During the 2020/2021 winter season, Valais was deeply saddened by the deaths of 11 people swept away by avalanches. To strengthen avalanche prevention measures, the Valais Cantonal Police last week launched a coordinated multi-partner working group made up of several key players: the Valais Cantonal Rescue Organisation OCVS144, the Swiss Association of Mountain Guides ASGM, the Mechanical Lifts du Valais, the WLS Institute for the Study of Snow and Avalanches SLF, the Cantonal Sports Office, Air-Glaciers / MFXB, the GRIMM Mountain Medical Intervention Group, the Economy Service, tourism sector and young free riders. This pilot is also supported by the BPA (Accident Prevention Office) and the Club des Combins.
In partnership with this working group, the resort of Verbier has agreed to act as a test resort for this benchmark programme.
Detection of the problem
The number of deaths on the roads in Valais has fallen sharply over the past few decades (117 deaths in 1970 versus 10 in 2020). Meanwhile, the curve of accidents linked to avalanches has not decreased. Partly this is due to the European five-level avalanche danger scale not always being well interpreted by skiers. It’s the level three degree of danger, called “marked”, which is the most critical for winter activities outside secure areas. In fact, 65% of fatal accidents occur when this level is announced in the SLF avalanche bulletin. The 3 out of 5 degree seems to be in the middle of the scale, but in reality, it is the maximum level for non-experienced skiers or those who are not accompanied by a mountain guide (or a professional) when it comes to making tracks.
Daniel Coquoz, president of the Mountain Guides of Verbier says; “What I can say about this pilot scheme in Verbier and Verbier 4Vallées is that this project is extremely important, especially in relation to the fact that one of the main axes of the resort is freeride. Therefore, it is logical that Verbier also works with professional experienced partners in this prevention project”.
Three concrete actions
- Production of prevention broadcasts: These contain preventative messages related to danger levels 3 and 4, with avalanche forecasts broadcast across social networks. In the spirit of a genuine prevention movement, these broadcasts will contain the hashtag #freeridesafer.
- Reinforcement of signage in ski resorts: Prevention messages related to danger levels 3 and 4 will be disseminated to specially designed media as part of the programme. On screens, posters or flyers, the advice will be visible to skiers at the departures of the ski lifts and from the resort of Verbier, which serves as the test resort this year.
- In a fun and simple way, the “avalanche-check.ch” platform allows everyone to test their knowledge of avalanche danger management in the form of an online questionnaire, free in three languages (FR, DE, EN). The topics covered concern the preparation of going off piste, understanding avalanche danger when out of bounds and how to manage a rescue situation
There is a free online quiz, which helps users improve their avalanche safety skills. What’s more, if users register their details, they will be entered into a raffle. (Prizes include a heliskiing outing with guide, Airbag bags, a DVA kit + shovel + probe, avalanche training days, ski day passes, overnight stays in mountain huts, White Risk App licenses for smartphones, and more). Verbier also offers:
- Verbier Freeride Days
- FWT Safety Workshop
- Verbier Freeride Academy
- DVA Park
- Off-piste itineraries
Avalanche-check.ch link and QR-code: http://avalanche-check.ch
Verbier is known as the cradle of Swiss skiing and home to some of the best skiing, luxurious accommodation, and gastronomy in the Alps. People flock to this traditional Swiss resort because it has a heart and soul that lives for snow sports, for the mountains and for adventure. We hope to see you there.