At the end of the Free Radicals Avalanche movie a guy describes how he and his buddies get caught by a slide in a narrow gulley. When the avalanche stops the enormity of the situation hits them, two of their friends are buried and their lives depends on the actions they take over the next few minutes.
They manage to pull one of their friends out alive but the other probably suffocated within minutes of being buried. They return to their apartment pack up his gear. Whether or not better training would have saved his life cannot be known. A third of avalanche victims are killed during the slide by injuries received hitting rocks, trees and from the weight of the snow. However knowing how to use an avalanche beacon and organize a search can more than double your chances of survival. According to a report from the French Snow and Avalanche Research Association (ANENA) only 17% of avalanche victims not wearing beacons were recovered alive last season, compared to 42% for who were wearing them.
As the guy on the Free Radical’s movie said, using your beacon around the carpark is very different from trying to find a close friend buried under a meter of snow where every second counts.
A number of resorts and groups have understood this problem and are organizing regular or weekend training sessions during the 2004-2005 winter ski season. Not surprisingly these are focused on the main French freeride spots.
Snowlegend is once again running its Snow & Security weekend in conjunction with the ANENA over the 15th/16th January at La Grave.
The goal of the course is to make freeriders more aware and responsible in the face of the risks posed by avalanches. The weekend gives a basic knowledge of snow and snowpack transformation, the influences of the topography and the effects that the snow layers have on the stability of the snow, estimation of avalanches risks, particular precautions to take on the terrain and the use of avalanche beacons. The course features exercises and practical information.
La Grave also have a permanent self-service training center. Ask the Piste Patrol for details.
Free Respect are weekly sessions held during the season at Les Deux Alpes between 3rd January and 18th of April 2005. The events are open to everyone and free. On Mondays the meeting point is the Maison de la Montage at 8:30pm. There is a film presentation and a chance to check out the latest safety gear. You can also sign-up for the morning freeride sessions and chat with pro-riders.
On Tuesdays it is an early start, between 8-8.30 am at the Tourist Office (near the cable car station) where participants can compete to find an avalanche transceiver and win prizes. Afterwards there are freeride sessions accompanied by guides and pro-riders.
For more info call: 04 76 79 22 00 or see the web site.
The Piste Patrol at Tignes offer training in the use of avalanche transceivers and an appreciation of the snow pack and the risks posed off-piste. The courses are held every Sunday and Wednesday during the season between 10am and midday. The meeting point is the Grattalu piste patrol hut. A minimum of 5 people are required for each course. Private groups can also be accommodated. Telephone Service des Pistes / Tel: 04 79 06 32 00 for more information.
Henry’s Avalanche Talk has almost become an obligatory lap for aspiring freeriders visiting Val d’Isère. Henry Schniewind is an American Snow professional who works for the Alpine Experience guiding school.
The talks are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Dick’s Tea Bar in the town centre. The Thursday talk is more in-depth and features a guest speaker. There are also transceiver training sessions. See the website: for more information.
La Plagne is also running half day snow security courses focusing on the use of Avalanche Beacons. These are every Monday and Friday at different locations in the resort. Ask at the Tourist office or telephone the Piste Patrol on 04 79 09 67 26.
The 1968 Olympic resort have installed a permanent, automatic training center on the Infernet near the snow park. The center is self-service, you simply have to stop by the Piste Patrol hut at the Croix de Chamrousse. Tel: 04 76 59 09 20.
As part of their Winter Respect programme Val d’Allos in the Maritime Alps are organizing half-day avalanche training sessions with a member of the piste patrol.
Avalanche expert Alain Duclos is organizing a number of avalanche training weekends at Valfréjus in the Haute Maurienne this season. These are serious sessions for anyone requiring an in-depth knowledge of avalanche formation and avoidance. Trainees spend most of their time with skis on their feet in the vast off-piste area offered by the resort.
The weekend costs 250€ including lodging, food and lift pass.
Dates: 7-9, 14-16, 28-30 January; 11-13, 18-20 March