You have already reeled in some ski touring altitude meters on slopes? You have solid skiing skills and have already gained off-piste experience near ski resorts? You are ready to deal with alpine dangers and avalanche awareness? And, you already have a touring partner who is just as motivated? Then you can (almost) start - on a ski tour in the beautiful snow-white mountains of the Alps!
KNOW YOUR EQUIPMENT: HOW TO HANDLE SAFETY EQUIPMENT IN A SERIOUS SITUATION
You may have already noticed: Ski touring is a pretty gear-intensive sport that might not only push your storage space in your home, but also your bank account to the limits of its capacity. As a piste touring skier, you're bound to already have most of your gear at home, such as ski touring skis + bindings + skins, touring boots, poles, helmet + goggles and outfit.
For tours in open terrain, the safety equipment also belongs as standard in every backpack on every tour: avalanche transceiver (LVS), probe, shovel and possibly an airbag backpack. Important: Buying alone is not enough - you should be familiar with the use of your equipment and be able to handle it even in extremely stressful situations. Only one thing helps: practice! Especially in Tyrol there are some institutions that even offer free avalanche camps, for example SAAC or Snow-How and the Austrian Alpine Club. If you are a group of friends, you can also book a trained ski touring guide who will do avalanche training with you and answer any questions you may have on the subject.
Once you know the procedures in an avalanche accident: It's best to regularly grab one of your touring partners and repeat the avalanche beacon search on your own, for example in a safe meadow. Your partner buries a backpack with an avalanche transceiver inside (in transmit mode) in the snow and you have to find it as quickly as possible. In the event of a burial, every second counts and can be the difference between life and death.
BE AWARE OF THE RISK - READ AND UNDERSTAND THE AVALANCHE SITUATION REPORT
As soon as you go ski touring outside the secured ski area, you must be aware of the prevailing alpine dangers. There is hardly a winter in the Alps when there is not a periodically extremely high avalanche danger. And even in supposedly good conditions, there is never 100% transparency on the mountain. The snowpack and its structure are very complex and its stability - and thus the safety for the winter sportsman - depends on many factors.
Of course, not everyone can be a snow and avalanche expert - but every ski tourer should acquire a certain know-how together with the equipment to ensure their own safety and that of their touring partner. Fortunately, in Tyrol we have a great density of experts and institutions that are in the lead around knowledge and research in avalanche science. For the general public, there are always events, courses and currently also lots of online seminars taking place throughout Tyrol to expand or refresh knowledge. A constant and smooth flow of information on current conditions around the avalanche danger is not self-evident and Tyrol is definitely a pioneer in the field. Take advantage of this brilliant offer!
As soon as you know the danger patterns and signs, get the information on the avalanche situation report before each tour and plan your tour based on it. Ideally, you will stay up to date even during your non-touring (working) time, so you will get a better feeling for the interrelationships of snowpack structure and the influencing factors such as wind, temperature or fresh snow over the years.
KNOW YOUR LIMITS - TAILOR TOUR PLANNING TO ABILITY AND EXPERIENCE
Tour planning can be nerve-wracking and take up many after-work hours. Especially if the tour repertoire is still small and you do not yet know many suitable routes for the appropriate conditions, it is of no use than to put (more or less) time into planning. Never simply follow already existing tracks without knowing where they lead to! Take a close look at your desired tour on a map (for example here: alpenvereinaktiv.com or also in 3D here: fatmap.com) and get the most important info: Altitude/kilometers, exposure, slope, etc. Start small and light and according to your skills and touring experience.
Ski touring skills include: your endurance and strength uphill, your skill on skis downhill and your knowledge of hazards in the terrain. Even if you already have good endurance from piste tours or hikes, ask yourself honestly if you can ski safely, without falling and relatively quickly even in poor snow conditions and in steeper terrain! Because on most ski touring days, the snow will not be fluffy and light from top to bottom. Snow is often variable in consistency, and it's not uncommon for wind or sun to give it the (ever-popular) slush cap. If you fall, this means an enormous additional load on the snow cover and the probability of disturbing a weak layer is even greater. In general, uphill altitude should not push you to your physical limits to the point that you have no strength left for the descent. You should be able to ski longer sections without stopping and then wait for your tour partners at pre-planned, safe assembly points.
MAKE YOUR OWN DECISIONS - BE A DECISION MAKER, NOT A FOLLOWER
Your ski touring partners are already half pros - at least they already know more than you? In the group there is a regular exchange among each other and the risks are openly discussed and weighed? Great! You can learn a lot from such discussions. Your goal should be to not just be a listener, follower and approver, but to be able to contribute to the decision-making process yourself. This requires knowledge and experience. This does not mean that you always have to be right - especially on the mountain, right or wrong decisions are often very close together. The important thing is that you can independently weigh the pros and cons and express your concerns or approval for an action.
If, especially on your first ski tours, you prefer to relinquish the decision-making power and follow the tracks of an expert in a relaxed manner, then it is best to book a ski tour guide. Not only will the likelihood of powder snow increase, but you can also ask him/her any questions that come to mind and spend a relaxed and adventurous day on the mountain.
YOUR GUT-FEELING MATTERS: LISTEN TO YOUR GUT - AND STAY FLEXIBLE
The summit is within reach. However, you suspect a pack of drifting snow on the last slope that might be your undoing. This scenario is the rule rather than the exception, and turning around on tour is part of the routine for experienced ski tourers. The mountaineer does not always find this approach easy, as he/she is polarized to 'bite through': Early morning demotivation, tired legs or the icy cold wind notwithstanding, one (usually) goes on and on until the summit success. In ski touring in particular and mountain sports in general, however, the motto is: better to turn around more often and arrive healthy in the valley than to reach the goal by hook or by crook.
And: Fortunately, the mountain is still there! Should you simply have a queasy feeling, be it during a slope crossing or because the snow cover seems a bit strange to you today - don't hesitate to express your feeling in the group! Then you can weigh up together whether there is any truth to the doubt or not. Don't be tempted by group dynamics if you don't feel comfortable.
MAKE THE CALL: REPORT AVALANCHE RELEASES
The worst-case scenario has occurred: You observe an avalanche triggering or are even involved yourself. But fortunately nothing happened and nobody was buried/injured. Important: Every avalanche release must be reported to a control center! In Tyrol we are in the fortunate position to have a top functioning mountain rescue system and therefore every avalanche where the involvement of a person cannot be definitively ruled out, leads to the emergency chain being set in motion. These emergency forces are urgently needed on accident-prone days and can be decisive for life or death at another location. No one who reports a negative avalanche has to fear consequences, but saves the emergency forces a lot of time, nerves and money.
140 is the number for alpine emergency calls of the mountain rescue Tirol.
112 is the European emergency call and also works without a network.
After so much seriousness, again very well summarized by Harry G:
Photos ©Lena Koller, Valentin Possert
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