A cautionary tale from the Swiss alps – and a first hand example of the panic that strikes in rescue situations.
The rescuers were lucky to spot James’ pole on this occasion – as it’s likely that without transceivers they would have been unable to locate him otherwise
This video – and the victim’s post-event blog that accompanies it – serve as a comprehensive example of what you should be aware of in off-piste situations; and while this one thankfully ended with all parties safe, it effectively highlights a number of problems that can arise with insufficient training and equipment – or when you ignore the warning signs and take risks.
As described in James Mort’s full blog account, this event occurred when the avalanche risk was high (4/5), and when only he, the buried skier, was wearing a transceiver. By his own admission, he had also chosen to ride despite the warning sign of the ‘whumping’ sound underfoot – reasoning that he had ridden the line previously and the area had a minimal pitch and low exposure.
James was clear-headed enough to push his pole through the surface of the snow, and fortunate that the rescuers saw it; it’s likely that without transceivers of their own they would have been unable to locate him. In fact, as a further indicator of the intensity of the situation, he describes that it took a whole hour to fully free him from the snow – even with the help of two ski patrol members who arrived after the end of the video.
As we’ve said before – and you should hopefully now realise – preparation and knowledge is absolutely key for all parties in off-piste situations. The efforts of James’s friends thankfully saved his life in this situation, but it’s also clear that as a group they were underprepared and under-equipped. Make sure you get yourself trained before you head out and are carrying the holy trinity at all times.
If you’re stuck on where to start, take a look at Whitelines’ Top 5 Avalanche Safety Tips, and stay safe.