The avalanche report is a vital part of the snow forecast, providing information regarding the current level of avalanche risk in the area. Whilst off piste skiing is never completely safe being aware of the avalanche warning level as well as knowing what to look for, what equipment to take with you and how to use it can help minimise the risk.
The Daily Avalanche Report
An avalanche report is compiled daily covering the local area. These are posted online and the information is also displayed at lift stations. The scale is simple to use and, as it is based on numbers, it is easy for anyone to read. The scale runs from one (mostly safe) to five (severe danger). There is no zero on this scale as off piste can never be considered to be completely safe.
Off Piste Dangers
There are certain conditions that can increase the avalanche risk. Knowledge of these can help avoid more dangerous areas. Most avalanches occur during, or immediately after, a snow storm. Most avalanches occur on slopes between thirty and forty five degrees, so staying on less steep slopes when the risk is high is advisable (or, better yet, staying on piste). Wind decreases stability and increases risk. The wind can also lead to cornices, over hanging lips of snow, forming, that can be skied onto accidentally before breaking away. Natural geographical features such as ravines, gullies and cliffs can also increase the danger.
Safety In numbers
It is never a good idea to head off piste alone. Having others with you means that, if the worst happens and one of the group gets buried, there are people to search for them and people to go for help. The essential kit to have with you to search for anyone who gets buried is - a transceiver, a probe and a shovel. Practicing with them beforehand means that you will know what to do if your are placed in a high pressure environment with one of the group buried.
What To Do In An Avalanche
If you do find yourself caught in an avalanche there are a few things that can help. Trying to grab hold of a rock or a tree if at all possible can help stop getting buried. Swimming in the snow also helps - snow is, after all, frozen water. Holding your arms in front of your face can help form an airpocket to give you more air to breathe if buried. If someone in your group is buried contact emergency services then begin searching with your transceiver and probe.