When they’re open, yellow pistes, which are marked but not groomed, are the ideal way to enjoy riding in deep snow safely. The piste operator secures them against the usual dangers, including avalanches, but preparation and checks are limited, and there isn’t usually a final check at the end of the day. If you stray beyond the groomed pistes, you have to expect hazards such as stones, tree trunks, hidden recesses and terrain traps.
Areas outside the marked pistes and snowparks, especially shortcuts and off-piste routes, don’t have any markings and aren’t secured against any of the dangers you may face.
It’s difficult to assess the avalanche risk. If you want to go off-piste, it’s best to find a guide with avalanche expertise or attend an avalanche course first.
Before you set off, you need to find out what the current conditions are and what the terrain is like. You should take note of the recommendations in avalanche bulletins (e.g. on slf.ch and the White Risk app) and choose a low-risk route. Freeriders must carry emergency equipment (avalanche beacon, probe and shovel) with them at all times and know how to use it.
The risk of triggering an avalanche depends on the current conditions, the terrain and the behaviour of everyone concerned. Avalanches can happen on slopes of around 30° or more. The steeper the slope, the greater the risk. Skiers and snowboarders set off lots of avalanches, but there are measures you can take to reduce the risk.
Voluntary work with Youth and Sport
The national Youth and Sport scheme for promoting sports provides opportunities to enjoy the unique feeling of off-piste powder and test your mettle in demanding terrain.
Youth and Sport ski and snowboard leaders are allowed to take their groups off-piste without emergency equipment if they follow this decision-making process:
- Clarify: Clarify each leader’s skills and off-piste knowledge. Take account of the organiser’s rules.
- Plan: Choose where to go based on your group’s level of ability and the current conditions. You must choose a slope that’s close to a piste (same degree of exposure and steepness, easy to reach) and not too steep (less than 30° in all places, including the terrain above the slope).
- Discuss: Discuss the avalanche risk on your chosen slope with the local piste and rescue service. It must be virtually zero.
- Lead: Leaders take responsibility for their group on the slopes. Their duty of care includes clear leadership and proactive communication of typical dangers.
Professional work under the Risk Act
Guided off-piste tours and downhill runs from difficulty level WS (not very difficult) are classified by law as high-risk activities. Snow sports instructors with a federal diploma who wish to engage in high-risk activities need a licence from the relevant cantonal authorities. These activities are subject to the Federal Act on Mountain Guides and Organisers of other High-Risk Activities (Risk Act) as well as the related Risk Ordinance.
Key principles for federally licensed snow sports instructors:
- The Risk Act applies to commercially offered high-risk activities outside the responsibility of ski lift and cable car operators.
- Any activity generating turnover of at least one Swiss franc is deemed to be commercial and thus requires a licence under the Risk Act.
- The level of difficulty in accordance with the Swiss Alpine Club scale determines whether an activity qualifies as high-risk and thus requires a licence.
- A licence is required for off-piste downhill runs with difficulty level WS (not very difficult) or higher, and routes up to difficulty level S (difficult) are permitted, provided there’s no fall risk.
- Tours always require a licence and are permitted up to difficulty level WS (not very difficult).
- Crossing glaciers and using technical aids such as picks, crampons or ropes aren’t allowed.
Snow sports instructors without a licence may use off-piste routes that don’t qualify as high-risk under the Risk Act, i.e. up to difficulty level L (easy, below 30°), and marked yellow pistes by agreement with the management of their school.
Snow sports instructors have a duty of care towards their customers at all times. This requires them to be aware of the needs and dangers activities entail and how to deal with them. The law only covers a fraction of the knowledge snow sports instructors must have and the rules they must follow.
- Use marked yellow pistes when they’re open.
- If you want to leave the secured pistes behind, attend an avalanche course first and/or find a guide with avalanche expertise.
- Check the current off-piste conditions and take your emergency equipment with you.
- White Risk - Avalanche prevention
- Skitourenguru - planning aid
- Institut for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF
- Federal Act on Mountain Guides and Organisers of other High-Risk Activities
- Caution Avalenches!
- Skitouring scale - Swiss Alpine Club SAC (DE)
- In-depth off-piste information youth and sports (DE)
- Swiss Snowsports «Academy 33» (DE)
- Additional info for voluntary work with Youth and Sports (DE)