Freeriding safely: what’s important
Ever more people are leaving the pistes for the open terrain, attracted by untouched slopes, fresh powder and extra fun. Freerider Garry Bachmann explains what to watch out for when freeriding.
There are plenty of dangers associated with freeriding. Avalanches, overestimating your own ability, making misjudgements, losing direction and falling in the unknown terrain are just a few. To avoid any nasty surprises, there are a few «must knows» to keep in mind.
Skills of a freerider
To be able to ski or snowboard off-piste, you need:
Good skiing or snowboarding skills
The right equipment and devices
Experience, respect for nature, and awareness of the risks
Deep snow safety
Almost all ski resorts have off-piste downhill routes. These deep snow routes are marked yellow and are safe from avalanches. Away from these routes and the marked and safeguarded pistes, you are in open terrain. This terrain is neither safeguarded, groomed nor controlled. It's your responsibility here to assess the avalanche risk.
The right freeriding equipment
Emergency equipment includes:
- Avalanche beacon (LVS)
- Avalanche airbag: releases in the event of an avalanche, increasing the person's buoyancy and is a good way of increasing safety
- Mobile phone and first-aid kit for emergency situations
- Helmet: especially off-piste, stones and rocks are partly covered by snow
In addition, you should always be in a group of at least 2 people so that you can help each other. Special freeride skis and snowboards also make it easier to descend in deep, unprepared snow, leading to a more fulfilling experience.
Information on avalanche risk and weather
The WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF) issues an avalanche bulletin daily at 8:00 and 17:00 in winter. The White Risk app also provides important information on the current avalanche situation as well as useful background knowledge for assessing the avalanche risk. To avoid any unwanted surprises, be sure to take a good look at the weather too.
Terrain and environment
- Research thoroughly the physical features of the route (exposure, steepness, terrain, etc.). Maps, tour guidebooks and internet platforms (e.g. swisstopo.admin.ch, whiterisk.ch) can help.
- Respect protected areas: the winter mountains don’t belong to sports enthusiasts alone. Adhere to the rules of the wildlife protection zones.
Knowledge can save lives
Knowing your facts can help to avoid many an avalanche accident. That's why it’s worth taking a freeride course where you will learn how to assess risks and receive helpful tips.
4 important principles according to Garry Bachmann
- Avoid the northern sector (NW-N-NE) when the avalanche level is considerable.
- Avoid rocky terrain (= 40°+) when the avalanche level is considerable.
- Listen to your gut feeling.
- Turn back / abort immediately if you hear any «whumpf» sounds. ALWAYS keep your distance in groups (going up and coming down).
What to do in an emergency
Reacting appropriately in an emergency is vital. If you're ever caught in an avalanche, immediately deploy your avalanche airbag if you have one. If you see other people caught in an avalanche, try not to let them out of your sight, and note the spot where they disappeared. Your own safety comes first. Do not act if you endanger your own safety in the process. Alert the rescue services immediately (Rega, tel. 1414 or via the Rega app). And then start searching immediately using your avalanche beacon.
It's worth taking a course
If you want to leave the marked and safeguarded downhill routes and head out into open terrain, we recommend that you first attend an avalanche course or hire an experienced snow sports instructor from the Swiss Ski School or a mountain guide from the Swiss Alpine Club.