Setting off an avalanche with the ski patrollers
This morning we were lucky enough to accompany the Ski Patrol team on what is known as an active avalanche control plan. The aim is to make the ski area safe after heavy snowfall or high winds.
It all starts before the Val Thorens' ski area opens. We meet up with the team of avalanche blasters at 7.45am at the Ski Patrol office. They collect the explosives and receive their instructions. After a final avalanche transceiver check, we head off.
The first avalanches are set off using gazex: large downward facing pipes placed in couloirs on the ski area that are prone to avalanches, and which are ignited remotely. We are right opposite; the ski patrollers check and confirm by radio that each of the gazex pipes used has worked correctly. We don’t have to wait long to see the first results: a large snowslide takes place before our eyes.
Then it’s time for the second stage of the active avalanche control plan: setting them off manually.
You can feel the concentration. The blocks of explosives are fused, launched, and then set off remotely. It requires a great deal of precision. René then radios across that the active avalanche control plan on our sector is complete.
We would like to finish this amazing experience off with a few words about safety from the Belleville Valley Ski Patrol Manager, Benjamin Blanc:
"Going off-piste takes a lot of preparation and shouldn’t be entered into lightly. You need to check the weather the day before because conditions can change quickly in the mountains. You also need to be aware of the BRA: a report that provides information on the snow mantel and the avalanche risk scale. All the same, it is better to speak with the ski patrol or mountain professionals, such as high mountain guides, to get information about the best route.
Don’t forget the equipment you need to take with you; avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe. You can also get ABS airbags now, which are essential if you plan to go off-piste."