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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 January 2008, 10:33 GMT
Staying safe on the slopes
By Clifford Thompson
BBC News

Two Britons have died in the past week on winter sports holidays. Their deaths, early in the season, raise the issue of mountain safety.

The Swiss Alps
Not all winter sports insurance policies cover off-piste skiing

Monika Davis, 35, from Derbyshire, died in Germany while snowboarding. Benjamin Trichler, 11, from Oxfordshire, crashed into a tree on a US family skiing trip.

So what precautions should you take before venturing on a skiing or snowboarding holiday?

TRAINING

The Ski Club advises skiers and boarders to follow the 10-point international safety code.

Spokeswoman Betony Garner said: "We advise people to be responsible and stay in control when skiing or boarding".

It runs courses and can advise members about specific training on dealing with an avalanche and mountain awareness courses aimed at people who want to venture off-piste.

Such training can be compulsory for extreme winter sports, for example dangerous off-piste routes and heli-skiing.

The club is predicting a long winter sports season this year - very good snow cover across Europe has fallen early in the season.

Extreme heli-skiing
We advise people to be responsible and stay in control when skiing or boarding... children under 14 should wear a helmet
Betony Garner, Ski Club of Great Britain

Easter is very early this year so the 2008 season will be popular with school groups and the club says good conditions will ensure skiing and boarding well into April.

All the major tour operators have worldwide links with ski schools.

Simon Calder, the Independent newspaper's travel editor, says that snow sports carry a "higher degree of risk" and this should be borne in mind before a trip.

"There are plenty of ways to reduce - but not eliminate - the danger, starting with training and equipment.

"If any good comes from these tragedies, it will be to remind us how essential it is to take precautions," adds Mr Calder.

The Ski Club "advises that children under 14 should wear a helmet and suggests adults consider wearing a helmet".

INSURANCE

The Foreign Office says that many skiers and boarders get into trouble because they drink too much and the effects of alcohol are heightened at altitude.

A spokesman said consular representatives from British embassies and high commissions are often called on to help winter sports fans who get into trouble.

The briefing at the start of the holiday is an opportunity for holidaymakers to take advantage of our knowledge of the mountain
Clive Andrews, Neilson

It has specific travel advice on its website and warns that you are likely to invalidate your insurance policy if you injure yourself while under the influence of alcohol.

Its website says it is "essential to take out travel insurance when taking any trip abroad, no matter how short your trip".

The Ski Club also recommends checking annual policies as they may have restrictions on certain winter sports activities.

Skiing or boarding may be covered but there could be restrictions on venturing off-piste.

EQUIPMENT

The Foreign Office also stresses that the kit you hire or buy should be suitable: "Make sure you use good quality equipment and protect yourself against injury.

skiers on a chairlift
Ski holiday reps have a good knowledge of local conditions

"Know your ability level - don't take on the black run after two days on the beginner slopes."

The safety charity ROSPA says there is a vast array of winter sports kit available and that people should ask themselves: "Will it make a difference to my safety or comfort?".

It also stresses the importance of knowing how to use equipment properly, adding that many ski schools will insist on children wearing a helmet.

Clive Andrews edits the website for ski travel company Neilson and says that like all ski and snowboard tour operators, his company has links with equipment hire shops in all its resorts.

"Their expertise is something we very much value".

ARRIVING IN RESORT

Neilson says that its 'welcome' meetings are crucial and resemble briefings covering resort facilities, piste conditions and local information about safety.

Mr Andrews says: "We have got a lot of experience, and our reps know their ski areas.

"The briefing at the start of the holiday is an opportunity for holidaymakers to take advantage of our knowledge of the mountain".

All winter sports tour operators recommend the International Ski Federation's code of conduct.

Skiing in Vail Colorado
The International Ski Federation has a 10-point safety code

Lynsey Devon, a spokeswoman for winter sports operator Inghams, says that code is as "important as the highway code", and makes skiing safer for all mountain users.

Inghams issues the guidance to all of its holidaymakers, and this year has launched a new service called piste-to-powder in Austria, Italy, France and Switzerland.

The service is for boarders and skiers who are thinking of venturing off-piste.

Ms Devon highlights some dangers: "You should never go off-piste without using common sense - we suggest hiring a trained mountain guide who knows the local conditions and will check the avalanche readings locally in the resort and who will know the mountains."

The Ski Club adds: "Off-piste safety is also paramount. If riding off-piste, skiers/boarders should always wear an avalanche transceiver and carry a shovel and probe."

CODE OF CONDUCT

The International Ski Federation - or FSI - offers its advice to skiers and boarders in the form of a 10-point "code of conduct" for the piste:

  • Respect: Do not endanger others

  • Control: Adapt the manner and speed of your skiing to your ability and to the general conditions on the mountain

  • Choice of route: The skier/snowboarder in front has priority - leave enough space

  • Overtaking: Leave plenty of space when overtaking a slower skier/snowboarder

  • Entering and starting: Look up and down the mountain each time before starting or entering a marked run

  • Stopping: Only stop at the edge of the piste or where you can easily be seen.

  • Climbing: When climbing up or down, always keep to the side of the piste.

  • Signs: Obey all signs and markings - they are there for your safety

  • Assistance: In case of accidents provide help and alert the rescue service

  • Identification: All those involved in an accident, including witnesses, should exchange names and addresses



    SEE ALSO
    Man's tribute to snow death wife
    07 Jan 08 |  Derbyshire
    Tributes to ski death schoolboy
    04 Jan 08 |  Oxfordshire

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