For those happy to always play on the piste, safety is mostly about keeping an eye out for other skiers or riders. Knowing about weather and snow conditions is less than essential, something most are content to let their resort worry about when they decide which runs to close when it gets windy. But if your aim is touring in the backcountry, then things change. Even if you are being guided by a suitably experienced operator, you need to take responsibility, to be well informed on the weather and the conditions on the mountain you are to ski. That means understanding the risk factors that are the prelude to an avalanche, something that can be learnt on courses run at many of the bigger resorts. Gear-wise too, you need to step up. Start with a transceiver, or avalanche beacon, your first line of defence, a device that helps people find you if you are buried in an avalanche. That assumes it is turned on of course – be sure to check it is operating every time you head out into the snow. Once searchers have found your approximate location, they can use probes to zero in, and finally a shovel to dig you out. This means of course that everyone in your party should have the gear – it’s no good only you having a probe and shovel if it is you that is buried. These items are the minimum required when accessing the backcountry but you can also invest in an airbag-equipped backpack. These packs use a number of ways to rapidly inflate balloon-like protection around your head and shoulders, helping you to ‘float’ on the sliding snow, improving your odds of survival in a big slide.
Two recent model transceivers, or avalanche beacons
The essentials of backcountry skiing: probe, beacon and shovel.
Backpack airbag system