DOGTAG has been insuring off-piste skiers and snowboarders for well a over decade. In fact Dogtag was started by two extreme skiers (as it was known back then) who didn't think that the travel Insurance available at the time provided enough cover. After starting Dogtag with off-piste skiiers and snowboarders in mind, we thought that we might as well also insure many thousands of extreme and outdoor sports enthusiasts from bikers and climbers to divers and endurance athletes.
We get asked about freeride travel insurance and off-piste travel insurance all the time so we produced this page and hope this guide will help you when you go into the mountains to live the dream. Have fun... but be safe.
Click on the links below to read more about Freeride Safety.
Goto A word about going off piste FAQs
Goto Why educate and equip yourself? FAQs
Goto So before you go... FAQs
Goto Some FIS rules FAQs
Goto And Finally! Some common sense rules... FAQs
Where does off-piste end and ski touring begin?
Europe & North America: Anywhere outside the piste markers, but within resort boundary. Where the resort boundary is unclear or there is designated access beyond the boundary that is open, it means terrain accessible by gravity from a ski lift or minimal traversing/hiking required to reach descent (less than 30 mins) from a ski lift, and specialist equipment (skins, crampons, axe or rope) would not aid progress. It includes skiing on glaciers.
Normally using specialist equipment (skins, touring bindings, ice axe, crampons, rope). And/or requires more than 30 mins of hiking/skinning/traversing to reach descent. May use resort uplifts as part of ascent. May be outside resort areas completely. Includes multiday tours. It includes ski mountaineering.
If skiing without a qualified guide, you should be suitably equipped and ski in locations and in conditions appropriate for your experience, knowledge and ability. You should pay attention to signs and ropes. If you do not understand what a local avalanche warning means in terms of where and when it will be dangerous, on a given day, then you should not ski off-piste/ski-tour without a guide on that day.
Talking of guides...
This guide is the work of IFMGA-qualified mountain guide and key member of the Dogtag Advisory Panel, Guy Willett. A Director of Chamonix-based Dream Guides, he is a mountaineer and telemark skier, with a number of rare ski descents to his name. In 2006 he skied from 7100m on Tibet's Cho Oyu and in 2009 summited Manaslu (8156m) and made probably the first 'complete' ski descent of the world's 8th highest mountain. Dr. Guy graduated from Dundee Medical School in 1999, with a diploma in high altitude medicine and physiology.
A word about going off piste
DOGTAG can cover you to go off-piste skiing and snowboarding with or without a guide. It is important, however, to fully understand what that really means. It doesn't mean that anyone can go off-piste at any time, ignoring warnings, ignoring signs. Acting recklessly or needlessly exposing yourself to peril might invalidate a claim irrespective of who you are insured by.
The onus is on YOU to make sure you are not putting yourself in harm's way (unless in an effort to save another human life) and, in our view, that means having the necessary equipment, knowledge and ability. Hiring a guide, learning the ropes and improving your fitness and technique will open up a whole new world and help to ensure your safety.
Why educate and equip yourself?
- Avalanches are not random - nearly all avalanches that bury skiers are triggered by the skier or their friends. The avalanche would probably not have happened if those skiers or snowboarders had not been there!
- Snow packs in different countries/regions behave differently and avalanche risk not only changes daily but throughout the day too. If buried in an avalanche your only real chance of rescue rests with the other members of your party! Rescue services often simply cannot get there in time. You must dig out the victim(s) in 15 minutes (or survival rate drops to 50%). Therefore everyone in the party must have shovel/probe/transceiver and know exactly how to use them. There's no point in only one person having the shovel if he's the one buried!
- Hazards of avalanche are not just burial - approximately 50% of injuries/deaths are due to trauma (hitting trees, rocks, falling off cliffs, into crevasses or being hit by chunks of ice) - even small avalanches can kill.
- According to Swiss data, approximately 70% of avalanche victims are within a few hundred metres of the piste. Off-piste is off-piste and there is no such thing as being a little bit off-piste. The closer you are to a piste does not necessarily mean the safer you are.
- An avalanche is not the only off-piste hazard - tree stumps, rocks, cliffs, getting lost and exposure/hypothermia can all cause problems.
- Debunking myths - you can't "swim" in an avalanche, you can't out-ski one, they can reach speeds in excess of a hundred miles an hour, and you won't be rescued by a large dog dispensing free brandy.
- So, buy proper kit, learn how to use it, take a backcountry skills course and be better prepared! You will open a whole new world...
So before you go...
Get Kitted Out:
Decent technical clothing and layers, gloves, goggles, rucksack, transceiver, probe, shovel (metal), sunglasses, helmet. Consider a map and compass and a small head-torch. Harness and crevasse rescue kit if you are planning to ski off-piste on glaciers.
