The Dangers of Skiing Off Piste In Europe

Rod9301

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The difference being that, here , the "backcountry" begins as soon as one puts his/her ski tips out of the groomed run, and often is not clearly stated so. Discussing with one of my coaches (freeride coach) some years ago, and e was saying that the vast majority of ppl getting caught in an avalanche in the Alps occured at a distance not more than 100 mt from the groomed trails (since then tried to find references on that, unsuccessfully).
If one is used to the N.A. signage, could very easily be caught in the euristic trap to think that in Italy too, there is a sort of "controlled area"and ski out of bound thinking it's all good. Where in truth, is not...unless one knows very, very well the area.
This is not true.

A lot of avie control in Europe, because most off piste terrain spills into groomers.
 

Nobody

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Do not mix up the need to perform avi control with being in the backcountry. At least in Italy.
Avi control has to be perfomed in order to keep the groomed trails and buildings (read : people skiing down them and in them) safe. Thus in the surrounding of said groomed the lift company is compelled, by law, to perform avi control work. But, formally, they have absolutely no obligation toward someone skiing off piste, in the same area (the fact that, in case of an accident, patrols - patrol duties here are perfomed by law enforcing agencies and bythe army , plus a couple of non-profit organizations - will be dispatched nevertheless, is another "pair of shoes"- if one if well away fro ma Resort, then SAR parties will also be mounted, formed by, again abovementioned law enforcement patrols, army, and the CNSAS - which usually are mountain guides, and locals at that - volunteers)
 

Nobody

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furthermore, as said earlier, if skiing off-piste , one would , god forbid, trigger an avalanche, and said avalanche end up on a groomer, all sort of hell would break loose. Everyone and their aunt would be searching for the guilty guy/party to "throw the book" at them.
 

fatbob

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This is not true.

A lot of avie control in Europe, because most off piste terrain spills into groomers.
It absolutely is true as @Nobody has explained. And knowing what is controlled because it has the potential to impact groomers and/or infrstructure is part of the specialist local knowledge.

Incidentally I've heard the 100m stat as well before. It makes sense to me because 100m is actually quite a material horizontal distance (enough to put you on a riskier aspect 2 or 3 chutes over from a piste) and sheer volume of off piste traffic near to pistes for access/egress reasons.
 

Slim

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The difference being that, here , the "backcountry" begins as soon as one puts his/her ski tips out of the groomed run, and often is not clearly stated so.
That is exactly the same in North America. As soon as you cross the boundary of the controlled terrain you are in the backcountry.
And just like in the Alps, in many places, the only markers (in this case for the “resort boundary”) are bamboo poles every so often.
Therefore, those two things are no different from North America to Europe.

The only situation one might consider an exception to that is the controlled “ski routes” in Europe, where the marking is down the MIDDLE of the route, and the controlled terrain extends several meters wide to each side, but the sides themselves are not marked.
 
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Therefore, those two things are no different from North America to Europe.
Actually, there is one huge difference: you don’t see backcountry terrain in the middle of a trail map in North American resorts. You basically have to go over the edge of what’s shown on the map to get into uncontrolled terrain. In Europe, you can be skiing uncontrolled, unmarked off-piste terrain even if you’re smack dab in the middle of the piste map between two groomers or directly below a lift.

For example, in St. Anton, if you get out of the Galzigbahn and ski straight down the fall line, you are around 10 turns away from falling into a huge, unmarked gully that is potentially deadly (most likely from triggering a slide, though one side is unskiable due to exposed rocks and small trees). But if you go left or right from the top of the lift, you’ll be on an easy groomer. And that’s the main base lift in town, so it’s not like it’s on the edge of the ski area.

Skip to the 3:00 mark below to see.

 

Slim

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@Jacob , of course that is true.
It is also true, that due to geography and other factors, there are more (easy) groomers in between extreme backcountry terrain in Europe than in North America.

But it is still off piste.
You still have to cross the markings denoting the edge of the controlled terrain.

