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Mountain Safety

Whether you're a seasoned professional or it's your first time hitting the slopes, it's as important to prepare yourself with information as it is to prepare your equipment. Here are a few things you should know before you head out!

We all know that as thrilling as snow recreation activities are, there are inherent risks involved. Thankfully, these can be minimised and reduced by ensuring you always show courtesy to others on the slopes and of course with the use of common sense, protective equipment and personal awareness.

Some of these risks include rapid changes in weather, visibility and surface conditions, as well as natural and artificial hazards such as rocks, trees, stumps, vehicles, lift towers, snow fences and snowmaking equipment. So it's vital that we all remember that respect gets respect, from the lift line, to the slopes right through the park and the resort!

Know and Observe the Code. It's YOUR Responsibility

  1. Stay in control and avoid other people and hazards.
  2. Use appropriate protective equipment, especially helmets, to minimise the risk of injury.
  3. You must have the ability to use each lift safely. If in doubt ask the lift attendant.
  4. Obey all signs and warnings, and keep off closed trails and areas.
  5. It is your responsibility to avoid and give way to people below and beside you.
  6. Do not stop where you are not visible from above or where you obstruct a trail.
  7. Before starting downhill, or merging into a trail, look uphill and give way to others.
  8. Use care to prevent runaway snowboards.
  9. If you are involved in or see an accident, alert and identify yourself to Resort Staff.
  10. Be aware that it is dangerous to ski, board or ride lifts if your ability is impaired by drugs or alcohol.

Failure to observe the code may result in cancellation of your ticket or pass by Resort staff.

Ski Patrol Team

To ensure the safety of people in the snow, Hotham Alpine Resort maintains a highly skilled Ski Patrol Team throughout the winter months. Patrollers at Mt Hotham are easily recognisable by their uniforms, they wear red and black with a large white cross on the back and a smaller cross on each arm. It's also important to note that our patrollers are qualified and trained in many aspects of rescue in the Victorian alpine areas and all are trained in advanced emergency care. Their main responsibilities are to:

  • Minimise the risk of injury and exposure to hazards for all resort users
  • To educate resort users about safe and appropriate behaviour in the Alpine environment
  • Administer first aid assistance to injured persons on the snow
  • Transfer those requiring further medical attention to the Ambulance Service and then onto the Hotham Medical Centre
  • In conjunction with the Victorian Police and other emergency services to search for and rescue skiers lost in Alpine areas
  • Serve the public with other assistance and skiing information
  • Improve safety standards within the resort.

Snow Safety Tips

The Victorian alpine environment is a beautiful destination for your winter or summer holidays and it's a venue for many challenging and exciting activities including skiing and bushwalking! However the Victorian Alps can be hazardous if visitors are careless or irresponsible, so planning and preparation are the keys to having a safe and enjoyable alpine experience.

Planning
When planning your trip to the alps, select a resort or area which caters for you and your group's needs as facilities vary widely between resorts and various parts of the Alpine National Park. It is important to prepare your vehicle, organise your clothes and equipment, improve your fitness, organise lessons, take special care with children and arrange to leave details of your trip. If you plan with care and you'll have a terrific time.

Driving on Alpine Roads
Like skiing, driving in snow and ice conditions is an acquired skill. Extreme care is required when driving on alpine roads particularly in winter.

Clothing
Alpine weather is notoriously unpredictable and a fine sunny day can quickly deteriorate into cold, wet, high wind or blizzard conditions. Your clothing must be versatile and you should have ready access to protective clothing.

Skin and Eye Protection
Sunburn can be a serious problem - even on cloudy days! In addition to protective clothing, always use a good sunscreen with a high SPF and protect your eyes from the with high quality sunglasses or goggles. On sunny days wear a wide brimmed hat to protect your face.

Helmets
Mount Hotham Skiing Company (MHSC) in conjunction with the Australian Ski Areas Association ‘ASAA’ strongly recommends the wearing of helmets for skiing and riding. Skiing and snowboarding in a controlled and responsible manner at all times is the primary safety consideration for all skiers and boarders. In addition, MHSC require guests wear helmets while undertaking certain activities and programs within the resort. 

  • All guest participants in what is generally known as Kids and Children’s Snowsports School Programs (Mighty Mites & Kids Klub) must wear an accredited ski or snowboard helmet. These helmets are FREE to participants in these programs or through Hotham Sports outlets in conjunction with equipment rental.
  • All guest participants, in Snowsports School or other resort race programs, which involve or include terrain parks, pipes, skier/boarder cross and/or race courses will be required to wear an accredited ski or snowboard helmet.
  • All guest participants, in pre-organised school group lessons, must wear an accredited ski or snowboard helmet. 

Food
Food provides energy for movement and for maintaining your body temperature. The risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar level) can be reduced by having good meals, maintaining fluid intake and stopping when tired. Popular high energy foods include nuts, chocolate bars, hot drinks, soups, cheese and dried fruit.

Trip intentions
Let someone know before you go. Check in when you return. Trip Intention forms are widely available from resort administration offices and police stations.

Pre-season Fitness
Start your training well before the ski season or your trip. Training sessions must be regular and frequent - at least 3 times per week. Always warm up before an exercise session. Children, as well as adults, benefit from a pre-season fitness program.

Children
Children's needs for learning and equipment, are different to those of adults. Skis, boards, boots and bindings can be bought new or secondhand but should be specifically made for children, not adapted for them. Equipment should be properly fitted by a reputable ski shop - remember that children only need light ski binding settings. Warm, protective clothing and head gear (ie a helmet) should always be worn by children.

