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Off piste safety training in the UK
Saturday December 5, 2015 - Email this article to a friend

This autumn at PlanetSKI we have been to an off piste safety talk at Ellis Brigham and an organised transceiver search on Wimbledon Common in London.

Who says your can't learn and practice off piste skiing and snowboarding safety skills in the UK?

If you ski or snowboard off piste you should not only have an avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe but you should know how to use it and have a basic knowledge of how to stay safe away from the marked runs.

"It is all too easy to tell yourself you will practice once you get out to the mountains, but the reality is skiing takes over on an all too precious ski holiday," said the off piste guide, Henry Schniewind, from Henry's Avalanche Talks.

Henry has been giving his talks in the autumn in the UK for a few years and his talks out in the Alps for considerably longer - 25 years to be precise.

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We went to a recent one at the Ellis Brigham store in St Paul's in Central London. 

Here are five things that stood out

-       Only 5% of avalanche deaths are in big powder avalanches, 95% are smaller slab avalanches.

-       On average you have 15 minutes to live therefore it is your friends you are with who have the best chance of rescuing you.

-       Most avalanche happen on slopes over 30 degrees (the steepness of a difficult black run).

-       75% of avalanches happen on north facing slopes whereas most people think south facing slopes are more dangerous.

-       Slow down and think when skiing off piste - it is more important than wearing a helmet.

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Also present was the piste patroller, Caroline Elliott, and her dog, Fjord. 

The pair work as a team in the resort of Gourette in the French Pyrenees. 

Though don't rely Fjord to find you.

The dogs use their sense of smell to locate victims, but it takes 20-30 minutes for odours to permeate through 1m of snow so the dogs complement a search team.

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But of course avalanche and off piste safety is not only learnt in the classroom, but out in the field.

Or in this case Wimbledon Common.

"It is not rocket science, but it does take some practice," said Henry.

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The outdoor session was run by Chris Radford.

Henry's Avalanche Talks have been held since  2009.

They used to do 25-50 a year but last year we did 95 in the UK.

So they have held well over 300 sessions.

This year HAT has had 36 people so far and have capacity for another 120

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"Most of what we do is refresh people's training and existing knowledge and it is often easier to do it in the UK than in the mountains," said Chris.

Sessions are held in London, Bristol and Manchester.

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"I am just getting into off piste skiing and I want to do it armed with enough knowledge and training should the worst happen," said Jan Szczepinski who was attending his first session.

Others had been skiing off piste for many years and wanted to keep their skills up to scratch.

"We often go on the off piste holidays, Freshtracks, organised by the Ski Club of Great Britain and this is an excellent way to practice our skills.  The only people that will save you in an avalanche are your skiing partners so it is absolutely vital to practice," said Simon Cassia.

Freshtracks offer a range off adventure and off piste holidays as we have reported earlier on PlanetSKI.

Henry's Avalanche Talks in the UK have now ended but they will be back next Autumn at Ellis Brigham stores. 

He also runs them through the winter in the resort of Val d'Isere.

There are still more avalanche beeper training sessions being run over the winter here in the UK and for more details then see here.

See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the world of snowsports.

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