Chamonix Ski Safety Contradictions.

Here we see a classic airbag no helmet set up. Then a harness that's not needed, further conflicted by the wet slide that indicates steep terrain is not safe!

Basically there’s a lot of expensive kit being flashed about in Chamonix, it seems some safety kit is fashionable, however common sense maybe less so.

  Although this is written a bit tongue in cheek, hopefully it makes people think about what they use or don’t use… 

1. Wearing an Airbag but no Helmet.

Also known as the ‘Scandy Band ‘n Bag look’, unfortunately it’s not solely the preserve of Scandy’s. There is no logical explanation for this contradictory combo like the picture above shows! Here are some reasoning’s I have heard;

  •  “Wearing a helmet is uncomfortable” – and lugging around a parachute with a compressed air canister all day isn’t?
  • “Helmets are too heavy, but I do like my mates POC one” (but POC weigh a tonne ?)
  • “I just don’t need one as I never fall or bang my head” – But clearly you’re always getting caught in avalanches, hence the airbag so how are you miraculously not going to bang your head? Last time I checked more people got in trouble with head injuries than avalanches.
  • “I only ride soft powder”. Er two things wrong; one we’re in Europe where sadly no one ‘just’ rides powder, secondly whats under that powder? Yes sharks, big spiky rocky sharks!

Is it time to buy a helmet…
The cheapest and in my opinion best airbag…
2. People who spend €700 on an Airbag but the extra €150 for an avalanche safety course is a step too far.

General responses for this;  The arrogant response – “I don’t need one I can tell how stable the snow is”. Really, you can? all the time? By just stamping your ski or prodding your poles? Well you should get a job for NASA or at least the CAA. 

Next; “I never got around to doing one”, fair enough but here’s no time like the present. Here’s a link to the Avalanche Academy Training

Think about it, if you knew a lot more about the snow, the mountain, plus took a cautious approach you could probably get away without that airbag and save €100s in cash! Enough to get a matching fleece + headband Norrona outfit


3. Skiing with a harness on, when it’s clearly not safe conditions to ski anything where you vaguely need to use a harness.

I mean it’s a total white out on the glacier or there’s a Foehn wind whipping in and the snow is sliding all over the place (like in the picture above).  But still people proudly strut about in resort with a super tight crotch zone while they risk inserting a rogue Ice Screw into their leg or worse. All because there’s a opportunity to ski something vaguely extreme in marginal conditions, or maybe it’s because they just want to look hardcore and haven’t we all wanted to do that at some point. However remember a harness is also useful in Chamonix on the buses, when you’re standing like sardines just clip a carabiner on a hand rail then when the driver stops in a hurry you’ll be safe. The seatbelt of mountaineers.

4. My personal favourite; the couple where the man has full Avy kit and his wife has no back pack at all.

It’s very chivalrous carrying that heavy shovel for her and that bulky airbag too. These ‘couples’ can be same sex too but  they normally appear to be skiing together in the same places, so how can this be logical? He can rescue her if she has a beacon, but he has no chance, maybe the airbag will save him as they are around 80% effective…… ‘when there’s no terrain trap and it’s successfully released’ !  Maybe it’s because if he always goes first she won’t trigger an avalanche as she is so dainty? Either way that relationship has breakup written all over it.
So get some Avy safety kit each.

5. Ice axes in the lift

Clearly these can be an essential safety addition skiing on the glacier or when climbing steep lines. I like having one as safety back up on sketchier touring routes. However in a lift queue its a big eye poking spike, in fact you can be totally liable for any surrounding Gore Tex damage caused, so put a cover on it or take it off. How do people not realise this when crammed in a packed Grands Montets cable car or on the way up to the Aiguille du Midi. Rant over!

6. The Australian approach to mountain safety.

Australians are sensible folk on the mountain, they always have avy kit and normally take some acid too although sometimes they forget one of these.  This is mountain safety from the country that has less snow than Dubai.

 7.  Snow Blades 

I think this is fairly self-explanatory, but still these appear in Chamonix, just don’t do it kids. Snow blades are the ski equivalent of a sawn off shotgun, you have no control just blasting about the mountain mowing people down. Interestingly; both are popular with Italian mobsters.

8. Finally old Skool cynics who dismiss Airbags from the over hyped marketing and fashionista crowd.

Airbags do help, if you’re regularly skiing wide open faces without exposure, in which case these things CAN save your life. Yes they are a fashion accessory it seems, but if they don’t alter your judgement or decision making then they can help. They should be seen as the icing on the cake; probe, shovel, beacon, with rescue training, snow science training and then an airbag. There’s loads of info on the web about them. Personally I like the BCA float as it seems to work well but for me, most importantly it is easier to refill in remote places after it has been taken on an Aircraft.

Why not check out some airbags on sale here

Planet Sports


  1. Classic. I was reading this with a smile thinking that you had finally found some other group to rant on about…and then I got to number six and burst out laughing. Such prejudice! haha. But it’s good to know that on my next trip to Dubai I’ll get a better run in that I did at Mt Hotham last year. 🙂

    • I was going to avoid any future prejudice and tried hard but it’s too easy…. in the space of a week I met one random Aussie trying pretty hard to score cocaine from me convinced I was a drug dealer, then some more guys on a lift boasting about riding a sketchy couloir while on Acid with no proper kit so they had to be included! Apparently the snowdome place in Dubai is massive 🙂

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