With 25 deaths in avalanches so far this season Arnaud Trinquier, director of the Tignes ski pistes give some advice about off piste safety.
"The snowpack is a bit complicated at this point in the season. There wasn't much snow at the start and now a lot of fresh snow has fallen on fragile layers of depth hoar and facets layered with ice crust. Honestly it is not the ideal situation for stability. The risk of a skier triggering a slide is serious and justifies the level 3 posted by Météo France today. However it is not the risk 3 today or the risk 4 last weekend that stops people leaving the secured ski area to ski off piste."
"Spatial variability means that even the most expert have difficulty judging the risk which are are faced at the moment. So should we restrict ourselves to open ski runs? Well that would no doubt be prudent but if you don't follow common sense here are some rules"
Read the avalanche bulletin, it will often show the most dangerous slopes, avoid them!
Never go off piste alone (British surfer still missing at Meribel, death of season worker at Val Thorens), if you do decide to go it alone at least leave your route with someone you trust with a return time so they can alert the rescue services if you don't show up.
If you go off piste make sure you have a shovel, avalanche beacon and probe and train how to use them. Check your gear, a beacon is no use if it is not switched on or not working. An airbag can help in certain cases and even a RECCO reflector can also be very helpful to the rescue services.
Don't follow tracks if you don't know where they go. Tracks are not an indicator of stability
When you are off piste watch out for obvious clues: zones where snow has accumulated, zones stripped of snow by the wind, slopes above 30° on your route, sounds of the snowpack collapsing (whomphs). The slightest doubt should be a signal to turn around and rejoin the secured area.
If you have a concerns about part of your route or the slope steepens, spread out, cross the zone "one by one" and keep an eye on your buddies. That way, if there is a slide only one person will be taken and you will be able to find him quickly and help, assuming you have a beacon that is. Time is of the essence in avalanche rescue. After 15 minutes the chances of dying increase very rapidly.
If the visibility is not good of the wind is strong, stay on the ski runs. A search and rescue operation will be very complicated if you get into difficulties and a helicopter evacuation will be extremely complicated. Don't force people who come to your aid to risk their own lives.
If you have doubts, ask a ski guide or instructor but even skiing with them the rules remain the same, they won't protect you from an avalanche as they will no doubt tell you themselves.