Avalanche Safety Course

When it comes to winter and mountain skills, I realised I didn’t have the relevant knowledge to plan tours and stay safe in the mountains. I want to be confident in the outdoors and know where danger lies and how we can avoid getting into trouble. Being able to read the snow and the understand the conditions are very useful skills to have for not only the First Ascent project but for our every day adventures and training. 

The Backcountry Week event here in St. Moritz was the perfect opportunity to test some skis (high on my list to buy!) and learn about Avalanche Safety so I signed up with the Bergsteigerschule Pontresina mountain guides. 

On the morning of the course, we met at a hotel in central St. Moritz and after a brief introduction, we headed up Corviglia mountain to warm up our legs on skis for about an hour. We stopped for a break and guide Nic gave us a presentation for a couple of hours, a good theory base. He explained everything about the risks, how to read the the charts and what we should be looking out for. He told us about the different type of avalanches which I found really interesting. To get warm again we jumped back on the skis, this time with a different purpose. We stopped often to look at the slopes and the mountains, even gone off piste so we can have a look and feel of the snow. Once we had a little play, we paused for lunch at middle station

and Nic cerated a scenario for us.  One of us was the victim of the avalanche, the other is the group leader who gives instruction to the rest of us. He explained that if it’s a huge lavina covering a larger area, 2 people can do the search, Nic showed us a graphic of the radius and explained the LVS (avalanche transceiver) covers 50-60m and how to use it. We started by

turning it around to find a reach until we got signal. Once there’s a signal of the missing person you can now move faster and when you’re within 5-10m, you can get off your skis and now the detailed search begins. 

Only one person should do this to stay calm and collected. The device needs to be held on your knee or close to the ground and don’t move it when you’re in 3 meters. At this point, shift from left to the right to get as close as you can, ideally under 2 meters. When you have the point, get the probe out (it’s a very long pole, usually 240cm, and folds into 6 parts) and start poking into the snow as deep as you need as fast as you can, about 10cm apart. If you feel the difference (ie

it’s not a rock that you hit but rather a person or their rucksack), go a meter lower than the hang and start shovelling to hit the person directly. 

Of the buried person, the head and upper body should be clear of snow firstly. If the person is still breathing, you can keep the lower body because the snow isolates so can keep the person warm. Avoid moving them too much until emergency gets there as you don’t know if they injured their back for example.  If they don’t breath, first aid should be given.

Then we went off piste skiing again to find an area with deep snow where Nic hid his rucksack. We returned and the clock started to find his buried rucksack! It was a really exercise to have a feel of just how fast time is passing. I did as he taught us earlier; I shook the device near my head, headed down directly, and when I was within 45m I went towards where the device was showing on my avalanche transceiver. I found the rucksack and now the rest of the people started shovelling in a row. One person shovels and one clears the snow for 2 minutes full

power and then they swap until we got to the bag. It was such a useful course and I’m really looking forward to the advance one with Alex so she can show off her shovelling skills! 

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