If you are a competent skier or snowboarder, you’ll probably be in to riding off piste whenever possible. The feeling of floating on fresh powder is just unbelievable and incredibly addictive. One of the greatest things about the SnowHQ chalets is the ease of access to a huge amount of Les Arcs off piste terrain.
If you take the entire Paradiski area, the available backcountry terrain is just vast! There are hundreds of routes you can take, some involving a bit of a hike, others accessible easily from the top of a chairlift (better be quick if you want fresh tracks on these ones!).
Why stick to the pistes when there is so much more to be explored. After a good fall of snow, get yourself up the mountain in time for the first chairlift and start shredding some pow!
Les Arcs off piste – take precautions
With the opportunities to ride Les Arcs off piste come certain risks. Riding Les Arcs off piste can be dangerous, but with the right know-how you can do it safely and reduce any risk to the minimum.
The Les Arcs off piste areas are not monitored by the resort teams like the pistes are. If you venture in to the backcountry it is at your own risk. However, riding Les Arcs off piste is certainly not discouraged and it’s enjoyed by thousands of skiers every year.
Backcountry areas are isolated, often out of sight of the main resort areas. Make sure you tell others where you are planning to go and what time you expect to be back, so that they can alert the authorities if you don’t return as expected. This is standard practice for any venture in to backcountry terrain, whether it be mountains, bushland or other sparsely populated areas.
Another significant danger come from the risk of avalanches. Many people are killed each year by avalanches, even when accompanied by experienced guides. However, with the right knowledge and equipment you can make your day safe and uneventful, and hopefully a whole lot of fun.
Avalanche Safety in Les Arcs
If you are going to venture off piste in Les Arcs, you absolutely MUST carry the minimum set of equipment to keep you and others in your group safe. The three must have items of safety equipment are as follows:
An avalanche transceiver is a device that sends and receives location data using a radio signal. It is also commonly known as an avalanche bleeper, or ARVA in France.
When riding in backcountry terrain, everyone in your group has their transceiver set to TRANSMIT. Each transceiver then constantly emits a radio signal. In the event one of you gets buried by an avalanche, their transceiver will already be on TRANSMIT and they don’t need to do anything. Then, all the rest of the group form a rescue party and switch their transceivers to RECEIVE. Their transceivers then receive signals from the victim’s transceiver allowing the rescue party to locate the victim quickly and effectively.
Once a victim has been found using transceivers, you have to localise the search area and make an accurate assessment of where to dig in order to rescue the victim. This is where a snow probe comes in. A proble is a bit like a folding tent pole. You unpack it and then connect the sections together to form a long pole.
The probe is then used to locate the victim underneath the snow. Once the victim is located, place a glove or other item in the location so you don’t forget it once the probe is removed.
The final step in performing an avalanche rescue is to dig out the victim. Sometimes the victim can be buried deep under the snow. It is imperative to get the victim out of the snow as soon as possible – ideally within 15 minutes. Trying to dig someone out from under a metre of snow with your bare hands is a very slow process. Using a shovel makes things significantly faster and the result of this can be life or death – literally.
Avalanche experts have done studies timing the results of a rescue when one of these three pieces of kit are missing, and compared to rescues where everybody has the full set of equipment, the process takes significantly longer. Without transceivers it is difficult to locate the victim in the first place. Without a probe it is hard to locate the victim with any accuracy and you can end up digging in the wrong place. Without the shovel the digging process takes way too long. It is clear that to stay safe in the unfortunate case of you or a member of your group being caught in an avalanche, everyone must have the right equipment and know how to use it.
As well as having the right equipment and knowing how to use it, to stay safe in Les Arcs off piste requires you have a practical knowledge of what causes avalanches and how to avoid triggering them.
The vast majority of avalanches are set off by human beings. Make sure you are not riding up-slope from other people, as you could trigger an avalanche that comes down on them!
Before you ride across some terrain, take a look around and see if you can see evidence of previous avalanches. If you can see that avalanches have already happened, either naturally or by skiers, it is very likely that the current snow conditions are also likely to avalanche. Be careful! Plan the descent you are looking to take, and avoid any terrain traps. A terrain trap is some dangerous area such as a cliff that you could be forced in to if you were to be caught up in an avalanche.
Have a knowledge of the recent snowfall and how that might have affected avalanche risk. Check the avalanche risk level at the chairlifts at the beginning of each day that you want to ride Les Arcs off piste. Speak to the pisteurs who will be able to give you up to date advice on which routes are safer and which are to be avoided.
If you arm yourself with as much information as possible, and train yourself up to use your equipment properly, you can absolutely minimise the risks to yourself and others, and make riding the Les Arcs off piste a safe and enjoyable experience.