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Safety on the mountains: interview with Paolo Marazzi

With Paolo Marazzi

By Denis Piccolo

Photo Paolo Sartori

Aspiring mountain guide (hopefully he will officially become one in May), he is part of the Ragni di Lecco and an athlete of various team such as Scarpa, Black Diamond and Arc’teryx. He decided to become a guide because, basically, he likes to go to the mountains and would like to continue to do it throughout his entire life. Every year he flies to Patagonia to discover unexplored places and to ski immersed in atypical landscapes. We can say that for him the mountain represents a continuous research and exploration.

Winter is coming, the season is about to begin (lockdown permitting), more and more enthusiasts want to explore freeriding which, although being beautiful, could be risky sometimes.

Of course, undoubtedly exploring and freeriding involves some risks and from my point of view the best thing would be to mitigate these dangers, because unfortunately in activities like these in the mountains the risk cannot be eliminated, but certainly it can be reduced. The most obvious and effective way to do this is to use a series of self-rescue tools for avalanches, especially training ourselves to use them. In fact, it is not enough to buy them, wear them and go. You also need to take courses or even simply, with friends, do a briefing about what means rescuing someone in case of an avalanche, what is behind it and above all try to anticipate the risk, adopting a series of precautions and behaviors. An example? Trivially we are now closed at home for a lockdown, when we will go out for the first time on the snow we will obviously be less trained than last year and we will have to implement a series of attentions in choosing our destination also based on what is our physical form, and not based on what we would like to do. You must not find yourself in a risky situation, but work in advance to avoid or reduce it: an excellent thing would be, for example, contacting local people to ask for information on the area you would like to explore, keep an eye on the weather forecast and train well in view of the experience.

 

In recent years the interest for skialp has been increased dramatically, probably with the lockdown it will grow even more. Are you worried about the idea that a lot of beginners with many uncertainties will throw themselves into a sport like this?

Similarly to freeriding also for skialp you have to try to learn how to behave, taking into account, in this case, a whole series of details that have to be observed, perhaps even during the climb. Maybe the beauty of skialp is precisely the possibility of touching the snow before starting the descent, evaluating it, feeling if there are empty, weak layers, or maybe when you are on the flat, try to hear if there are any thuds, which means that a weak layer of snow has broken and an avalanche could happen. When moving uphill you have to observe everything: if there have been old avalanches and where, in order to better understand where to descend from. You have to try to gather a lot of information before moving and then descend safely.

 

The three main things that you always evaluate before going to the mountains? Are there any precautions that after years of experience you have understood to be essential and you feel like sharing with us?

First the weather forecast. Secondly, while getting into the car I always try to notice if there have been any old avalanches, I look at how the snow is and I observe all the elements. Third thing, as soon as I put my skis on I try to understand the conditions even more carefully, maybe I give the snow a tap on my ski to see if it is settled and I punch it with a pole to see if there are any gaps.

Snow is the fundamental element of this sport, how do you know if it is skiable or not? In case you are in a bad condition, what do you recommend?

First of all, there is no non-skiable snow, there are good or bad skiers. In any case, there are two different conditions to be evaluated to understand whether it is skiable or not. The first derives from our physical condition, if, for example, there’s a crust in front of us and we feel that we are struggling too much or we cannot manage to ski, we have to go back and avoid this part or spend the rest of the day on groomers. If we are doing ski mountaineering, this is a detail that we can already see uphill and, even in this case, we can turn around and go back. The second condition depends on actual snow conditions and it is good to understand this before starting an off piste line. For example, if in the first two meters I feel that the snow is not suitable and the location is just as complex or dangerous, the best thing would be to turn around and choose another itinerary, perhaps with lower slopes or in the middle of the woods. You don’t always have to ski like there’s no tomorrow. Sometimes it’s best to stop and give up.

 

The snow safety world has progressed considerably in recent years, until a few years ago using an avalanche transceiver or an airbag backpack took a back seat. What are your tips in terms of equipment?

If I’m practicing freeriding, 100% of the time I use an anti-avalanche backpack, but with an electrical system that allows you to use it several times, not because you want to use it numerous times during a day, but simply to check if it works or not before each departure. Those who use the cylinder have the defect that, if it is faulty, you cannot know until you try it. I also always carry two probes with me, one in carbon and a smart probe that works at a distance of 50cm. Why two? If I have to do a rescue search, I use the smart probe right away. In case there are more people buried, once I find the first victim with the smart probe, I can mark the spot with the carbon one and leave other people to dig and immediately afterwards look for a possible second victim.

As for the shovel, I have a telescopic one with a handle that can be extended a little more because digging is the activity that requires more energy, so having a good product is the best thing. Last but not least: ARTVA. Often using the top of the range is not necessary, because it has such complex software that it is more difficult to use. It often happens that people, finding it too complex, waste time especially in a situation in which every moment is fundamental. Ultimately, however, try to invest in rescue equipment, because it will undoubtedly last you over the years and is essential for these activities.

You also need to know how to use this equipment: just a quick reading of the instruction book or a few videos on YouTube are enough? Or do you recommend something more in-depth?

Obviously it is very important to know how to use this equipment in the best possible way and it would be recommended for everyone to do ARTVA camps or rescue courses at least once a year. Even if I’m going to be a mountain guide, I do two or three of them a year to study different possible situations. I often recommend spending a day with some friends to learn various techniques, perhaps burying a backpack. In this way you can practice not only with the transceiver but also with the probe and the shovel. If you are perhaps a group of inexperienced friends, you can still organize an outing with a guide who will certainly help you learn better. Furthermore, the possibility that the transceiver may have been damaged or broken and no longer functioning should never be excluded and thanks to these days you will realize that it needs to be repaired.

 

Are there any tools or sites that you can recommend where to properly prepare for an adventure and maybe look for interesting routes to do?

fatmap.com

wepowder.com

– powderguide.com

kbyg.org

“Similarly to freeriding also for skialp you have to try to learn how to behave, taking into account, in this case, a whole series of details that have to be observed, perhaps even during the climb. Maybe the beauty of skialp is precisely the possibility of touching the snow before starting the descent…”

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