The fact that it is between two sections of controlled terrain, or where it is on the map, doesn’t change the fact that you (the skier) chose to leave the marked, controlled ski terrain.
As soon as you do that, you are responsible for your own route finding and safety. Very clear cut.
 
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@Jacob , of course that is true.
It is also true, that due to geography and other factors, there are more (easy) groomers in between extreme backcountry terrain in Europe than in North America.

But it is still off piste.
You still have to cross the markings denoting the edge of the controlled terrain.

The fact that it is between two sections of controlled terrain, or where it is on the map, doesn’t change the fact that you (the skier) chose to leave the marked, controlled ski terrain.
As soon as you do that, you are responsible for your own route finding and safety. Very clear cut.
But if you come from a place where everything on the trail map is considered inbounds and you go to Europe, there’s good chance you won’t be aware that going off a marked piste is like going out of bounds. It can be easy to misconstrue the piste markers as being simply for navigational purposes or to underestimate the dangers for various reasons.

Remember those US Ski Team guys who died in an avalanche in the Alps a couple of years ago? They just jumped off the side of one piste and were skiing down to another on a Level 3 avi danger day. I doubt they ever thought that what they were doing was dangerous, because they were in the middle of a ski area on a day when the avi danger was listed as moderate.
 

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But if you come from a place where everything on the trail map is considered inbounds and you go to Europe, there’s good chance you won’t be aware that going off a marked piste is like going out of bounds. It can be easy to misconstrue the piste markers as being simply for navigational purposes or to underestimate the dangers for various reasons.

Remember those US Ski Team guys who died in an avalanche in the Alps a couple of years ago? They just jumped off the side of one piste and were skiing down to another on a Level 3 avi danger day. I doubt they ever thought that what they were doing was dangerous, because they were in the middle of a ski area on a day when the avi danger was listed as moderate.
Exactly! That's the heuristic trap I was referring to earlier.
 

Primoz

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One more avi unrelated. This thing is basically in middle of resort near me (on other side of border, which means now in forbidden land). Great place for off piste skiing, not all that great for on-piste, but you should think before you go like there's no tomorrow... as otherwise there really might not be tomorrow.

 

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Oh my god!
I instinctively closed my eyes when I saw the ..jump? Emptyness below the POV and the road down there.
Must have been horrific.
Hope the guy is well en route to a full recovery (as it should be, after nearly 3 years)
P.S. Dobro dan Primoz! I have skied in Slovenia in the past years but only at three locations so far: Krvavec, Rogla and Kanin/Sella Nevea. Only in Krvavec I've had a bit of off piste; whereas I have been vary of Kanin off piste because of the "doline" that can suddenly open under one's feet (not knowing well the area, and being there for technical training I did not venture off-piste)
 
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One more avi unrelated. This thing is basically in middle of resort near me (on other side of border, which means now in forbidden land). Great place for off piste skiing, not all that great for on-piste, but you should think before you go like there's no tomorrow... as otherwise there really might not be tomorrow.

I managed to avoid a similar experience in Val d’Isere once. I knew I was coming up to a piste soon, but something didn’t feel right about the angle of my descent, so I slowed down. Once I could finally see the piste, I realised that I was on top of some boulders that were probably 3 or 4 m tall, and I definitely would not have enjoyed dropping down onto a flat, hard piste from there.

So, I had to side step up a bit and traverse over to find a safe way down.
 

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@Nobody Krvavec is just 15min away from me (most of guests in our apartment during winter come because of skiing in Krvavec), so if you will be back, let me know :) For off piste in Slovenia, you basically need to go ski touring, as there's very little terrain next to lifts. Kanin is good, but you really need to know what you are doing, as there's whole bunch of crevasses like terrain (no glacier, just Carst region, with whole bunch of deep holes/caves, that you can easily ski in, and most of time die there). But for ski touring, we have plenty of cool stuff in 15-30min drive radius ranging from easy beginners terrain to some sweet alpinist skiing stuff :)
 

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@Jacob I did plenty of stuff like this... worse was when I actually needed to jump some 7 or 8m cliff, as other option would have been climbing some 100 height meters back on 45 degrees face with 1.2m of fresh powder on it. But that was when skiing with friends, who think jumping such cliffs is fun. I also missed few turns and ended above similar cliffs without nice outrun on bottom, so getting slightly left or right finding way down was thing to do.
But those things are different. You didn't just ski and hope/think that all is cool. You (and me) did stop, check and decided to continue or not, not that you just skied over and hope there's nice outrun and not road under it.
 

