The key to an enjoyable snow holiday is that everyone has fun and no-one in your party is injured or has a bad experience. Much of this can be ensured by paying attention to the Alpine Responsibility Code (ARC) and other common sense and practical advice. Knowledge of the ARC should be a pre-requisite for anyone venturing out onto the mountain on skis or a board, and to this end many hire venues and facilities at resorts display the code. Here’s a guide to the ARC (my take) and some additional tips on being snow-safe.

The ARC explained

1)    Know your ability and stay in control. This means being able to stop and avoid other people and objects in your path. This applies when you are on the snow and when airborne.

2)   Take lessons from a professional instructor. Group and private lessons are available at ski school at all major resorts, and these are customized to various levels and progress. This is the fastest way to improve your technique …and with improved technique you increase the range of runs available for you to ski/board, and also increases your enjoyment. At Hotham, once you reach Intermediate and Advanced levels you are able to venture into far more extensive territory, for instance the Orchard area, which also provide magnificent views of surrounding areas and the resort form a new angle.

3)    Always use appropriate equipment. This minimizes the risk of injury and also provides for greater enjoyment. Ski and boarding equipment can be hired form a number of stores both on mountain and off-mountain (in Myrtleford, Bright, Omeo, etc). Your equipment may include: skis, poles, helmet, boots, board, wristguards, etc.

Riding a poma

4)    Before using any lift (T-bar, poma or chairlift) ensure you’re aware of the loading, riding and unloading procedures. If you’re new to a particular lift ask the lefties for advice on how to use it. Always use the restraining advice on any chair (I saw someone fall off the Orchard chair this week … not fun!). Young children should be accompanied by an adult – whether that’s a guardian or instructor. Lifties will assist small children to load all lifts. It is also beneficial to have children stand at the edges of the chair load queue so the liftie at the base and top can assist in loading and unloading.

Extreme Area closed for avalanche control

5)    Observe and obey all signs and recommendations. If a run is closed this means ski patrol considers it’s unsafe for any number of reasons … limited cover, unmanageable ice, exposed dangers, avalanche risk, etc.

6)    Give way! This is a key issue on popular runs. You must give way to anyone below you, and it’s your responsibility to avoid them. Same goes for anyone beside you. Watch their movements – are they skiing or boarding with a predictable rhythm, or traversing the entire run. Are they scaling the side wall then making wide sweeps across the run? Are they in a lesson following close on an instructor’s tail? If you’re traversing or sweeping down a wall and across the run, it’s a smart idea to look up and across hill before you travel sideways, you may be moving straight into someone’s path.

7)   Do not stop in a spot that’s not clearly visible from above. When stopped, face uphill so you can anticipate any potential mishaps. It’s best to move to the side of a run to stop, or move next to a fluoro SLOW sign that others are already avoiding. When you want to move again, look uphill first as you will be able to avoid potential collisions.

8)    Always ensure your equipment is in good condition. Skis must have brakes or restraining devices (eg on telemark skis) and boards must have ankle straps (a board flying down a run hitting people in its path is not pretty!). If you remove your snowboard, lie it on its side and attach the leg strap to a pole so it cannot run downhill.

9)    If you have been drinking or taking drugs do not ski, board, ride a lift, or participate in other alpine activities (skidoo, toboggan, etc).

10) If you are involved in, or witness an accident, report it immediately to the ski patrol. You can notify a liftie who can radio for ski patrol assistance. You must stay with the injured party until ski patrol arrives to assist. If possible, remove your skis and stand them upright in the snow making an X, uphill from the injured party (if the snow is extremely icy this may not be safe to do as you may be unable to remove your skis). Do not remove the injured person’s skis or board. This makes the accident more visible to anyone skiing down from above and also assists the ski patrol in locating you.

Additional Safety Ideas

1)    If you become lost, stay where you are. Mark your position clearly with your skis or board – you can remove skis and cross to form an X on the ground. Alternatively, stamp a large X shape on the ground and fill with leaves and twigs. This will make your location clearly visible from the air. Stay warm and dry.

