Ever hear (or feel) the whip of wind from a skier steaming past, too close? Or feel like you’re playing the gate in a game of human slalom? Or seen a skier flying out of control down a blue slope full of beginners and children oblivious to the danger they are toying with?
Step in Morzine-born campaign Piste X Code, which has entered its first full winter season, spreading the good word about piste safety. Following several high-profile, fatal accidents last winter in France, Morzine locals Amie Henderson and Louise Paley decided to take action; in February ‘22 they set up the Piste X Code campaign to raise awareness around the rules of the piste to make the slopes safer. “Our guidelines within Piste X Code are actually just a reinterpretation [updated, modernised] of the established International Ski Federation (FIS) guidelines. But how many people even know these exist?” asks Amie.
The first step of the campaign involves the ski and snowboard community (re)familiarising itself with the skiway code. These are likely things you know already but forget (or ignore) when you’re out there shredding, at fever pitch. How many do you recognise (or, should this read, how many are you guilty of?): ski within your ability; know who has the right of way; think about where you stop; don’t listen to music; don’t use apps that challenge your speed; respect piste signs.
It doesn’t matter how big or small the rebellion, it can end disastrously. And not just for you. Most of us are well aware of the rule breaking. But how long has it been since we’ve been challenged on it… Well, here it is. The challenge.
One of the end goals of Piste X Code is to see piste patrollers in resorts, across the whole of Europe.
“Many accidents that occur on the pistes are completely avoidable,” says Louise, a physiotherapist treating all sorts of injuries sustained on the mountain. “Increasing awareness is the first step in improving ski safety. Ultimately, we feel that there should be clear consequences for people behaving recklessly on the mountains [such as having their ski pass suspended].”
Louise and Amie recently sent out a questionnaire regarding piste safety to every ski resort in France. Preliminary results suggest 69% of ski resorts think that having piste patrollers would be a positive move. “We are actually surprised that this figure isn’t higher; we need to delve deeper to find out what the counter arguments are.”
One reason could be around the question of whose responsibility it is to police the slopes. Currently, it’s assumed that role lies with the pisteurs, but they don’t have authority to remove lift passes or impose sanctions. The feedback from pisteurs is divided, the kickback being that they already have enough to do. Ski Patrol exists in the US, Canada, Australia and Japan; slope management, first aid, rescue and recovery are part of the job, as is dealing with reckless and unsafe mountain users.
I, personally, have had my lift pass pulled twice. Once in Japan for ducking a rope to access some sweet-looking sidecountry (though the whole aftermath was so polite and gentle, with a hundred bows and one big language barrier, I hardly knew if my pass was being confiscated or my ski tracks admired), and again in the States for reckless skiing, where, conversely, I was so publicly scolded I paid a mate to swap jackets to avoid recognition. Two lessons well learned. (I hasten to add I was much younger and dumber).
The Piste X Code crew are really walking the walk, as well as talking the talk. This season they’re filming a kids-friendly version of the Piste X Code video, are partnering with local ski schools, and reaching out to experts in the fields of equipment safety, piste design and accident litigation. The Grand Massif ski area is partnering, including Samoëns and Flaine, where one incident last year saw a child fatally injured. The plan is to roll out the campaign to all resorts, France-wide first then across the Alps.
“The biggest danger on the mountain is other people!” – how many times have you heard this before? While it might be true (but that’s just a numbers game) the idea is to not let it be you. Check out Piste X Code to reeducate yourself, donate, or see how you can get involved.
THE PISTE X CODE
- Ski & snowboard within your ability
- Consider your choice of path
- Think about where you’ll stop
- Be aware of your surroundings
- Set a good example for children
- Respect piste signs & markings
- Know your role if there’s an accident