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Exactly! That's the heuristic trap I was referring to earlier.
I agree with that. If you don’t know the safety system for a certain part of the world, you need to find out.
If you are an American driving in Europe or vice versa, and don’t realize the difference in right of way rules at a T intersection, you could get in a bad accident.
That doesn’t mean one is more dangerous than the other, it just means you need to be aware that different places have different rules and signage...
 

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This is not true.
A lot of avie control in Europe, because most off piste terrain spills into groomers.
Well it is true indeed and the most off-piste terrain does not spill into groomers but rather runs along side. And where they do you often see avi barriers running above.

What is often confused is that while there is a similar amount of avi control in Europe as in NA to protect the official and marked runs (which are groomers) you are entirely at your own risk as soon as you leave the marked runs . Simple as that.

This is what is often different to NA and even this seem to be depending on the resort. I once got chasen off a trail back onto the groomer by Snowbird ski patrol just while skiing on the ungroomed side. This would not have happened in Europe - except maybe Italy.
 

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Well it is true indeed and the most off-piste terrain does not spill into groomers but rather runs along side. And where they do you often see avi barriers running above.

What is often confused is that while there is a similar amount of avi control in Europe as in NA to protect the official and marked runs (which are groomers) you are entirely at your own risk as soon as you leave the marked runs . Simple as that.

This is what is often different to NA and even this seem to be depending on the resort. I once got chasen off a trail back onto the groomer by Snowbird ski patrol just while skiing on the ungroomed side. This would not have happened in Europe - except maybe Italy.
They don't want anyone triggering a slide in the resort. There's a good amount of roped and gated avy terrain at Snowbird and patrol takes it seriously.
 

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They don't want anyone triggering a slide in the resort. There's a good amount of roped and gated avy terrain at Snowbird and patrol takes it seriously.
Which I entirely understand and respect in case of avi danger. Conditions however weren't even dust on crust and entirely consolidated at that time, it hadn't snowed for weeks. The heli trip I booked got cancelled because snow conditions were so bad in the backcountry.
 

Stephen Witkop

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I had a ton of fun on East Rim, but you really need to know where you are. The fog days were tough for that. I remember noting certain trees are guide posts, or natural "fog balls" good times.
We had a group at Whitefish and decided to hire 2 instructors to show the more aggressive of us around the first day. Money well spent after getting to the top and it was so foggy you couldn't see the Summit House or anything else. Later in the morning they took us to the East Rim and after traversing the ridge the instructor says "After that tree go right. Left is death" I said what about straight? "Could be death too, go right" I had a great time lapping it after seeing it from the lift and figuring it out but he had made his point.

Earlier in the day we say a guy who decided to cut a corner under the boundary for a beautiful looking 5 powder turns into a gully leading to Chair 11. There was so much snow collected at the bottom he sunk to his neck with his skis on and had to be rescued not 100 yards from the base of the lift. The more he struggled the deeper he sank, didn't look like fun. Sometimes the ropes are there for a reason. :doh:
 

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Technically we have "open boundaries". Ropes WITHIN the boundaries indicate areas that are CLOSED - pull your ticket closed. Boundary ropes (striped lines or striped poles), just say if you cross them, go ahead, but call Flathead Search and Rescue, not us. And, by the way, it might be a few months if you're no longer conscious.

Late breaking news, it's rumored there was a tree well death today. Said to be out of bounds coming from an area known as Gooley Point. Found this article, but I heard the coroner was dispatched, so I'm usure if there were two incidents or only one.
 
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