Sunday, 9 December 2018

Easy does it, Tigers. (A rant)

This one has been building up for some time (years) so it is probably time to finally put something down on 'paper'.

We are Sunday 9 December 2018, the season is very young (in fact not really begun) and yet already the avalanche reports are rolling in... Yesterday's lucky escape award goes to a lone off piste skier in Val Thorens who triggered a slide and was buried - fortunately the incident was witnessed by other skiers and ski patrol did a great job of locating him (no beacon) and rescuing him (unconscious but still breathing at that point...).

On Friday 2 skiers had a close call, triggering a slab in the Vallon D'Arpy, and on Wednesday 2 skiers also had a lucky escape, having continued to ascend a slope despite numerous 'whoomfs' and a remotely triggered slab. I have also had anecdotal reports of skier-triggered slabs in the Tignes area, and if you go back through the database of Data Avalanche there are plenty more reports of skier-triggered activity.

All of which brings me to a point - no-one has any patience any more.

Now I am no angel, and I have had my share of close calls over the years, fortunately few and far between, but it seems to me more and more that the current modus operandi of the wider skiing populace of "it is white so we will ski" is just adding fuel to the simmering fire of early season conditions. The last 2 weeks there have been constantly variable conditions with precipitation, wind and a fluctuating 0ยบ isotherm all on a very thin (if existing at all) base/snowpack. Heading into avalanche terrain at the moment definitely requires all senses to be on full alert, and maximum respect given to the mountain - despite the thin snowpack and a relatively small slide - 50m x 50m - the Val Thorens skier was buried and only the luck of a probe search found him - deposits were up to 2m deep.

But the ever-increasing hordes appear to skin on without a care, and maybe some of the problem lies with web-isation of ski touring and the massively increased numbers of people partaking these days - I could not believe the number of tourers on the hill 2 weeks ago when I went for a little nosy above Courchevel - conditions were utterly desperate - 2 piste-bashers width thinning to 1 piste basher-width of skiable snow, and yet I was passed by at least 40 people during the hour or so I was skinning. (And yes I was one of those up there so you can call me a hypocrit if you like, but 10 years ago I can remember heading up in good conditions on a powder day with a good base down and seeing maximum 10 other people on the mountain)

And never mind the avalanche conditions, skiing/touring off piste in the pre-season (particularly a really thin one like this year) brings with it a very high risk of 'doing a Schumacher' - even if it not to that extent I can roll off a long list of friends who have ended their season (and nearly ended themselves) in Decembers gone by - a shattered shoulder and pneumo-thorax - 2 (separate incident) broken femurs - a tib-fib, and the list goes on. A report from today on made light of the fact that both skiers did several head-over-heels on the way down, skiing in poor visibility - well that to me is just asking for trouble at this time of year - as my mate Stew will testify, doing a head-over-heels and finding that the head part coincides with a rock is not conducive to good health. Another friend, for whom I have the utmost respect as a skier and a guide, tore out the side of his ski a couple of days back on a high speed 'training lap' on the Hellbronner - there is a fine line between that and a season-ending injury...

Maybe I am just turning into a grumpy old geezer (my wife would certainly not argue that one), or maybe, just maybe, I have seen, heard and read enough over 25 years in the industry to know that early season conditions need a lot of care and maybe. just maybe we all need to get a little bit of patience back into our lives. I am not saying 'do not go touring or off piste skiing early in the season', but it seems to me if skiers are going to ignore woomfs & remotely triggered slides and skin merrily upwards, or go charging hard in shallow snowpacks, that the dice are loaded, and not in favour of the skier.

Rant over - have a good season everyone! (But maybe wait until there is a base down!)

1 comment:

  1. Well said Simon. Cat 4/5 so a good week to play on the pistes.