Keep safe while skiing: Manage the risks with ISTA

Tomas IchasoMay 02, 2016

Skiing in the backcountry is one of the most rewarding activities a mountain enthusiast can do: vast valleys, impressive peaks, and untouched snow are all around the place. But together with this, there are also risks regarding avalanches that should be addressed. So at Explore-Share we partnered with the International Snow Training Academy (ISTA), a recently launched international avalanche training program intended to prevent risks in the mountains and to increase the freedom, enjoyment and safety of backcountry enthusiasts. Learn about it and check the guides offering the ISTA courses in Explore-Share!

Every year, more and more skiers leave behind the ski resorts, and venture out into the backcountry, for off-piste, freeride, or ski touring, attracted by the idea of adventure, getting away from the crowds, and into the unexplored heart of the mountains. The evidence of this trend is that the amount of gear sold (traditional and touring skis, transceivers, airbags, etc.) continues to increase every season.

But unfortunately, this growth comes together with a larger number of accidents. 90% of avalanches involving skiers are triggered by the skier himself, and 1 in 2 people involved in an avalanche dies. Not all of the new outdoor enthusiasts are aware of these risks, and although they might have the security equipment, they not always know how to use it, and many times they don’t use it at all!

Off-piste skiing in the Alps

This situation motivated Dominique, freeride pro skier, to start developing ISTA. He realized that, if nothing was done, the consequences for everyone involved in the skiing and tourism industry would be very damaging.

Every accident causes loss of trust and feeling of insecurity in the practitioners, a negative image about the activity in the public opinion, and the industry as a whole is very passive about it. And following this, the risks range from the possibility of insurance disengagement to state regulation or banning of the activity.

So the question was: How to encourage people to enjoy nature, mountains and skiing, while having a proper assessment of the risks and keeping safe? He noticed that the available avalanche prevention training offer was unstructured, not internationally standardized, and often unknown to practitioners. The solution was to develop a new international avalanche training program to prevent risks in the mountains: the International Snow Training Academy (ISTA).

ISTA course in Verbier

Inspired by the model of the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), ISTA offers a progressive international certification, starting from a one day Discovery course, and then upgrading to more advanced courses. The content of the courses was developed by more than 40 experts (from fields like Education, Sport Psychology, Pedagogy, Nutrition, Meteorology, Snow Science, Risk Management, and Mountain Guides, among others) from 9 countries and 3 continents.

Freeride risks in the Alps

ISTA has several mentors, who train IFMGA guides to become instructors. Switzerland and Italy were the first countries to offer ISTA courses, and Austria, Germany and Spain will join this year. USA and Canada will see action in 2017, while South America and New Zealand in 2018.

IFMGA mountain guide giving an ISTA course

At Explore-Share, we love the idea of encouraging people to go out to the mountains, regardless they are beginners or pros. But, in order to enjoy the experience, it’s important to keep in mind the risks involved.

That’s why we highly value the work ISTA is undertaking, and why we partnered with them. In the end, the idea is to allow people to enjoy their passion while keeping safe.

The work they are doing, developing a common and international terminology about safety in the mountains, will bring big benefits to guides, people, and everyone involved in the tourism industry. It’s saying to everyone: ‘You’ll never ride alone!’

For mountain guides, it will make it easier for them to have clients who are better aware of the risks and are able to react when there is a dangerous situation. And when dealing with new clients, from different countries and cultures, having an international standard will enable the guides to evaluate their experience and level.

And it could also help with some tricky issues that must be solved, like insurance and legislation limiting the access to some mountain regions. To avoid problems many insurance companies tend to be stricter on their coverage to mountain enthusiast. Holding an ISTA certificate could facilitate the access to insurance, proving that the person has the necessary knowledge and training to go skiing managing the risks.

Ski touring security course ISTA
Managing avalanche risks booklet

So far, two options are available: the one day Discovery, that is an introduction to the ISTA program, and the two days ST1 course, that teaches basic avalanche risk prevention skills. ST2 (consolidation) and ST3 (autonomy) modules will be available as of 2017-2018. Some IFMGA guides, like Stéphane, are already offering the ST1 in Valais through Explore-Share. So stop waiting, get prepared to enjoy the best of backcountry skiing, and as ISTA slogan says: ‘Ready, Steady, SNOW!’

Ski touring ISTA course


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