Updated: Jan 21
According to a recent article published on December 6, 2022 in SwissInfo, more deaths are occurring in the Swiss Alps from skiers and snowboards when they "off-piste" than in years prior. In fact, last year, twice the number of deaths occurred. "Freeriding" has become a sport that encourages skiers and snowboards to venture off of the marked trails and enjoy the fresh powder of unmarked trails. While this new trend can be quite alluring, it can also have fatal consequences.
Listed below, we provide four of our top tips for remaining safe this winter season. While the list is not exhaustive and we never claim to be experts, these tips are a great starting point when it comes to ensuring your safety in the mountains.
Please note, the below information is just an overview. Our latest book, Winter Kids Switzerland, provides a thorough and in-depth explanation of how to safely enjoy winter in Switzerland. While this post is designed to be helpful, it is not at all exhaustive!
Check the area you plan to visit
Mountain regions in Switzerland almost always have webcams, which enable you to see the current snow levels and conditions prior to your visit. Check the webcams before your visit and review the regional website for any trail/ski run closures, avalanche reports and general safety information, including lift status. WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF is also a fabulous resource!
Knowing all of this information before you go, is vital to secure your safety while outdoors this winter!
2. Always stay on designated paths and slopes
We cannot overstate this enough; always stay on the designated paths and slopes! Each season we see individuals and even families venturing off the designated slopes in search of less crowds and fresh powder. This can be a huge mistake! The designated paths are marked and checked for safety. Once you leave the marked zones, you risk starting an avalanche, getting caught in one or causing someone else to get trapped. Unless you are an avalanche expert and carrying the appropriate gear (a shovel, a probe and an avalanche transceiver) stick to the designated areas for your safety and the safety of others!
3. Know how to read trail makers
Trail signs/markers are different in the winter than in the summer months. It is essential you know how to read the trail markers and understand what each marker indicates. The above purple sign indicates a sled run. It is important to note that some sled runs will share the route with skiers, snowboarders and sometimes, even dogs. Sled runs may even cross over ski runs, so being aware and alert at all times is very important! Educate your children on the potential dangers and assist children whenever necessary.
Snowshoe and Snow Hiking
Pink trail markers indicate the route is for winter hiking or snowshoeing. Sometimes, just a pink pole will designate the route.
Wildlife Protected Zones
Wildlife protected zones should not be entered during the winter months, as they provide a safe haven for animals. During the winter months, some animals do not have access to enough food and/or shelter, so these areas provide as safe space for animals to wait out the long winter. Please keep dogs on leashes in these areas as well!
*There are other signs that we do not post here. For all trail markers, please reference our latest book.
4. Be prepared
It is essential to be prepared whenever you are in the Alps, however, in winter, this is all the more important. Preparation means wearing the right gear. Dress in layers and always have sunscreen, sunglasses or goggles and a helmet with you. Don't forget hats, scarves and gloves!
Carry a backpack with all of the essentials including a first-aid kit, water, snacks, a well charged cell phone, a map of the local area (available for free at the ski lift stations) and extra clothes.
Having the essentials will ensure your comfort and safety while enjoying the winter months.
Have fun this winter and for loads of inspiration on where to go and how to make the most of the short season, check out