2)    Icy conditions typically occur in early morning and late afternoon, and most commonly in areas of shadow. Sun softens snow, so on runs that move between sun and shade, be aware that conditions may be quite variable. Conditions can also change dramatically form one day to the next depending on weather conditions, temperature, precipation, grooming, etc. Icy conditions increase the difficulty of any run … a blue intermediate run may fast become a black run, and black run may become a double black in difficulty. Also consider that skis and boards are tuned especially sharp to handle ice … if you’re hiring your equipment it’s unlikely your skis will handle well in icy conditions. If you fall in icy conditions and are unable to stop sliding downhill, you can attempt to slow your descent by edging your skis or board into the ice; you can also grasp your ski pole above the basket and thust the point into the ice.

Golden Point – ski with a buddy

3)    Skiing/boarding alone is not always a safe idea, especially in remote and less frequented locations. On a popular run where ski patrol, guest services, lifties and other members of the public are constantly around, you are relatively safe; however, in less frequented areas such as the Extreme Zone, or in Out-of-Bounds areas such as Golden Point at Hotham it is very unwise. If you find yourself in trouble, you may wait a considerable time before anyone enters the area, and then you will also have to succeed in getting their attention. Such areas have signs advising against skiing alone for good reason. It’s always safest to ski with a friend.

4)    Don’t allow yourself to be pushed by friends into an area that you’re aware is beyond your limits. Usually there are alternative routes – for instance if your mates want to go down Poma Line or the Cornice followed by Black Snake, you can opt to head down Milky Wayto meet them at Coaches Corner from where you can head down Blue Snake. Or while a friend skis down Pergutory Spur, you may choose to ski down the Canyon or Imagine and meet them at the Snake Gully Hut at the base of Slalom Gully … or even safer, you could head down Mother Johnson’s return which takes you to the base of the Road Runner Chair, and then you could head down to Slalom Gully.

Double ejection on Joyce's

5)    Do not remove your skis/board. It is unsafe to walk down any run carrying your skis or board, especially if you are in the centre of the run. You become a major obstacle! If absolutely necessary, move to the side of the run, and get someone to contact ski patrol to assist you to make your way down safely. If you enter the Extreme Zone be aware that it’s particularly dangerous to remove your skis/board for any reason. The area is prone to ice, rocks, cliffs, creeks, waterfalls, and difficult returns to the main area of the resort. If you are a boarder and need to remove your board on the goat trail back from the Extreme area, be aware that fast moving skiers may appear behind you with nowhere to move … you really need to be able to step quickly uphill off the trail to free the trail path as only one person can fit at any time … or they will end up in the creek! And if you see anyone in the creek do the right thing and check if they need help!

6)    Lift queue courtesy – don’t push in, and don’t run your skis or board over someone else’s equipment. Be aware that many skis are worth up to $2000 and the owners are not happy to have damage done to these. Just because you may be hiring your equipment doesn’t mean those around you are doing the same!

7)    If you crash into someone, stop and offer an apology. Check if they are injured and if they require ski patrol. If you are responsible for damaging their equipment it’s appropriate to offer to pay for repairs and or replace if totally destroyed. Just because you are holidaying on the snowfields doesn’t mean common courtesies and morality go out the window! If you do not stop, be aware that people around you will have noted your gear and may report you to ski patrol and the lifties, who all have radio contact. You can be easily tracked down, and may have your ski pass removed, or worse.

8)    Ski and board to the conditions. If you find yourself in a whiteout, suffering from vertigo, or on a run covered in sheet ice, make sensible decisions. It’s not a race! Ski patrol can always be called for assistance, you can be patient and wait for the whiteout to pass, or you can move down the mountain cautiously (see #9 side-slipping).

9)    Know how to sideslip before you tackle anything steep! One of the most valuable and versatile things an instructor will teach you as you progress with your skiing is to side-slip. This assists you to move safely down terrain that you’re unable to comfortably ski, and also to traverse across dangerous terrain in areas such as the Extreme Zone. Side-slipping is the safest way down a run if you find yourself out of your depth – do not remove your skis!

All the cool kids wear helmets!

10) Wear a helmet. Helmets provide protection from incidental hits to the head – such as when someone pulls the safety bar down too fast on the chairlift and bangs you in the back of the head, or when you’re ducking between trees out at the Orchard and you catch a branch. They’re also beneficial when you’re in a collision – be that alone or with another skier/boarder – as the helmet will assist to prevent some head injuries, and minimize others. It is not, of course, any guarantee that a severe hit to the head won’t have permanent or even fatal implications, so it’s not a ticket for risk-taking! Another benefit is it keeps your head warm and dry!

Most importantly have fun out there!