There has been an update to the Ski Club Off Piste Policy for this season.
From the start of this season it is now compulsory for those booking off piste sessions with the Ski Club of Great Britain Leader service or Instructor-led Guiding to bring an avalanche shovel (metal, not plastic) and an avalanche probe.
This is in addition to bringing an avalanche transceiver (transceivers can be rented from the Ski Club here).
These terms also apply to Freshtracks off piste & touring holidays.
Trasceivers, Shovels and probes can be requested during the booking process for ILG.
Freshtracks Holidays and Leader sessions also have a small stock of transceivers but do not have shovels or probes available.
Those booking on off piste sessions should be knowledgeable in the use of their avalanche rescue equipment.
Here are the full terms of booking for the Leader service:
CONDITIONS OF SKIING/BOARDING WITH A SKI CLUB LEADER
Your participation in skiing/boarding led by a volunteer from the Ski Club is conditional upon your prior agreement to the following:
1. You appreciate that the Ski Club Leader is a volunteer with no formal qualifications as an instructor or mountain guide.
2. You also appreciate that the Ski Club Leader undertakes no obligations to you concerning your safety for which you remain solely responsible.
3. You must ensure that equipment is in good working order before setting off for the day and that you are suitably clothed for the proposed itinerary and all possible weather conditions. You must decide whether or not a particular run or route is within your competence.
4. You must ensure that you are properly equipped for that day. If you are skiing off piste you must have a shovel, probe and transceiver, and know how to use them in the event of an avalanche. If you are using a Ski Club transceiver, it is your sole responsibility to know how to use it.
5. This agreement is regulated by the law of England and Wales.
Your agreement to these conditions is confirmed by your signature.
It is important that you appreciate that, without this agreement, the Ski Club would not be able to continue to offer this leading service to full-time members and temporary members alike.
The purpose of this service, for which no charge is made, is to enhance your enjoyment of the resort.
Message to Ski Club members from Bruce Goodlad - Ski Club Alpine Safety Advisor
Dear Ski Club Members
By way of introduction I am Bruce Goodlad, the Alpine Safety Advisor for the Ski Club, I took over from Nigel Shepherd last winter. Part of my role has been to look at the club’s policy and procedures with regard to safety, if it all went wrong, I could be asked to defend the club’s policy in court.
One of the first things that struck me is that the club does a great job of providing transceivers to members who ski with a leader or on a Fresh Tracks holiday and we also have a hire service where members have access to transceivers for their own skiing. However, a transceiver is only one part of a trinity of safety equipment which includes a shovel and a probe. Until now the club has not made it mandatory for members skiing with a Leader, guide or ski instructor.
Having reviewed the safety policy of the club, I recommended to Council that we change this for the coming winter. They concurred that we should change the policy so for winter 2018-19, all members who wish to ski with the club must have a shovel and probe. The club will continue to provide transceivers, but it will be the members’ responsibility to provide the shovel and probe either by purchasing them or hiring them.
The reasons I recommended this change are as follows:
As a skier, I expect a level of shared responsibility within the group I ski with, and to have members of the party not carrying essential safety equipment seems morally unacceptable. Imagine the situation where a leader is buried, the group can locate them with their transceivers, however they can’t dig them out. The ski patrol takes 20 minutes to arrive at the scene after which time the leader is dug out dead. It takes more than one person with a shovel and probe to locate and effectively dig someone out.
Imagine another scenario where a non-ski club party is avalanched we are asked to help but only the leader has a shovel and probe. We cannot accept a situation where we could have rescued someone alive if we had carried a shovel and probe. If everyone carries a shovel and probe, then we have 6 times the digging power. While these scenarios may seem far-fetched to some, a guide was dug out by his Ski Club group when he triggered an avalanche last December and members of the leader’s course were involved in an avalanche rescue in Tignes a couple of years ago which didn’t end so well.
The industry standard practice is to ski off piste with a transceiver shovel and probe, it is in fact the Law in the Val d’Aosta with heavy on the spot fines for those not complying. The Ski Club needs to position itself as exponents of best practice in all aspects of the snow sports industry and embrace the mountain safety message. The skiing community would view us in a dim light if they knew we condoned off piste skiing while being inappropriately equipped.
When you join the club you acknowledge that you ski entirely at your own risk when skiing on any club activity unless a snow sports professional is with you - guide or ski instructor (not a leader). However, there is a real risk that if a member of the club died as a result of us condoning off piste skiing while inappropriately equipped, we could be in a very difficult position. A position I would not be able to defend.
How we define off piste skiing is a challenge as I am very aware that most people get their first taste of off piste skiing by wiggling down the side of the piste and cutting between pistes with very little exposure to avalanche hazard. The only realistic definition is to look at the ski patrol’s responsibilities. In Europe, they perform avalanche control to protect the pistes, they have no responsibility for you if you are outside the piste markers and hence if you were caught in an avalanche it would be your own responsibility.
The club considers Off Piste to include all skiing activities conducted outside of the marked pisted area. The club considers itineraries when open to be off piste.
Considerations when buying shovel and probe.
Shovels should have a metal blade as plastic blades bend and are not effective at digging in avalanche debris. Probes should be a minimum length of 240cm, this has been found to give the best compromise between length, weight and bulk. Models with a wire core and a self-locking mechanism are best.
Having the correct kit is the first step to accepting collective responsibility for each other’s safety in the mountains, to be effective in any rescue situation you need to know how to use the kit. We have started to disseminate rescue info through a recent article in Ski+Board magazine. The club is putting together a number of avalanche safety and rescue videos to support this strategy.
We are very aware that while our leaders have years of skiing and leading experience, they are not mountain professionals and we cannot expect them to deliver rescue training. They are being encouraged to adapt their weekly program and have an introduction to off piste day in addition to any usually off piste day. When available, the leaders are encouraged to organise a visit to a transceiver training park to facilitate practice.
These are the first steps in developing a wider mountain safety campaign and we will be looking at ways of increasing access to the latest training opportunities.