This headline was prompted by my experiences earlier this week in preparing a crew for the Rolex Middle Sea Race. As well as being a keen off-piste skier, From time to time I participate in offshore sail racing which has a similar sense of adventure and is at least as dangerous. Many offshore sailors are also off-piste skiers. The appeal of each sport is similar. But the accident rates differ enormously. In doing the preparation I was struck by the safety training and discipline that is imposed by this sport.
The Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) organises offshore racing involving 5000 - 10000 competitors each year and since 1980 there have been 2 fatalities. The are further events around the world with other clubs with few reported serious accidents. Wheras when I was reading a review of avalanche accidents in France by David George from Piste Hors, , I see there were 29 fatalities in 19 separate incidents last season.
I am unclear on the relative numbers of participants, but the accidents rates seem very different. There are relatively more accidents in off-piste skiing Linked to this there are very different approaches to training as applied by the authorities and participants in each sport. An offshore race team would never go out without at least half of the crew being very experienced and well trained in basic safety. There are courses recognised by ISAF and the RYA and RORC that provide the grounding you need to participate in the sport. Further to that before all major races all boats are inspected by safety inspectors to ensure they have the correct equipment and have established safe procedures. This is not a nanny state approach and does not detract from the sport. Off-shore sailing remains dangerous and exciting.
Yet somehow in off-piste skiing training can be regarded as optional or just for experts and professionals. What are the reasons given?
Don't want to waste valuable skiing time doing boring training?Too expensive - already spent all my money going skiingI am going with a guide and they will keep me safeMy friends have been trained and they will look after meI went to an avalanche talk 4 years ago
At HAT we feel very strongly that all of these and other reasons consitute a hazard not just to the skier but more importantly to their friends who they ski with. Not having the training puts the whole group at risk. Not having the equipment puts your friends at risk. Not knowing how to use the equipment means you are relying on your firends to rescue you, but you are unable to help them if they get into trouble.