Tobogganing
Tobogganing can be dangerous and great care should be taken. At resorts, tobogganing is available only in designated areas on approved hard plastic moulded toboggans which are readily available for purchase or hire within the resort. Inflatable and foam core toboggans ARE NOT ALLOWED due to the likelihood of punctures. Away from resorts, find a gentle slope free from rocks and trees, with a safe run out at the bottom. If you have any questions regarding snow toy products approved for use within the resort please contact the Resort Management Board on 03 5759 3550.

Snowsports School
Statistics prove that the more experienced skiers/boarders have less accidents and the best way to gain that experience is to take lessons. In any professional snowsports school instruction, training and coaching always progresses from the level the student has already attained.

Equipment
Always check your equipment before using it. Prior to the winter season have your equipment serviced and checked.

Environment Care
The Alpine environment is fragile. Please treat it with care and respect, so that others may enjoy it after you. Make sure you use waste and recycling bins. Please DO NOT discard cigarette butts, general litter, apple cores etc into our alpine environment, this pollutes higher catchment waterways. 

Equipment Security
Common sense and care will reduce the risk of loss or theft. Know where to locate your skis/board at all times. Operation Identification is a program aimed at theft prevention and involves marking your equipment for easy identification (we suggest your driver's licence number with state prefix).

Regarded as a gateway to some of the best backcountry terrain in Australia, Mt Hotham and surrounds offer countless excellent options for those who are prepared to earn their turns.  

Many ridges, bowls, gullies and glades are easily accessible from the road, village or lifts, and present multiple opportunities for one or two quick laps nearby, or for heading further afield on a multi-day adventure. 

When the snow and weather conditions come together, great snow can be found from top to bottom.  However, perhaps just as frequently, the snow can be variable and difficult to ski or board, the weather and visibility can be very challenging and there is often a significant ice or avalanche hazard.  Knowing where and when to go is critical for your enjoyment and safety.

You're responsible outside the ski area boundary

Access to the backcountry is unrestricted, however once you go beyond the ski area boundary you are solely responsible for your own decisions and must be aware of the substantial risks.  

Safe backcountry travel requires specialised equipment and extensive knowledge, so be sure you have both before venturing beyond the boundaries.

Conditions change every day

On any given day, you should expect widely variable snow conditions.  Cold winter powder, easy skiing spring snow, horrendous breakable crust and bulletproof ice can often all be found on the one day.  

The surface can be vastly different from morning to afternoon, aspect to aspect and at different elevations. Northerly slopes may soften on a warm sunny day, while at the same time the shady and south facing slopes can remain rock hard and very icy.  

Avalanches are most common on leeward aspects, closer to ridgetops, but all aspects and elevations can produce dangerous avalanches when the snowpack is very unstable.

Factor in a long walk out

At Mt Hotham you are usually starting from the top, which adds another complexity to your decision making, as an assessment cannot be made from below.  Many slopes begin gently but roll over and become much steeper and potentially icier and more avalanche prone as you get lower.  

All aspects can freeze to pose a severe sliding hazard and often become unnegotiable on the ascent without crampons and ice tools.  (Snowboard boots are particularly difficult for kicking steps to gain purchase on slick slopes).  When the snow is good you may be tempted to ride all the way to the valley floor but be prepared for a long, tiring and often difficult climb back out.

Weather can change suddenly

Like all mountain environments, the weather at Mt Hotham can change rapidly and dramatically.  A bright sunny and calm morning with great visibility can quickly turn into a complete whiteout accompanied by strong wind and rain.  Getting lost and hypothermia are the most common causes of tragedies in the Australian Alps, and being close to a resort does not mitigate this risk.  It is very easy to become completely disorientated and head in the wrong direction once the weather turns fowl.  Know exactly where you are at all times…and know exactly what you will do if you are lost.

Ski Patrol do not manage backcountry terrain

Ski Patrol do not manage the terrain beyond the ski area boundary.  There is no avalanche control, signage or hazard marking in the backcountry.  You are responsible for learning about and managing the natural hazards, including:

  • icy slopes
  • poor visibility
  • avalanches
  • steep terrain
  • cliffs
  • creek crossings
  • changing weather
  • variable snow conditions

Before deciding to head into the backcountry, be sure to:

  • Check the daily backcountry conditions reports from Hotham and from Mountain Safety Collective.
  • Closely assess the snow & weather conditions.
  • Closely assess your own and your group's ability.

Be aware that conditions can change very rapidly. Is today the right day, and is this the right group?  If you are not sure, don’t go!

If you decide to head out there, always:

  • Carry the required safety equipment…and know how to use it! 
  • Let someone know before you go. Trip Intention Forms are available at the Ski Patrol Base in the Hotham Village.
  • Ski or board with a competent small group.
  • Have an emergency plan.

Rescue

You must be prepared to self-rescue.  The ski patrol is not obliged and may not have the resources to perform a rescue in the backcountry, and other emergency services may take many hours to respond. 

A minor injury in the backcountry can become life threatening due to the significant time involved in a complex rescue.  Evacuation from the even the closest bowls can take several hours when a roped extraction is required.

The best policy is to always make safe, conservative decisions and ski or ride well within your ability.  Do not put yourself and any potential rescuers at risk.

In an emergency, call:

  • Mount Hotham Ski Patrol – 5759 4038 (winter 7.30am - 5.30pm)
  • Mount Hotham Resort Management - 5759 3550
  • Otherwise – 000

Note - phone reception is not available in many areas of the backcountry.