"Have fun yes, but safety first! »
Backcountry skiing is practised off piste and away from trails. It is therefore vital to know the mountain, to be prepared and to be well equipped. Sara Berthelot, a Quechua technical partner, gives you her safety advice to be used liberally so that backcountry skiing stays good fun!
Being athletic is not enough, because this activity takes place in an non sanitised environment, which incorporates an aspect of non negligible risk. Of course, the images of powdery snow, flooded with sunlight make us all dream: but that must not make us forget that these are the ideal avalanche conditions!
Preparation and reflection
It is therefore important to know the people you are going with well: their level of skiing, whether they are well equipped and whether they know how to use the safety equipment.
I advise you to appoint a "group leader" who will be responsible for finding out all the necessary information before you set off and checking everything. He will be in charge before and during the trip!
The right preparation for a trip is paramount. You need to be well informed about the route you're going take, the state of the snow and the weather. Adapt your trip according to the outdoor elements and the level of the group.
This process of reflection before any trip is mandatory!
Stay tuned in to the terrain
When you're on the terrain there's no question of rushing along with your head down! Be sure to always observe what is happening around you, stay tuned in to nature and do not hesitate to change your plans if necessary.
It seems essential to me to have a certain mastery of skiing in all kinds of snow and some knowledge of orientation and snowy conditions.
For backcountry skiing, above all you need to be a seasoned skier because this sport requires skiing on different types of snow which is often not packed.
It is mandatory to pack this trio: an avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe. If there is an accident you need to act quickly, so make sure you do some training in how to find victims under avalanches and also how to use the tools. It's all well and good having the safety tools but it is essential to know how to use them!
Also, be sure to check the batteries in your transceiver before each trip
This trio will not mean that you avoid danger, it is important to know all about the weather as well as the snow conditions, and to know when to give up if conditions are bad.
The best season
The best time to start backcountry skiing is from the end of February, when the snow is transformed. It will be easier to ski and the risks will be easier to assess than with fresh snow.
Do not hesitate to call on a mountain guide or a ski monitor whatever your level of skiing and your plans. These professionals will teach you how to manage the risks and will provide the necessary safety equipment.
In Sara's bag for a single trip:
- Lightweight warm clothing to put on when you reach the top
- A Thermos flask: a hot tea type drink is important to warm you up after the climb.
- Water and cereal bars
- Ski mask
- Sun cream
What she adds for challenges several days long
- Orientation material
- 2 pairs of gloves: one lightweight technical pair for the climb and one warm pair for the descent
- A screwdriver: so you can make adjustments on the way
- Spare ski pole baskets
- Steel wire: my small repair kit in case of broken mountings
- A large roll of tape: for sticking skins together as they can come unstuck in cold snow.
- Plasters to prevent and protect blisters