Understanding Avalanche Warning Levels
The snow is falling fast and we are getting pretty excited about the winter ahead. For the powder hounds among you there is nothing better than getting fresh tracks but mountain safety and avalanche awareness are vital if you want to enjoy the amazing off-piste on offer.
There is a lot of information on avalanche safety available but it is a complex subject and if misunderstood can have very serious consequences. We would always strongly recommend that you do some training in off-piste safety before you head off the beaten track and that you go with a qualified instructor. A good starting point is understanding the basic avalanche warning levels used across European resorts.
The Avalanche Risk Scale
Throughout Europe the level of risk is depicted in a scale of 1 to 5.
The warning level on any given day will be displayed at lift stations and information boards around your resorts; it is usually shown using the flags below, but what do they mean?
As there is always a risk of avalanches in the mountain it is impossible to guarantee safety so level 1 does not mean zero chance but indicates a ‘low’ risk of avalanches.
Level 2 is classified as ‘moderate’ risk. While conditions are relatively stable there is still a risk of avalanches particularly on any slope with a gradient steeper than your average blue run. Note that the flag does not alter between a level 1 and 2 so you will also need to keep your eyes peeled for the number that is shown.
Level 3 indicates a ‘considerable’ risk. Do not be lulled into a false sense of security by the fact that this is in the middle of the scale. The majority of avalanche fatalities and accidents occur at this risk level.
This indicates a ‘high’ risk. We would strongly recommend not going off-piste if there is a high level warning. Again the flag is the same as when the risk is at level 3 so be aware of the number shown.
Level 5 indicates a ‘very high’ risk. If you see this flag it is likely that a number of lifts will be closed and runs will be unavailable to you. Do not venture off-piste if this warning level is shown and be sure to follow the instructions of pisteurs and signs indicating closed run etc.
Skiing off-piste can be an incredible experience but it is dangerous so remember if you’re not sure don’t go. And don’t be shy to ask for help or advice from people in the know. Come and see us for avalanche awareness sessions or join us for a day of guided off-piste on a ProXplore. The mountain is your playground but remember safety first people!