- Signs, ropes and pisteurs/ski patrol all give good indications of prevailing conditions.
- Belt & Braces: take an Avalanche Safety/Backcountry skills course or hire a guide. resources in-country...
- Appropriate, well-ser viced skis and bindings make off-piste more fun, prevent injury and unnecessary digging in deep snow.
- Practice your transceiver skills with your group (in your garden/at the park/on the beach) - get good, your friend's life may depend on it. So might yours.
- Insurance: Does your policy cover you for off-piste? Has it expired? Do you know all the details, the rescue numbers? (Maybe time to consider Dogtag, eh?)
Get Local Info:
Weather & avalanche risk forecasts are readily available on the internet:
- Italy: www.nimbus.it
- Switzerland: www.meteosuisse.ch
- Austria: www.wetter.at
- European avalanche bulletins: www.avalanches.org
- US avalanche & weather info: www.avalanche.org (and many local resort websites)
- Canada: www.avalanche.ca
Armed with daily local and regional avalanche and weather forecasts, and referencing a map of your resort, you can avoid skiing in the more dangerous places but still find great snow. Access to information varies wildly from resort to resort and some resorts are more forthcoming with off-piste info than others but try this:
- The night before or early on the morning that you intend to ski, go online to the regional avalanche and weather forecast sites. Pay close attention to altitudes/slope aspects/times of day mentioned.
- On your way to ski, swing by the Tourist Office and main lift hubs to check for local avalanche, weather forecasts and piste closures. Ask them for the local emergency phone number and store it in your phone Weather/Avalanche risk forecasts are often posted at resort tourist offices and at main ski lifts. Many resorts have their own websites with forecasts posted.
increased knowledge will keep you safer and also help you find the best snow!!
- Avalanche awareness course Backcountry course
- Read books. There are many but we like these: • Chance in a Million by Barton & Wright • Avalanche Safety for Skiers & Climbers by Tony Daffern
- Watch videos like Off-Piste Essentials by the British Mountaineering Council
Some FIS rules
Courtesy and Safety are quite often inter-related...
Wherever you ski or board, whether on or off-piste, there are "rules of the road" as laid down by the FIS (International Ski Federation). We think everyone should know them so, even if you've seen them a thousand times before, here they are again. Please read and inwardly digest.
• Respect for others
A skier or snowboarder must behave in such a way that he does not endanger or prejudice others.
• Control of speed and skiing or snowboarding
A skier or snowboarder must move in control. He must adapt his speed and manner of skiing or snowboarding to his personal ability and to the prevailing conditions of terrain, snow and weather as well as to the density of traffic.
• Choice of route
A skier or snowboarder coming from behind must choose his route in such a way that he does not endanger skiers or snowboarders ahead.
A skier or snowboarder may overtake another skier or snowboarder above or below and to the right or to the left provided that he leaves enough space for the overtaken skier or snowboarder to make any voluntary or involuntary movement.
• Entering, starting and moving upwards
A skier or snowboarder entering a marked run, starting again after stopping or moving upwards on the slopes must look up and down the slopes to ensure that he can do so without endangering himself or others.
• Stopping on the piste
Unless absolutely necessary, a skier or snowboarder must avoid stopping on the piste in narrow places or where visibility is restricted. After a fall in such a place, a skier or snowboarder must move clear of the piste as soon as possible..
• Climbing and descending on foot
A skier or snowboarder either climbing or descending on foot must keep to the side of the piste.
• Respect for signs and markings
A skier or snowboarder must respect all signs and markings.
At accidents, every skier or snowboarder is duty bound to assist.
Every skier or snowboarder and witness, whether a responsible party or not, must exchange names and addresses following an accident.
And Finally! Some common sense rules...
When Skiing Off Piste
✘ Never ski alone.
✔︎ Make sure the whole party is equipped with transceiver, shovel, probe - and harness/crevasse rescue kit if on a glacier - and that they know how to use it all.
✘ Don't ski in locations and conditions that aren't appropriate for your ability and experience.
✔︎ Take some snacks, water and a spare layer of clothing.
✘ Don't forget to gather local information on daily avalanche risk, weather forecast, piste closures etc.
✔︎ Pay attention to signs and ropes.
✘ Don't all ski at the same time! Skiing one at a time is safer (and good for showing off and taking photos).
✔︎ Plan where to ski and how to ski it, based on this information and the shape of terrain around.
✘ Don't just follow tracks - make YOUR own decisions.
✔︎ Carry a mobile phone with local emergency number in.
✔︎ Consider hiring a guide - a guide will know the best pitches, you will have more fun, ski more, see more, learn more and get the most out of your day.