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The following are the definition of some terms related to the French mountains and avalanches.

Mountain Itinerary: Any off-piste area that a skier reaches by climbing, either on foot or with skins. Skiers are entirely at their own risk in these areas.

Ski Domain: Any part of the ski resort that can be reached by gravity from the top of the ski lifts.

Off Piste: The off piste area is any part of the mountain that can be reached by gravity alone that is not an open ski piste. In principal if you draw along the contour in either direction from the top of the ski lifts this marks the off piste area of a resort. The ski resort has no particular responsibility for marking hazards or controlling avalanches in this area. However the resort must assume that skiers will venture into this zone and that they may have no specialist knowledge of mountains. The resort therefore has a responsibility to clearly indicate the avalanche risk using a flag system and to inform skiers with notice boards at times of high risk. The ski patrol may also open or close gates to give access to the off-piste area.

In some areas local laws are used to ban skiers from access to the off-piste area when the avalanche risk is high. Skiers ignoring these bans or causing avalanches onto the pisted areas are liable to prosecution.

 (note: this is not a precise legal definition but one that has been established through jurisprudence)
off piste warning sign

Off Piste Warning Sign

On Piste: On Piste are the runs marked by piste markers. These are usually posts carrying the colour coding of the piste (green, blue, red, black) and a countdown marker. The posts are usually either side of the piste but can sometimes run down the middle. The ski resort has a special responsibility to ensure safety in this area. This means that hazards must be clearly marked and if necessary secured by fencing or nets and any avalanche threat must be controlled or the piste closed. There should also be a piste patrol.

French Avalanche Terminology

(useful for interpretting the Avalanche Bulletin

Sucre en poudre: Sugar snow or loud powder.

Givre de profondeur: Depth Hoar

Givre de surface: Surface Hoar

Congères: Snow Pillows

Plaque friable: Soft Slab

Plaque a vent: Wind slab, a cohesive mass of snow that is poorly anchored to the base formed by snow crystals deposited by wind. Usually found on the less side of slopes and ridgelines but may occur on other slopes depending on wind strength.

Frittage: Syntering


Une fine pellicule de neige: a light dusting of snow

Croûté par le regel: Freeze/thaw or sun crust

Foehn: Warm wind, usually from the South. Usually brings clear warm weather to the Northern Alps and possibly rain or snow to the Maritime Alps

Lombarde: Wind from the East (Iombardy). Brings snow to the Italian alps and French border ridges.

Mistral (brafougnedial): Wind that blows down the Rhone valley

Neige roulée:

Consolidée par regel:

Gobelet: Depth Hoar, cup shaped crystals

Face Planes:

GMSP: Group Montagne de Sapeurs Pompiers (Special units of the firebrigade)

GRIMP: Special Units of the fire brigade. Groupe de recherches et d'interventions en milieux périlleux

PGHM: Peloton de Gendarmerie de Haute-Montagne. Special units of the Gendarmerie under the control of the Préfet. They are generally qualified as mountain guides.

CRS des Alpes: Compagnie Républicaine de Sécurité. Part of the National Police Force. They provide a search and rescue service in rotation with units of the PGHM. The CRS des Alpes was set-up in Grenoble during the winter of 1947/48. In 1954 national training centers were created in Chamonix and then Val d'Isère.

Sécurité Civile: Provide permanent helicopters and crew for urgent rescue missions and for transporting equipment and specialist rescue workers.

CNISAG: Centre national d'instruction de ski et d'alpinisme de la gendarmerie

ENSA: l'Ecole nationale de ski et d'alpinisme

ARVA: Appareil de Recherche de Victimes en Avalanche. French term for avalanche transceiver.

DVA: ddétecteurs de victimes d'avalanche - French Swiss term of avalanche transceiver

LVS: Lawinen-Verschütteten-Suchgerät, Swiss German term for avalanche transceiver. Also called a Barryvox after a popular brand.

External Links

The Avalanche Center have an extensive Avlanche Glossary in English.

Categories: Snow Safety