The profession of first-aid ski patroller was born over 40 years ago in Courchevel, under the impetus of Emile Allais, a former ski champion and resort manager at the time. Here's the history of skiing in Courchevel, in a few key dates:
1945: 1st lift in Courchevel (Le téléski de Saint Agathe) - Courchevel Moriond
1946: birth of the resort and new lifts (Loze and Tovets lifts)
1950: Saulire cable car and junction with the Allues valley.
1954: Birth of the ski slopes service and the profession of ski patrolman.
To offer new visitors to Courchevel a safe and accessible ski area, new machines and new jobs needed to be created! Under the direction of Emile ALLAIS, the ski champion who had travelled the world, the ski security service team was developed during the 1950s.
Their job description?
Flatten the slopes – using their own skis! How? By stepping up the slopes, with their skis on, to ‘groom’ the slopes smooth for skiers…
Invent grooming tools each more original than the previous. One of these was a kind of giant roller to tow, allowing the smoothing of the track behind the groomer. To aid the work of the groomers and mechanise the process, Emile Allais brought over a Snowcat from the United States, usually reserved for polar expéditions.
This vehicle made Courchevel the first French resort to be equipped with a grooming machine.
Assist skiers who were injured or in difficulty
Even if the principal mission of the ski patrol has not changed much since the early days, the tools certainly have! Grooming is now taken care of by a dedicated team of within the ski patrol team who operate the machines at night-time. As for the safety of the ski area and assisting injured skiers, it is still our ski patrol who perform this service. Over the years, the securing of the ski area by triggering targeted avalanches has been added to the functions of the ski patrol.
In Courchevel today, this is taken care of by a team of 50 people, who are there to help with things that often go unseen but are sometimes heard!
Mission n°1 : Marking out the pistes Circular signs
Round markers - ‘balises’ - indicate the colour and name of each slope. They are numbered in descending order (therefore no. 1 is the at the bottom of the slope).
GOOD TO KNOW: The signs help you to know where you are, but they also help the ski patrol find you more quickly in the event of an accident – they will ask you to look at which number you are closest to if you call them for help.
Ski Patrol phone number : +33 4 79 08 99 00
These bamboo poles – ‘jalons’ – are situated on the edges of the marked runs, to show where the limits of the run are. Outside of these markers, you are ‘off-piste’.
GOOD TO KNOW: The tops of the poles on the right of the run are bright orange and help you to orientate yourself if it is foggy. If the stick with the orange top is on your right, you are still on the marked run. If the stick with the orange top is on your left, that means you are no longer on the marked run. Easy, when you know!
And what about the black and yellow poles? These signal a danger: a steep section, off piste, cliffs, rocks… Basically, a ‘no-go’ area!
Mission n°2 : Safety Minor injuries and other problems – the ski patrol are there to help in the event of an accident, as skiers sometimes get injured just like in other sports. In the case of an accident, you will be helped onto the stretcher which is towed to the bottom of the slopes by the ski patroller. What does the stretcher weigh? 35kg + the weight of the person being carried. Imagine trying to ski with that…
So yes, our ski patrollers (‘pisteurs’) are trained and capable of skiing with heavy stretchers and controlling their speed. There is even a Mémorial du Pisteur’ test, in which ski patrollers complete a parallel slalom whilst towing a stretcher!
Mission n°3 : Preventative avalanche triggering or ‘PIDA’ The ski patrol also triggers avalanches as a preventative measure to secure the pistes. In French this is called PIDA (Plan d’Intervention de Déclenchement d’Avalanches). The reason is to keep the marked runs safe for people to ski on, even when the avalanche risk is high. To find out more, read our dedicated article about preventive avalanche release devices.
Munitions those who get up early in the morning to set off preventative avalanches and secure the runs in order for you to ski in safety! Ski patrollers can be trained in munitions after their second year of work experience.
Snow-meteorological observer meet Roxane! (a musical reference for our younger readers! ) This specialist is in charge of providing readings twice a day and, once a week, making an in-depth study of the snow and the snowpack which will be used to assess the avalanche risk and establish the BERA (‘Bulletin d'Estimation du Risk d'Avalanche’), the report on the estimation of the avalanche risk.
Dog handler The avalanche dog handler helps to locate avalanche victims who have been buried under the snow. They are on call to go immediately to the scene of an avalanche. Here in Courchevel we have two dog handlers, Fanny and Philippe, who you may see coming down the slopes in the evenings with their dogs in a mad pursuit! Find out more about the dog handler job.