Planning a backcountry ski tour

A ski tour in outlying terrain away from secured ski lifts in wintery landscapes is only advisable after your tour planning has mapped it out precisely. The better you "immerse" yourself in the tour beforehand, the fewer surprises await you once you get underway.

The very first thing is to illuminate the initial 3-point spearhead: "Goal" + "Who is coming along" + "Weather and other conditions". Each of these three things depends on the other elements. That means, not every goal can be reached with every companion...and vice versa. Weather and avalanche conditions, of course, always play a major role in your decisions.


Nowadays, the Internet helps to establish all the details with ease and precision. If you are not online, you can always ask the man in charge at the alpine refuge.

Avalanche bulletin
At  you can quickly and easily evaluate the overall avalanche situation.

Of course it is very important to be able to interpret the bulletin. Alpine Clubs or nationally certified guides can teach you how to do that.


What is your goal, after having analyzed both other components? To decide that, you need maps to be able to plan the routes of ascent and descent. The steepness of the terrain across which you plan to move is the decisive factor, apart from the avalanche dangers as posted in the current bulletin. In order to avoid feeling under pressure on the spot when obstacles appear or difficulties arise, you also need a ‘Plan B’, an alternative goal, so that you can respond to unexpected developments without stress. That way, the unknowns and unpredictables are already part of the agenda.


Depending on the backcountry tour selected, you then estimate the required ascent time and descent time, leaving a certain leeway. The most important rule of thumb for backcountry tours is: The early bird catches the worm.


It is also important to decide who will be along. What are the levels of knowledge and ability of my companions? Those are also factors which must be considered in your selection of a goal and a route.


When the goal and the persons of the tour are planned, the appropriate equipment has to be decided on and shared with the participants. Under all circumstances, the following emergency equipment should be packed: LVS transceiver (beacon), probe and shovel, bivouac sleeping bag, first aid kit and mobile telephone.

For correct orientation, a map, a compass and an altimeter are also necessary.

It’s also a good idea to have along a second (reserve) transceiver/beacon or at least extra batteries. That way, you can assist a companion who was forgetful or  unprepared.

Text. Wolfgang Rohrmoser, Mountain Rescue Instructor Salzburg, Director of ÖBRD Rauris, Mountain and Skiing Guide

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First aid at avalanche accidents

When an avalanche is triggered, it brings mortal danger. A variety of measures need to be taken so that one never is placed in that position. Nevertheless, Mountain Rescue physician Dr. Joachim Schiefer has summarized the most important steps to take in case emergency first aid is necessary.

A backcountry ski tour should never be undertaken alone.

Act quickly

If, despite all caution and caretaking measures (see links) an avalanche is released, it is essential to act quickly. The person buried beneath masses of snow has only a brief time window before suffocating. In addition to that, serious injuries and highly dangerous hypothermia (undercooling) threaten every avalanche victim.

For that reason, all efforts must be devoted to the quickest possible pinpointing of the victim and organised shoveling of snow to liberate the person from life-threatening peril.

If you are alone or with only one companion, placing a Handynotrufs (emergency call on cell phone) in this phase only causes increased delay and should be postponed for about 15 minutes. If it is a larger group, one member immediately places the telephone call while the others begin searching and shoveling.

Quickly freeing mouth, nose and chest

After finding the victim, mouth, nose and chest should be freed of snow as fast as possible.

If the victim can hear and speak, determine any possible injuries. Then use the bivouac sleeping bag for protection against the cold.

If the victim cannot hear and speak, yet there are signs of breathing, place the victim carefully into the bivouac sleeping bag in a stable position on his/her side.

If there are no signs of breathing, reanimation measures must be initiated without delay: in a rhythm of 30:2, proceed with heart massage to bring back respiratory activity in the victim.

The reanimation must be continued until the rescue team (emergency doctor) arrives.

In general, an avalanche victim should be moved as little as possible. If the previous measures have been successful, it is imperative to remain with the victim and pay close heed to possible hazards in the terrain.

If necessary, remove the victim from the immediate danger zone.

One last request: in order to avoid unnecessary emergency missions of the Mountain Rescue, please report without fail all avalanches where there were no accidents or victims!


Text: Dr. Joachim Schiefer, Mountain Rescue physician for state of Salzburg