Chamonix ski area is in complete lockdown this weekend, with avalanche risk 5/5, the highest level. Many chalets were evacuated (link), some roads were closed (link), and people advised to stay indoors and to avoid all but essential travel. To those old enough to remember, this felt like a repeat of 1999 all over again, when a huge avalanche hit the village of Montroc at the head of the Chamonix valley. If you look at the forecasts, on Wednesday the sunshine will have returned, however temporarily, and the question on everyones lips will be; “When is it OK to get back out in the mountains again?”. Never has this question been more pertinent…
We can’t answer for others, but as a tour operator offering guided mountain adventures, it’s a very valid question, and here’s how we are tackling the tricky conditions, deciding what trips to run, and how to adapt;
- We have reduced guiding ratios on several courses, so there are less clients per mountain guide. For example, for the next two weeks we are limiting the ratio to 1:4 on all off piste skiing courses. This enables the guide to manage a smaller group better, to better adapt to the challenging conditions.
- Some courses where we consider the risks to be too great, have been offset or closed, where we do not think it possible to manage the risks sensibly. We are monitoring this situation daily, and have blocked some trips pre-emptively, or altered their dates to later in the season.
- Extra staff from our UK office are heading out to the Alps, to help manage the logistics, and speak to the local team of guides and leaders. They are reporting back regularly, so we can adapt plans, to ensure we offer the safest courses possible.
- Until mid February at earliest, we have decided that all guiding in the Alps will be done by IFMGA International Mountain Guides, to ensure the highest levels of avalanche awareness training of those leading any of our courses.
We are dealing with a once in a generation level of avalanche conditions in the Alps, and hope that this blog post give you an insight into how we are managing it, to ensure that your safety is safeguarded as highly as possible. Our website lists live course spaces, and we have adapted these to the conditions, so we are confident that everything that is advertised is available, can be guaranteed to go ahead.
Ethics don’t come cheap! We’ve blocked off courses, run others with lower (better for you) guiding ratios, and upped the leader qualification level on many trips. We haven’t passed on a penny of extra cost to our clients. We are managing risk in a challenging environment, and this flexibility and professionalism is what we believe our clients expect and are due.
If you are booked on, or considering a trip in the next weeks, rest assured that we are minimising risks. Your safety is paramount. Contact us if you wish to discuss conditions, but after a tricky week ahead, the long range forecasts indicate good weather returns, and the avalanche risk will reduce significantly.
We sure hope so too!