As the saying goes “there are no friends on powder days”… I’ve heard this a few times and to be honest I think this attitude is complete and utter bullsh!t. Lately the saying has been floating around in my head as I’ve seen completely stupid behaviour when out and about in the mountains.

The recent avalanches where 13 people were caught in Engelberg at the start of the season and 6 people were caught this week in Verbier along with a few more multiple burials at other times in the season has got me thinking as to why are we experiencing so many avalanches where there are multiple burials (or multiple people caught but not buried). Basic avalanche safety demands that we ride defensively when we are in terrain that we consider to be risky and take in extra safety factors. The easiest safety factor (if you really must ride the slope) is to go in a small group and keep a large distance. If it’s really critical only have one person on a slope at the time. This is all well and good… but what happens when one group is being careful, following the rules, keeping distance in critical areas and ensuring that only one person rides a steep slope at a time… and suddenly another group or individual comes along and ploughs headlong down or across the slope without any consideration for their own or others safety.

I’ve witnessed this behaviour a number of times this winter. On a recent Freeride weekend organised by Swiss Alpine Adventure our guides had kept a large distance between our group on any steep slopes due to the avalanche risk being particularly high. We had witnessed avalanche activity that day and one of our guides even released a slab when testing a slope to see if it was safe enough for our group. Definitely conditions where keeping a safe distance is warranted…

One at a time

Every time we tried to keep a distance other people would suddenly come into our tracks, use our traverses (with no distance) or drop into slopes directly above one of our group. Suddenly our safety distance is gone and the idiots who are ploughing ahead are putting not only their lives in danger but ours too. This is something that I’ve witnessed on many occasions this winter in particular and the number of incidents I’m hearing about with multiple burials makes me wonder if this behaviour has something to do with it.

Fresh Tracks are amazing. Stay safe!

Ultimately we need friends on powder days. We need to be considerate of each other so that an accident of the scale of what happened in Diemtigtal in January 2010 does not happen again. We need friends on powder days to make sure that companion rescue can happen if the worst is to occur and we need to be friendly and considerate of others safety decisions when we are out on the mountain. This demands patience and a clear head, but it is something that needs to happen.

This slope was about 35deg. One at a time!

There seems to be no etiquette in Freeriding. In surfing where there is a long standing ritual in the line up and everyone knows who has the rights to a wave and there is often consequences for those who don’t follow “the rules” and “dropping in” is taboo. On a powder day we experience the equivalent of “dropping in” on a regular basis and we are in a situation where “dropping in” may not just ruin another persons ride but it may end up being fatal!

Think before you act. On days when the avalanche risk is considerable and you are riding steep slopes use your head. Keep distance within your own group but also from other groups. Lets all be friends on powder days and have fun safely.

Be Safe and Have Fun.

Swiss Alpine Adventure


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