Staying Safe: On & Off the Slopes
We’re right in the middle of winter. The slopes in every ski resort are in nearly perfect conditions. The sun is shining most of the days. This means now is the perfect time – for skiing accidents. On days like these everyone focusses on having fun, but somehow, they miss out on staying safe, which is why we postponed our next part of talking about ski resorts in Tyrol to next week. This week we have to focus a bit more on staying safe while having fun.
Innsbruck is not a very big city, meaning that you can see the high tower of the hospital from most points in the city, and what we always notice around that time of the year is the shocking amount of rescue choppers flying to and from the hospital. Right now, skiing accidents have high season. Sometimes there’s bad luck involved and of course accidents do happen as you can’t always take precautions for everything. But most of the accidents could have been avoided.
“Wer Hirn hat, schützt es.” That’s a common saying here in Austria, meaning that if you have a brain, you protect it. Sadly, there are still so many people not minding that. The excuses are simply stupid – A helmet is uncomfortable? Well, then you did not buy the right size. A helmet is unstylish? Well, if you only go skiing to look cool, you’re doing something pretty wrong. Natascha recently went on her first ski tour ever. Obviously, she did not wear a helmet while going up the mountain. It would be way too hot and simply unnecessary. But going down without? No way! Nearly every outdoor backpack that is somehow suited for winter activities has some kind of straps to tie the helmet onto. Yes, people without helmets seem to be getting less and less, but somehow, still, every time we fell like saying “Finally! People really are wearing helmets!”, you see someone without one. Risking a serious head injury, just to look cool, is pretty uncool.
Check your gear! So many accidents happen because people do not adjust the binding of the skis right, wear the wrong size of shoes and so on. And if you let an expert adjust all that – do not change gear with your friends! Honestly, we can’t believe we have to says that, but just a few days ago, Natascha overheard a conversation of some people who decided to spontaneously swap skis just next to the slopes simply because they felt like doing so. You can force nearly every ski boot into a binding if you try hard enough but that’s not what they are suited for! The binding then is not adjusted properly to the shoe or to the weight of the skier and you never know when the moment comes that the binding decides to say goodbye and just let loose. Or imagine falling down and the binding does not release the ski boot. Happened to Natascha once because the weight was not adjusted completely right. Her knee was not a big fan of that.
Another point that’s so, so important: Know your strengths and weaknesses. Do not overdo it. How many times do we see people, who barely know how to stand on skis, racing down slopes that are definitely not suited for them! Difficult slopes are clearly marked with black signs and if there are even signs that tell you the slope is as steep as 70 percent – why take that one if you can’t even stand up on skis without nearly falling? That way skiing isn’t fun and if you are forcing yourself down there because your friends expect you to do so – they are not your real friends!
One thing to only mention briefly as it would get us all ranted up is: do not drink and ski! Most of the times it’s especially those skiers having difficulties that are the first ones to drink during their breaks. Well, let us tell you a little secret – skiing doesn’t get easier by drinking alcohol. There’s nothing wrong with having fun and enjoying your time with your friends but focus on the word “Aprés” when it comes to Aprés Ski. That way you’re going to have way more fun!
Of course, we know that skiing on slopes is fun, but skiing off slopes is great as well. This year there have been some weeks with really heavy snowfall in Tyrol, leading to avalanche alert levels as high as 5, which is the maximum. Parts of ski areas had to be closed to assure the safety and that’s the reason why just a few days ago Natascha did a Safety Camp in Obergurgl-Hochgurgl.
She had already considered doing such a camp for a long time, but the avalanche situation this year was a real motivation. There are various companies, ski schools and agencies that offer such courses, some for free and some for a fee. The problem with the ones that are for free is, that you need to book them months in advance, which is why she opted for a paid one. Also, 70 € was not that expensive, considering that you are basically learning how to stay alive, so it was definitely an investment that’s worth it.
Natascha can honestly only recommend doing such a course! They’re not only suitable for expert skiers that ONLY go off the slopes, but to anyone that wants to gain a better understanding of avalanches, the dynamics of snow and how all of this works together. To gain a complete knowledge would take you months or even years, but these one or two-day courses already give you a certain basic knowledge that can help you. Natascha learned about the warning signs you can see on snowy hills, how to interpret wind and weather, and, much more important, how to read the avalanche safety report and how to find and rescue people. Honestly, most of the time, one thinks that having an avalanche search device is enough, but you really need to know how to use it and that’s nearly impossible without professional help. Natascha even did real practice tests of searching people with this device, locating them with a probe and then digging them out – which is so much harder than you think!
Also, reading the avalanche safety report is not that easy, as she learned that there’s much more one needs to know than simply the level. The report contains information about the different sides of the mountains, what kind of snow fundament you can expect where, what the risks of that are, what happens when the wind changes and all this information can save lives. To be honest, on that day she received so much input, it is hard to put it all in a few words, but doing it definitely was the right choice and it is good to know that if something happens, she would really be able to go out and help search for someone that got hit by an avalanche.
We hope this blogpost did remind you on how important it is to stay safe while enjoying yourselves and maybe some of you are now interested in doing such a safety course as well, which is why you’ll find some links regarding courses right at the end of this post. Check your gear, head to the mountains and have fun!