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Ski guiding in Meribel France with British ski instructors
Ski guiding in Meribel France with British ski instructors
Ski guiding in Meribel France with British ski instructors
Ski guiding in Meribel France with British ski instructors

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Gooney Bird & Avalanche Scare

Posted on
April 4, 2011

Last week, just before April Fools Day, I skied for three days with Rohiyah, for the second time this winter. Rohiyah is part of the Gooney Bird Team from Dublin that you may remember back in February. Rohiyah decided that she couldn't resist squeezing in another ski trip to Méribel with Margaret this winter. It's always loads of fun catching up with her, because she always has loads of stories to tell. Plus she has a fascinating view on life gathered from many experiences in the past. 

We made the most of the spring-like conditions, ie firm snow first thing in the morning before the strong sun warms up the snow. Plus, we also loved having the pistes to ourselves, you can just make out Rohiyah all by herself up on the Col de la Loze.

It wasn't always sunny; we had a top-up of snow mid-week as well. If you saw the first Gooney Bird post earlier in the season, you may remember that she is a natural in front of Canon, check out the Bridget Bardot pouting.

At the end of my last day with Rohiyah my feelings swung from one extreme to the other, ie having loads of fun with her one minute to hard reality the next. After I left Rohiyah at her hotel, I skied down to the school to drop off my ski kit. However just before I reached the school I noticed a couple of my colleagues racing towards the Tougnete bubble. Immediately I thought that was a little odd, but as soon as I reached the school I was hastily told about an avalanche on the Combe Tougnete piste and rescuers were urgently needed. I took a huge gulp and rushed across to the bubble at the same time as Alain, the Big Cheese of the school. His phone was ringing like mad, as were different channels on his walky talky. In order to get to the avalanche we needed to use two lifts: the Tougnete bubble and then the Tougnete chairlift. Whilst going up on the bubble I spoke to Alain asking for any details he had, for instance was there anybody caught in the slide? All we knew was, well, nothing!?! Whilst we were on the chairlift we soon got a view of the slide, and because Canon was with me and Rohiyah earlier that day, I was able to capture the scene below us.

As you can see several rescuers were already at work, probing into the debris. It is essential that anyone buried in an avalanche is found in a very short time, I won't go into the details of the timings but let's just say the odds are definitely not in your favour after four minutes of being buried......

One of the many many ski instructing exams that need to be taken and passed include 'High Mountain Security' which helps you assess avalanche risk and rescue. That's all fine until the real thing happens. Training is training, but reality feels different. Especially fresh in all of our minds was the recent massive avalanche on Mont Vallon at the head of the Méribel valley where I believe a missing person has still not been found.

The urgency dominated my thoughts: no one knew if there was a victim. The pressure for accurate probing was high, it was very physical work due to the uneven nature of the debris. Plus my hands kept slipping on the probe due to the rain at the time. Also another factor came into play, close to me was a colleague from the school who I knew had lost their father in an avalanche many years ago, and understandably they were finding it all difficult to deal with.

Thankfully no one was found in the slide. It has to be said that this was a small slide compared to many. Afterwards I tried to think positively about the experience. I was most impressed by the discipline and professionalism of the pisteurs (and two sniffer dogs): the search ran like a military operation. Granted, ski instructors are professionals, we help people improve their skiing and help them enjoy their holidays even more by reaching their realistic goals. But the pisteurs you and I see, chewing on dried sausages soaking up the sun have many many qualities. I shall certainly see them in a different light now.

For the record, Canon was only used going up on the chairlift, and when my duties were finished and confirmed by the head pisteur.Martin

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With our skills- based system of learning, we give you the tools to safely negotiate any demands the mountains make on you, helping you to increase your comfort zone and ski in a wider range of conditions. Whether you are a nervous novice, a blue piste cruiser or an all mountain adventurer, we tailor your ski lessons to create a perfect fit. The question is, which one are you?

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With our skills- based system of learning, we give you the tools to safely negotiate any demands the mountains make on you, helping you to increase your comfort zone and ski in a wider range of conditions. Whether you are a nervous novice, a blue piste cruiser or an all mountain adventurer, we tailor your ski lessons to create a perfect fit. The question is, which one are you?

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