The dangers of going off-piste
Anyone going on a winter sports holiday should take extra precautions, especially if planning to venture off-piste.
According to mountain guides and avalanche experts such as Henry Schniewind based in Val d'Isere, the Alpine snowpack is currently at its most dangerous in 10 years, with an avalanche warning of four out of a maximum of five.
Normally, after major snowfalls -- and some resorts in southern Switzerland and Italy have recorded up to 90cm of fresh snow in recent days with more to come -- the avalanche danger reduces after a few days as the new snow settles.
But this winter -- especially on north-facing slopes -- unstable and sugary lower layers are producing a dangerous ball-bearing effect.
Tonnes of new snow can slide naturally without warning.
Skiing off-piste well away from prepared runs (and the crowds upon them) is the essence of the sport. But it is essential to remember that conditions in the mountains can occasionally be both unpredictable and dangerous. Avalanches, hidden crevices and rocks -- as we have seen with Michael Schumacher's accident -- all come into play.
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