Before I signed up to the Mountain Safety Course with BASI I had very little knowledge of pressure systems, dealing with avalanches or even the snow pack. The course was set over 5 days in Val D’Isere, we had over 30cm of fresh snow a day! On Tuesday the whole resort was on lock-in, the road from La Daille to Val D’Isere was closed due to bombing thus we couldn’t get to the guides to commence with the second day. Instead we spent the day burying transceivers and practicing our rescue searches. One criteria to pass is to receive a rucksack buried in the snow downhill and out of sight in under 4 minutes. Sounds stressful and I tell you it was! But with the right technique and practice it is fairly straight forward.
Each day of the course there was a 5/5 avalanche risk and bombing commenced throughout the week. On the third day we went touring up Mont Roupe. I had never even put skins on before so my flatmate and I went practicing on the beginner slope in La Daille beforehand! The skinning was incredible, a side to skiing that I had never experienced before. Miles of untouched snow lead the route in front, it’s so quiet and remote – you may only be a 30 minute trek from the piste and you feel so exposed to the extremity of the mountain. We took turns to take a bearing and lead the group to the next check point taking into consideration group management, weather changes, terrain traps, cornices and other skiers/boarders.
After skiing fresh powder from the peak back to the piste, the weather closed in so we head back down the mountain and built a snow pit down in Le Fornet to reveal the structure and the stability of the snow pack. The mechanical layering identify past weather patterns thus you can predetermine the probability of an avalanche occurring. It was quite amazing to see just how defined the layers formed and with a slight push, the whole top layer slid to our feet, representing a slab avalanche.
We battled against the weather, covering as much course content as possible given the conditions and lift closures. Whether that was studying the Val’DIsere – Tignes area map and reading bearings from given points or burying transceivers and skiing to the avalanche scene to probe our way through debris and finding the ‘victim’, all skills were useful to practice over and over again. On Friday I was given a pass! I am so pleased with the course, I feel much more safer skiing off piste now that I can read the danger signs and operating my transceiver. Even something as simple as safe movements off piste I.e. entering the slope at the top rather than the sides and travelling down the side of the slope first before venturing into the middle will reduce the risk of triggering an avalanche! Check out the Mountain Safety course for yourself on the BASI website. Stay safe out there!