European Randonnee Ski Mountaineering Race Scene

Post by blogger | March 8, 2006      

Andrew and Polly McLean

Rando racing couple Andrew and Polly Mclean were at Cuneo, Italy for the World Championships. Polly even witnessed the avalanche:

Polly: ” I was actually skinning up and the avalanche blew right by me with other competitors in it. It didn’t look very deep when it went by, but of course things are very different at the bottom. In the end luckily no one was hurt badly. There were a few missing skis and a lot of shaken people. It was not the kind of excitement we were looking for and a good reminder to reassess one’s course, depending on the conditions!

Andrew: “The Euro ski scene was kind of an eye opener. I’d skied there quite a bit, but never really interacted with so many people as I did on this trip. The resorts are huge, wide open and do almost no control work by US standards. Add to that the mentality that avalanches are seen as an unavoidable act of God, and you begin to see why so many people die over there. They also rely heavily on helicopter rescues for anything from blisters to burials.

We stayed with a friend who was a heli pilot on a day when three people were killed. The fourth person had a beacon, but instead of searching, he called the helicopter which arrived twelve minutes after the slide occurred (still, far too late) and located the bodies. The helis have beacons with amplifiers in them that the pilots can listen to, so they fly over the debris pile, then throw out markers when they get a signal, then drop people off to start digging. Another person died within 30 meters of the triple fatality just a few days later, and on one day there were ten avalanche accidents in Switzerland alone!

Custom made Dynafit boots and bindings for ski racing
Photo above shows $1,200 carbon fiber boots and custom made heel pieces used by Stephan Brosse, one of the fastest guys alive. In the vertical race, the winner did 1,000 meters in 39 minutes!

The weight limit is 1,200 grams for a ski and binding for the men and 1,000 grams for women. Men’s skis have to be 160cm and the women’s are 150’s. If they come in underweight, they tape coins to the tails such that the tip rotates up when they lift it for a kick turn. There is currently no weight limit on the boots — hence the innovation.


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8 Responses to “European Randonnee Ski Mountaineering Race Scene”

  1. Jason McGowin March 8th, 2006 9:37 pm

    Do we know how much those boots weigh? More proof that competition helps push the technology in sport (even though some people think that backcountry skiing and competition should not co-exist.)

  2. Mark March 8th, 2006 10:51 pm

    Nice bedroom slippers, dude. Bet my Acorns are even lighter.


  3. Oliver March 9th, 2006 2:10 am

    Andrew says: “The resorts are huge, wide open and do almost no control work by US standards. Add to that the mentality that avalanches are seen as an unavoidable act of God, and you begin to see why so many people die over there.” ……wow….. that’s a very bold statement.
    I have to say I grew up in Switzerland and skiied/snowboarded there for 20 years and never expected to get buried when I was skiing on the slopes. The ski patroll does a very good job in controlling the slopes. However there is a key difference between the US and Switzerland. As soon as you go off the official slopes in Switzerland, you are considered to be out-of-bounds, and therefore the terrain is uncontrolled. I reviewed the fatal accidents of the last 5 years in Switzerland and 0 fatalities are reported on official ski runs. (see for example 2005:
    Just wanted to clarify that.
    Now you could argue they should also start roping everything off and use the Gate policy as we do it here in the US. But some of the resorts are so huge it’s pretty much impossible to do that.

  4. Andrew McLean March 9th, 2006 7:14 am

    Hi Oliver,

    I guess the crux issue there is the definition of an “official” run. Are you talking about groomed piste runs? If you die 10 meters off of a groomer, does that count?

    From discussions with two Swiss friends, to be considered a ski area, you have to have one descent that is maintained and controlled. In the case of somewhere like La Grave with 7,000′ of vertical, one controlled run represents about 1% of the skiable terrain, so it is a fallacy to say that there have been no avalanche fatalities at La Grave just because nobody has died on the groomers. (I don’t know – maybe they have..)

    The flip side of the issue would be if someone died skiing at Sliverton Mountain in Colorado. If they rode the chairlift and were killed in a slide, I think it would be considered an official death at a ski area, official piste run or not.

  5. steve romeo March 9th, 2006 9:29 pm

    Rumor in Italy was that next season you can only race with production boots…meaning NO modifications!!!

    Having fun in Cortina…skiing some sweet couloirs. One more day left then back to JH!!


  6. Lou March 9th, 2006 10:16 pm

    Romeo, if that’s true I’d think it a mixed blessing. On the one hand perhaps we’ll get cooler production rando boots in the shops. On the other side, the really wild stuff will not happen as fast.

    At the least, one would hope they’d let the racers do a few minor mods to production boots. But officiating that sounds like a chore.

  7. Oliver March 10th, 2006 2:08 am

    OK, I have to admit the word “official run” was my own term. It’s not just the groomed areas. They also have marked areas where you can enjoy fresh powder, but are controlled. I am pretty sure that almost everybody who gets caught in an avalanche in Switzerland knows that they were in uncontrolled terrain. Lot’s of times the patrol does mark were you leave the controlled area. It’s just not as rigorously done as here in the US. I am just a little baffled about your comments that yield the impression that the Europeans kind of play russian roulette. I think the main reason why more Europeans get killed is that there is just tons and tons of very beautiful but also dangerous terrain.

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