Mini-Series – Lifting The Curtain on Indiscernible Mountain Jobs: The Pisteur

Recently featuring on our student website, Line-S, check out Clem’s mini-series Part 1 to ‘Lifting The Curtain on Indiscernible Mountain Jobs’ below.

If Superman opted for a job in the mountains, he’d definitely be a Pisteur. These guys set off explosives, save lives and keep the pistes danger-free on a daily basis. Whilst most of us start our days trundling to work, muscling our way through the chaos of traffic and crammed trains, to slump behind a desk for nine hours, the Pisteurs have quite a different setup…

Helping to lift the curtain on the more unknown mountain jobs is Pisteur Tedy, giving us an insight into his daily routine. Tedy works in the international ski area of La Rosière – Espace San Bernardo, linking France and Italy in the Northern Alps.

Photograph by Vincent Maitre

If it’s been snowing, the pisteur’s day starts at 7am with the Plan d’Intervention sur le Déclenchement d’Avalanches (PIDA), a plan to safely trigger avalanches. Once routes have been agreed, the Pisteurs attach themselves to a communal rope dangling behind a machine that carries them up the mountain. When they arrive at their allotted destination, they detach from the rope and set off in pairs. The Pisteurs are armed with explosives and head off on predefined paths, in order to trigger avalanches that could reach an open ski slope. One Pisteur carries the charges of explosives, and the other the detonators. They travel in pairs, not only to keep the explosives and detonators separate, but also to perform quick and efficient rescues in case an avalanche catches them unawares.

At the beginning of the season, it isn’t yet light in the mornings, so they’ll be armed with head torches as they embark on their duties. These hardy locals rely heavily on their knowledge of the mountain; the worse the weather is, the more essential it becomes, as visibility can drop to less than 10 metres. They carry “cartouches d’emulsion de 1.5kg” that have virtually the same properties as dynamite but are much more stable, thankfully for the pisteurs. The best part? When it’s a gloriously clear day, you can watch the avalanche cascading down the mountain. “It’s even better,” Tedy notes, “If there is lots of snow, so the phenomenon is as beautiful as we hope”. Watch the avalanche team in action here.

Morning Commute to Work

Every day in the winter season the Pisteurs open the pistes, clearing them of dangers and clearly labelling potential hazards. They perform slope maintenance, checking the alignments of the signs and markers whilst removing snow from the various nets and mattresses dotted around the mountain. They also close the slopes in the evening, clearing each piste of skiers, to finish around 6pm. Added to this, they provide emergency service throughout the day. The most common injury that befalls skiers are the knees – in particular, torn ligaments, whilst evidently, the most harrowing part of the job is encountering death. The mountains aren’t always forgiving. Avalanches, severe falls and collisions mean the victims cannot always be saved.

Just another day on the mountain – Photo by Pierro Lays

If you’ve got a slither of time to spare, pop into the Pisteur hut – they’re open to the public. You can check the avalanche report, shake the snow off your gloves, or just practice your “salut!” Pisteurs are remarkable at ensuring that open pistes are kept safe, yet they don’t hold any responsibility for keeping the off-piste risk-free. Ensure you have full avalanche training and equipment before venturing into the backcountry.

Dropping bombs, operating the blood wagons for rescues and alerting the public to hazards: the pisteurs really are our Alpine heroes, battling the elements daily to combat danger. They’re on the mountain before we’ve even crawled out of our duvets, and they’ll be last off the slopes – long after most of us starting slurping shots at après. With that in mind, it’s certainly worth heading to the huts just to say a hearty ‘merci’ to our Alpine friends.

Merci Tedy pour ton aider!


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