Having completed the British Association of Snowsport Instructors (BASI) 3 European Mountain Safety (EMS) assessment, a few years ago and the Level 4 training last year in Courcheval, I thought it would be a good idea to complete the BASI 4 European Mountain Safety.
Ski touring and off piste skiing are what I enjoy most about snow sports. The mountains have always held a fascination for me and the physical effort involved along with the skills needed to safely travel in them are key to this.
Areches – The Venue
I arrived in Areches (1,000m) a few days before the course started so I could get my bearings. However, with the huge amount of snow that fell followed by rain and a category 5 avalanche forecast, this was limited. The ski resort itself was closed for two-days! Areche-Beaufort is a very small resort which is split between Areches and Le Planay (1,170m); which is in the Haute-Savoie and was part of Italy in medieval times. The locals are very proud of their heritage and make some amazing cheeses. The area is well known for its wildlife which includes Ibex, Chamois, Lynx, Ermine, Bearded Vultures, Golden Eagles and Wolves which come over the mountains from Italy. The village is home to roughly 3,000 people who live there year round and the majority are involved in farming of some sort or other. The resort’s big plus, compared to other places I have skied, is the amount of easily accessible backcountry skiing which is not glaciated. They have a race, the Pierre Menta, each year in April and in the summer, which sees thousands of teams skiing/running up the mountains and cols. It is truly is an all-year round resort. For those new to touring there are several skinning tracks which run close to the piste and are marked and graded. They offer very cheap single lift passes for those wishing to ski off piste or are heading further afield but want to make use of the up lift. The Ecole du Ski Français (ESF) offer instructor led day and half day tours. The instructor I met was Pierre-Eve and his mad collie which didn’t stop running all day. Other sports shops offer guided trips over more challenging terrain and privately guided trips.
BASI 4 European Mountain Safety
The assessment started on the Tuesday evening with a short briefing about what to expect and what we needed to carry. Each morning we discussed the avalanche and weather forecast to test our knowledge and understanding relating to the areas we would be working in. We then set out to ski the resort and to check out our map reading, group control and route choice both up and down hill. As the day was so nice we took in the biggest local hill ‘Le Grand Mont’ (2,686m). The gradient was at an easy angle and we were all very keen to impress, so the ascent didn’t take too long! The views were jaw dropping in all directions with uninterrupted views north to Mont Blanc. The ski down was also great fun as the snow was so good. We did have to remember that we were being assessed and make sure we looked after the group, taking them down the best lines. Returning towards the piste we stopped to set up ski belays and then lower and belay back up our partners to demonstrate we were safe. A bit more skiing followed and the first day was behind us. That evening we had a theory paper which covered various areas including avalanche, weather, mountain knowledge, emergency procedures, flora & fauna, equipment, etc. We also had to complete a route plan for the following day with bearings, timings, distances and features to look out for.
We woke the following day to blue skies and so could do our planned route. We took it in turns to lead and everyone had to keep track of our location as you could be asked at any point to show our location and to prove it. The ski in was very enjoyable through trees to start, then open fields, and mountain meadows later. Dropping over a ridge in to a bowl allowed us the chance to stretch our ski legs for a short distance before putting skins back on our skis and heading up to the Col de Roche Plane (2,094m), over 1,000m of ascent. Heading back down started really well and we all enjoyed the snow, however, this was not to last as the snow, which had been great up to this point, changed to become nearly un-skiable. The descent became slower and it was with huge relief that we eventually arrived back on the road, a short walk from Areches. With nothing planned for the evening we all went for a well earned pizza and a couple of beers before heading off to bed and to pack kit for our final day and our results!
Another glorious day greeted us and with only a few skills to be tested we were all looking forward to finishing. More off piste skiing, avalanche and weather quiz, and the dreaded transceiver search followed. The search was for two transceivers which had been buried to simulate an avalanche; which had to be found within eight minutes. Nerves play a big part in this, because so much depends on you passing. We all took our turn and even though some of the transceivers misbehaved we all completed in under the time allowed.
With all the testing completed all that was left was to find out the results. I am glad to say we all completed the assessment successfully which was a great relief. It was great to meet new people who were doing the assessment for different reasons. Tim, Rupert and Alister were great company; and each offered the others support when they needed it. And thanks to Willie, our assessor, for his encouragement and good humour throughout.by