Posted by: sunshack | December 31, 2011

The Knowledge

It’s been a desire of mine to learn more about Avalanche awareness for some time. I do like to ski off piste, and I wanted to make my own decisions about slope safety and route choice, as opposed to waiting for others to make a move, and then citing the “difficulty” of teaching this stuff, or claiming they are “professionals” as if it’s the Masons’. I chose my teacher with some care, as I’m a slow learner and need a supportive environment.

My journey to meet my teacher in Chamonix was longer and more challenging than I’d expected, see my Blog entry Persistence for the details!

It was a good job that I’d done my pre-course preparation before I’d set off, as I spent the evening before the course drying my clothes, as all my ski kit was soaked through. I was a little tired in the morning, as I’d failed to pin down the sound of running water in my room, which woke me several times.

I met up with Chris Fecher of Tinderbox Ski School at my hotel, and we headed for Les Houches, as the heavy snowfall had closed the Chamonix slopes. Chris had advised me to bring my fat skis, but standing in the line at the ticket office, my Movement Black Roses did look a bit on the skinny side!

We gave up on Les Houches, as the lift company seemed to have frozen lifts and did not know when they would open. Headed down the valley to Megeve, parked at the Princesse lift and headed up!

I have skied for many years, never have I seen a Black Avalanche warning flag flying, let aone skied off piste in such conditions. Megeve is a great choice when the weather is closed in, with heavy snow and low visibility.

We dug several Inspection Pits in the snow, checking for unstable layers, and examined the size and shape of the snow crystals under magnification.

Compression Testing

Testing the Snow

We also undertook a Compression Test of the snowpack, and ascertained that there is indeed a slab layer way down in the old snow, but it took a fair bit of effort to get it to slide.

Day 2 came around and we headed for Grand Montets, made it up to Lognan to see that there were no other lifts due to open. Took a look at the cross loading on some of the terrain close to the cable car and understood why.
Skied in the trees directly underneath the Lognan cable car 1st, and choosing to avoid the longer off piste route. The snow was quite deep! Back at Argentiere, the queue for the cable car was long, so we headed to a cafe to talk theory and wait for the queue to fade away. Coffee was good but the queue tactic failed, so Transceiver Practice was held in the wooded area behind the Cable Car. I’m quite pleased that I’ve made a breakthrough with this, and the transceiver burial’s organised by Chris, made all the difference.

That queue was still there, so we headed over to Brevent and I had my 1st ride up in the new Gondola. Again, there had been lots of heavy, drifting snow, and really only 1 chairlift was open, but that gave us plenty of terrain to play in!

Knee Deep at Brevent

Cafe View!

For me this was a valuable way to spend a weekend. My knowledge has improved, and I’m much more aware of what I can ski. I will admit to only a minor hugging of one tree, and having one major wipeout. I realise I’ve only just scratched the surface of this knowledge, but at least I have made a start.

The photos of me are courtesy of Tinderbox Ski School, Chamonix.

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