I’m not sure what I’ve done to deserve being considered important enough to receive press releases, and I can’t help feeling it’s a bit of a dubious honour, but I suppose it adds to the general entertainment value of the inbox. Mostly I bin these things, but the “brand new product” which pinged across the ether the other day looked suspiciously familiar, so I thought I’d give it the once-over.
The On-Piste Emitter, brainwave of Cambridge Ski Safety, promises to “bring avalanche safety technology to all recreational skiers”, by which it means people skiing exclusively on piste. And there was you thinking one of the things your increasingly expensive lift ticket bought you was groomed runs secured against avalanche risk. But no. Cambridge Ski Safety is here to tell you that you have been risking lift and limb every time you set foot on the nursery slope: “… there are numerous recorded cases of serious incidents, near-misses and on-piste fatalities due to avalanches crossing marked ski runs”.
Well, they’ve only managed to put their mitts on two examples, according to their website, which isn’t looking like ‘numerous’ to me. More like two, to be honest. I’m not about to count Planet Ski’s generic piece about avalanches across the alps, since they were mostly off piste as usual.
Further digging (or possibly probing, this being avalanches we’re talking about) reveals that up until November last year, Cambridge Ski Safety was trading as Snow Beacon Limited, marketing the same ‘brand new’ product which they were then calling the Snow-Be, before they changed the company’s name in a hurry following the utter flaming they got from every ski website and forum which got wind of the thing.
To be scrupulously fair, they have changed the approach and are now marketing their widget, essentially an avalanche beeper without a search function, exclusively for use on piste and absolutely not suitable for backcountry or similar purposes, don’t even think about it. Given that the slating they got before was largely from ski tourers, mountain guides and the like, justifiably miffed at the idea that their companions might be swanning around without the means to rescue them should the need arise, this is probably a wise move.
So instead they’ve gone for the tried and tested scare the ‘rents ploy, aiming their £50 widget squarely at the paranoid helicopter parent market. The On-Piste Emitter is “for families”, they say, because “on-piste avalanches continue to take the lives of adults and children”. All the time. See them every week.
They go even further with the scaremongering on the Snow-Be website, where they state that “We believe that a child has an equal right to alpine safety because avalanches
don’t just happen off-piste.” Watch it, you’re compromising your child’s human rights there. These devices, they assure us ”were designed by a family for all those who want to ski safely in-bounds”, the clear implication being that if you don’t buy one you don’t care about your family’s safety.
On top of all that, they’re trying to lumber already beleaguered school party leaders with the obligation to buy these things. You can even have them adorned with the school’s logo if you like. FFS, isn’t it difficult enough to get a school ski trip together these days as it is?
Now I’m not suggesting that the thing doesn’t work, and nor am I trying to argue, as some have, that it will hinder rescuers in a situation where people with proper transceivers get confused by the multitude of signals emitted by random bystanders carrying transmit-only gizmos (though this would actually be entirely possible if there were enough of them about).
No, what I’m saying is that it’s an expensive irrelevant gadget which you will never need in the entirety of your skiing career, and Cambridge Ski Safety are trying to shift product by frightening gullible parents into thinking that their children are about to be swept to their deaths by a terrifying wall of snow and it will be all their fault because they haven’t bought the right safety equipment. All of which is obvious tosh if you stop and think about it for more than 30 seconds.
While it’s entirely possible to find accounts of on-piste avalanches, they’re few and far between. This is what the pisteurs are there for. That’s why, when you get out there for first lifts on a powder day, you’re quite likely to find half the runs closed until they’ve been secured. That’s what all the big bangs you hear after a major snowfall are about – they’re not chucking bombs about up there just for their own amusement.
Buy one of these toys by all means if it makes you feel good about yourself. But don’t let anyone terrify you into thinking it’s an essential piece of safety equipment and you’ll be neglecting your children’s well being if you spend the cash on sledges, Nutella pancakes and hot chocolates laced with Bailey’s instead, because it’s just not true. In fact you’ll probably get better value for money out of a load of tin hats designed to protect them from meteorite strike.