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How do I behave in the event of an avalanche?

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Avalanches are life-threatening – your survival depends on how you react. If you are hit by an avalanche, time is a major factor when it comes to your chances of survival. 

AXA employee Alex Wegmann let himself be buried under the snow under the supervision of avalanche expert Norbert Fischbacher. Watch the video to find out what he learned and how companions should behave following an avalanche.

The interview with the avalanche expert

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    Norbert Fischbacher

    Certified avalanche expert Norbert Fischbacher is a mountain guide who lives in the Toggenburg region.

 

Mr. Fischbacher, has freeriding – once a marginal sport – now become a trend sport?

"In the Toggenburg region that I am from, there is only a small freeride area. However, in other places, I have observed an increase. In general, I see that off-piste skiing in Switzerland is on an uptrend. I suspect that film material available in the media and in sports shops, among other things, is encouraging this behavior. However, what I see as the greater danger is the increasing trend toward freeriding off-piste from avalanche level 3. The risks are often underestimated. "

Does a mountain guide always have to be present on snow tours, even if I'm already an experienced ski-tourer?

"There are many advantages to having a mountain guide present since he knows the current safety conditions as well as the peculiarities of the mountain region. But what matters most is that ski-tourers don't travel alone. For an avalanche victim to have a better chance of survival, rescue by a companion can be critical. The first 15 minutes are decisive. If a victim is found and dug out of the snow, their chance of survival is 90 percent. This drops considerably after 15 minutes – for a professional rescue team, it's then a race against time. "

 

"The first 15 minutes are decisive. If a victim is found and dug out of the snow, their chance of survival is 90 percent. "

Norbert Fischbacher, age 50, avalanche expert

How can you best prepare for a snow tour?

"Ideally you should ensure that you are not traveling alone, that you study the weather report in advance, and that you are optimally equipped with, for example, an avalanche backpack, an avalanche locator device, or a shovel. In addition, it is sensible to undergo an advance safety check with an expert, such as a mountain guide, the piste service or a ski school, in order to get a picture of the situation off-piste."

Who is liable in the event of an accident?

"It pays to have a mountain guide who can show their certification. He will take good care of his guests and is experienced. In addition, the question of liability is then usually clarified too, as every mountain guide has private professional liability insurance. This protects him and his group, though not from the consequences of grossly negligent behavior."

The new winter hiking trend is snowshoeing. Isn't this dangerous?

"Here, I see the greatest potential to carry out preventive work. In fact, many people think it's like hiking – pull on the snowshoes and off you go through the empty landscape. The danger arises when hiking through the forest. Because a forest offers no protection against avalanches. Also in late winter, when it gets warmer and the snow turns to slush, the risk is high. Especially in small gullies and hollows. Rescuers often have trouble finding the victims because the snowshoe hikers are also ill-equipped."

Further information about avalanches:

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