Basic Avalanche Advice

Posted 4th September 2019

Basic Avalanche Advice

Basic Avalanche Advice

For most holiday skiers avalanches are something to be aware of but you don’t need to worry about too much.  All ski resorts invest a lot of time and money in making sure their pistes are safe and secure for people using them.  The pistes themselves are groomed and compressed by piste bashers so will not avalanche and there are many safety measures used to ensure the surrounding slopes are avalanche controlled, such as barriers and avalanche cannons.  If there is a risk of an avalanche crossing a piste, the piste will generally be closed and the ski lift accessing that area will also be temporally closed until the area is safe.

It is incredibly rare for piste skiing, holiday skiers to be involved in an avalanche so please do not worry.  The pisterurs are well trained and experienced to ensure the ski area is safe.   If, however you are an advanced skier and starting to ski off-piste away from the controlled areas then you should take avalanche safety seriously.  In this article, you will find some basic information about avalanches, but we highly recommend getting some professional training to improve your knowledge and awareness.


What causes avalanches

An avalanche is a mass of snow that moves rapidly down the side of a mountain.  An avalanche occurs when the weight of snow is more than the bond strength of one layer of snow bonding to a lower layer of snow.  There are 4 factors that combine to create an avalanche; steep slope, snow cover, a weak layer in the snow cover and a trigger.


Where do avalanches happen

Avalanches can trigger on any slope with the right conditions, but most avalanches occur off-piste, outside the areas controlled by the pisteurs.

90% of all avalanches begin on slopes of 30-45 degrees

98% occur on slopes of 25-50 degrees.

Most avalanches occur on slopes above the tree line that face away from the prevailing wind.

It is possible for avalanches to occur below the tree line such as in gullies and openings between the trees.


How to avoid avalanches











What to do if you are caught in an Avalanche

If you trigger the avalanche just beneath your feet,  try to side step up the hill away from the slide.


If you are caught at the top of the avalanche try to stay on your feet and ski to the side of the avalanche area or if possible grab something stable such as a tree or rock.


If you are caught in the middle of an avalanche try to kick off your skis and poles and swim with your arms and legs against the slide at a 40-degree angle to the side of the avalanche.

Try and stay above the snow.


When the avalanche comes to a stop, so will you.  Try to stay upright, try to get a body part above the snow so you are easier to find, and if your head is buried try to create an air-pocket in front of your mouth.



Avalanche safety gear

If you are skiing off-piste it is essential to have the correct avalanche safety equipment.

However, there is no point having the equipment if you do not know how to use it, so please make sure you get the correct training.



This is a brief introduction to avalanche awareness and is not intended as training.

Off-piste skiing is the ultimate mountain experience and is very safe if you treat the mountain with respect and act accordingly.

At Nine & Tenne we are happy to book the best off-piste instructors and mountain guides for our guests, to ensure their safety and enjoyment.  Please contact us for more details.

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