski there.
3. When skiing spring snow, be as light and smooth on your skis as possible – avoid putting your skis on their edges as you increase the risk of breaking through and it's more difficult to control your speed.
4. On steep slopes, you really have to make that you ski under control and not too fast – spring snow is like skiing on a bed of ball bearings, which is a wonderful feeling, but if you fall you'll probably head all the way to the bottom! So take it easy and savour your skiing!
5. Finally, you should never venture off piste in any conditions unless you are equipped with an avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe. An airbag is optional, but it's certainly true that they can save lives – not always, but sometimes.
Finally, enjoy your skiing and what the mountain has to offer – have fun and stay safe!
I-Ski is a small, close-knit team of Val d'Isere's most experienced and dedicated mountain guides and instructors, united by their shared passion of the mountains and the importance of creating unforgettable shared experiences where friendships flourish. Specialising in off piste skiing, i-Ski also caters for all the usual ski school activities.
# End of Season Offers #
Enjoy the spring snow and take advantage of our last minute incredible luxury ski chalet deals:
13th - 20th April, Chalet Lafitenia, £1,250pp (£1,110 saving pp)
Contact Le Chardon's concierge team on +44 (0) 131 209 7969 or email info@https://www.lechardonvaldisere.com for enquiries.