An independent guide to Val Thorens
This page deals with some of the off piste safety considerations. There's an outline of the risks involved, an equipment list, and a checklist of preparations. There are also notes on how to conduct a descent, and on accident procedure. Read about off piste safety here.
The notes here are brief guidelines, and not a substitute for information in a full reference work and/or a proper training course.
There are risks involved in off piste expeditions. It's essential to have a knowledge of, and respect for, the mountain environment. When you choose to ski or board off piste, you take a calculated risk, and you accept responsibility for yourself, the friends you're with, and anyone else you encounter. Remember that:
Proper training is vital. You should know the equipment you need, and how to use it. You ought to have avalanche safety, mountain survival, and first aid skills. If you don't, it's sensible to hire a local instructor or mountain guide.
Local instructors and mountain guides know the area, and have seen the evolution of the snowpack over the winter season. With them, you can have a safer and more enjoyable off piste experience.
The high mountain guides in Val Thorens can be contacted through the main ESF office in place de Caron. A guide is usually present at the ski school office from 5pm. The Office de la Montagne Val Thorens website represents the high mountain guides, and the instructors specialising in off piste. One of the guides is Alain Stevenet.
The equipment you need depends on the itinerary you're doing. The basic kit you always need is:
You'll carry these items in a rucksack. If you do a lot of off piste, and/or you have the money, it's worth investing in an airbag rucksack. Airbag rucksacks have an airbag which can be inflated by pulling a handle on the strap. In an avalanche, it keeps you on the surface, and prevents you getting buried. The video shows a test in Zenith ski shop.
You may also wish to take an altimeter. Generally, you'll want to carry some food and drink.
More kit is needed for glacier skiing, including harnesses and ropes. That's beyond the scope of this page.
For each trip, there are a few essential preparations to make. You should:
Don't hesitate to ask the ski patrol (pisteurs) for information and advice. They will usually be helpful. Avalanche information is given through flags flying outside the ski patrol huts, and/or an information board.
If the weather forecast or the avalanche risk make it unsafe to proceed with your itinerary, be prepared to change your plans.
There is a European avalanche risk scale, with five levels. This is the scale:
|Avalanche risk||Description||Flag in France||Considerations|
|1||Low risk||Generally well-bonded and stable. Triggering is possible by groups of skiers on few very steep extreme slopes. Small natural avalanches (sluffs ) are possible.|
|2||Moderate risk||Less well-bonded on some steep slopes, otherwise generally well-bonded. Triggering is possible by groups of skiers, particularly on steep slopes. Large natural avalanches may occur, but are not likely.|
|3||Considerable risk||Moderately- to weakly-bonded on many steep slopes. Triggering is possible, even by individual skiers. The bulletin may indicate many slopes which are particularly affected. Medium and occasionally large natural avalanches may occur.|
|4||High risk||Weakly-bonded in most places. Triggering is likely, even with single skiers, on many steep slopes. Frequent medium or large sized avalanches are likely.|
|5||Very high (extreme) risk||Weakly-bonded and largely unstable. Numerous large natural avalanches are likely, even on moderately steep terrain.|
These are a few guidelines for a safe descent off piste:
Again, don't follow other people's tracks, unless you know where they lead.
First aid courses fully cover what to do in case of an accident. Some of the considerations are:
Our suggestion for quality ski and snowboard hire at fair prices - Zenith ski shop, in the centre of resort.
All the ski shops in Val Thorens, with a location map.
A guide to all the ski schools in Val Thorens, including the ESF, Prosneige, Ski Cool, Evolution 2, and Free School Attitude.
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