Before you head off piste, as well as getting kitted out, you need to consider some other factors:
If you're going off piste, bear in mind you are going into uncontrolled areas of the mountain, so it's crucial to do your research before heading off the beaten track.
Developments in technology, especially powder skis, has made off piste and skiing more accessible to the masses than ever before. However, skiing away from the controlled slopes brings with it specific dangers that need to be acknowledged and minimised through having sufficient knowledge and making smart decisions.
You need to have have the right equipment, do your research regarding avalanche risk is and gather knowledge on the area so you can identify potentially risky areas. When you are off piste, you should not only consider avalanche risk, but also bear in mind rocks, trees, crevasses and other hazards. Preparation for heading off piste is vital, as is having a level of avalanche awareness.
Every day before you go off piste you should check the local International Scale of Avalanche Hazard Rating. This 1-5 scale (5 being the greatest risk) will help you assess the potential dangers of riding off piste from one day to the next. Just because it was safe yesterday does not mean it will be today! Even on a lower hazard rating, risk of avalanche can exist.
European Scale of Avalanche Risk
Grade of risk:
|Stability of snow pack:||
Probability of release:
|The snowpack is well bonded and stable in general.
||Triggering is generally possible only from high additional loads** in isolated areas of very steep, extreme terrain. Only sluffs and small-sized natural avalanches are possible||Yellow|
|The snowpack is only moderately well bonded on some steep slopes *, otherwise well bonded in general.||Triggering is possible primarily from high additional loads **, particularly on the indicated steep slopes. Large-sized natural avalanches are unlikely.||Yellow|
|The snowpack is moderately to poorly bonded on many steep slopes *.||Triggering is possible, even from low additional loads ** particularly on the indicated steep slopes. In some cases medium-sized, in isolated cases large-sized natural avalanches are possible.||Checked Black and Yellow|
|4. High||The snowpack is poorly bonded on most steep slopes*||Triggering is likely even from low additional loads ** on many steep slopes. In some cases, numerous medium-sized and often large-sized natural avalanches can be expected.||Checked Black and Yellow|
|5. Very High||The snowpack is poorly bonded and largely unstable in general.||Numerous large-sized and often very large-sized natural avalanches can be expected, even in moderately steep terrain.||Black|
* The avalanche prone terrain is generally explained in greater detail in Avalanche Bulletin (e.g. altitude zone, aspect, type of terrain)
** Additional load
- large: e.g. a group of skiers, snowmobile, avalanche control blasting.
- moderate: e.g. jumping skiers, pedestrian.
- low: e.g. single skier.
There are national organisations in most countries who supply a daily avalanche forecast. These are a great resource both for checking current conditions and avalanche warning levels, but also a good place to gather historical information.
The SLF (Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research) website, www.avalanche.org, is one of the best resources for finding out more about avalanche awareness as well as avalanche bulletins (current and historical) and avalanche statistics. They have a lot of information in English.
Every autumn the Ski Club runs a series of avalanche awareness sessions throughout the UK with HAT - Henry's Avalanche Talks - which is a fantastic way to refresh your knowledge or to find out more about the dangers of riding off piste and how to effectively manage the risks.