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How dangerous is the off-piste in the Alps? - Jane Peel, Tignes
Monday February 24, 2014 - Email this article to a friend

The best way to assess the danger levels is to dig a snow pit. Even better if you get to do it with the Tignes ski patrol as they get the evidence for their official report. Jane Peel reports.



Back in December and January numerous reports emerged which suggested that a weak, unstable snowpack across much of the Alps was making it far too dangerous to venture off-piste.

In fact, some commentators suggested that the situation in parts of Europe was likely to remain risky for the whole season and that it would be foolhardy to stray from the marked runs at all.  

Scaremongering nonsense, said others. 

See here for a PlanetSKI story from the time.

Regular visitors to the mountains know that they can be hostile environments.

"Risk-free" is not a term that can be used to describe alpine sports. 

Most of us hope that a combination of knowledge, experience, on-the-day judgment and luck will keep us safe off-piste.   But there are experts in every resort whose job it is to provide the information which helps to inform our decisions.   

Their regular assessments of the quality of the snowpack are fed into official channels which, in turn, draw up the avalanche risk bulletins.  

In Tignes in France, in the vast Espace Killy ski area, the expert is Lionel Navillod, the resident meteorologist for the Tignes Ski Patrol.  

Every week, from the first snow to the end of the season, he skis to the same location, close to the Merles chairlift, and digs a snowpit.

Armed with a large shovel and a collection of remarkably simple testing and measuring implements, he sets about recording the temperature, density and resistance of the snow, from the surface to the ground.  The results are sent to the forecasters at Meteo France. 

We spent a morning with Lionel and his assistant for the day, fellow ski patroller, Megane Rieux, as they dug the weekly official Tignes snowpit.

The Tignes patrolThe Tignes patrol













What would they find, and what would it tell us about the stability of the snowpack? 

Getting the evidenceGetting the evidence













The filming was carried out by James Timothy on February 12th 2014.

For a related PlanetSKI article then see this story from last season as we went out at dawn with the Tignes avanches patrol as they bombed the slopes.

See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the mountains.

For the Spirit of the Mountains - PlanetSKI: Number One for ski news

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