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Kate Garner Copywriter & Content Creator

With a passion for snowsports and all things travel related, Kate is a whiz with words, and has a love of all things digital, especially social media.

The Piste X Code: Interview With The Founders

Thu March 28, 2024

The Piste X Code is a bilingual, on-piste safety campaign to remind mountain-goers of the principles of safe skiing and snowboarding, with the aim of reducing unnecessary accidents in ski resorts. It was launched in 2022 by the local community in the popular mountain resorts of Morzine, Les Gets and Avoriaz in response to a tragic accident in a nearby ski resort in January 2022.

We spoke to one of the founders, Louise Paley, to find out what inspired them to create the code and how it has been received by skiers and snowboarders.

1. What inspired you to start the Piste X Code campaign?

In January 2022, a five year old girl was hit and killed on the slopes by a skier in a french ski resort. This had a profound affect on many people in the snow sports community. As parents, this tragedy is incomprehensible. Shockingly, this horrific accident was not an isolated incident. Prior to this tragedy, I had been concerned about on piste safety for a while. Having worked as a physiotherapist in a ski resort for over 15 years, I have seen the consequences of many collisions; a vast number of which go unreported.

I am married to a ski instructor and I have two little girls who are keen skiers and I am often concerned for their safety on the slopes. Following the little girl's death I had a strong desire to act to improve on piste behaviour. There are way too many people skiing out of control and taking unnecessary risks and so many accidents are avoidable. So many people do not know where to stop safely or to check that the coast is clear before setting off. Simple steps to improve this could make a world of difference.

I teamed up with a friend, Amie Henderson (Morzine Source Magazine) who also felt strongly about making changes. We decided that something needed to be done before the February half term holidays (2022). Following Covid we had noticed a frenzy on the slopes and people did not seem to control their speed or leave enough space when over taking. Piste etiquette had seemingly been left behind with lockdown.

So within two weeks, and with the support of our local community we launched the Piste X Code (‘cross’ as in Green X Code). With the help of local ski instructors and Ed Leigh we put together a piste safety video, launched a website and social media channels.

Cartoon drawing of yeti with "Always stop at the side of the piste, never in the middle!" written above it.

2. How did you go about formulating the rules of the Piste X Code? Were there any specific experts or organisations you collaborated with?

Amie and I immediately recognised that an unbelievable number of people are not aware that there are rules to follow on the slopes. Although the FIS code of conduct has been around for decades, we do not feel that the rules are visual enough and are not widely known. Even people that have lived in ski resorts for years have told us that they did not know there were rules in place!

We decided that we wanted to create a set of guidelines that were visual, easy to disseminate, suitable for all ages and modern. However, the FIS code of conduct formed a basis from which we modified the points for the Piste X Code. We also liaised with and gathered the opinions of snow sports instructors who have a daily insight into on-piste behaviour. For example, one guideline that many instructors felt strongly about was not to race ski apps for speed!

3. What have been the biggest challenges in promoting and enforcing the Piste X Code among a diverse audience of skiers and snowboarders?

During our first year, we were contacted by some big ski areas and important figures in the snowsport community. At times, going into meetings has been a little daunting; we are two mums from Morzine and we have been unsure of how we will be received. However, we have been delighted with the response that we have had. These organisations have given us their support and praise for how much we have achieved considering that we run the campaign on a voluntary basis and rely on donations.

Financing the campaign is where one of our biggest challenges lies. Amie and I work voluntarily, however we do have to fund aspects of the campaign including printing posters, the production of safety videos and hosting the website. We find it hard to ask for donations, even though there are some incredibly kind people who have been happy to donate once they see the value in what we are doing.

Despite having thousands of supporters, we do receive some negative comments. We are often told that the message isn’t reaching the right people and that the people that follow us are those who are more conscientious in the first place! And we agree! However, for every person that shares our safety information, there is more of a chance that it will reach further and start to change the attitudes of those that need to improve their respect for others on the mountains.

Cartoon drawing of yeti with "The downhill skier or snowboarder always has the right of way." text above it.

4. How have you partnered with ski resorts, schools or other organisations to spread awareness of the Piste X Code?

Initially we launched the Piste X Code in the Portes du Soleil, which is where we are based. However, our goal from the outset was to improve piste safety everywhere. Luckily, our resources have been shared across the snow sports community which has helped generate interest in other resorts. We now have ambassadors in La Plagne and Tignes, with others potentially joining us from Val d’Isere and the three Valleys. This is key for us in helping spread the message of the Piste X Code.

Les Gets have been fantastic supporters this season and have displayed our animated video on big screens in resorts that will be seen by around 1 million snow sports enthusiasts each season. We are in talks with other resorts in the hope of implementing this in other places too.

Ski and snowboard instructors have been brilliant supporters. Changing on piste behaviour is essential for their safety and the safety of their clients. They share our resources with their clients through their websites, social media and newsletters.

One of our Ambassadors is based at APEX ski academy in Tignes where she promotes the Piste X Code to young racers. So you see, whatever your age or level, knowing the rules of the pistes is essential.

5. Are there any specific endorsements or support from notable figures or institutions within the skiing and snowboarding community?

Early on in the campaign, we met with representatives from the Ministre de Sports in France and we gained their full backing for the Piste X Code. In our second season, we gained the support of POC sports, a protection brand. This was a company that we were keen to partner with because their mission statement speaks volumes with us. Their mission is ‘to protect lives and reduce the consequences of accidents for athletes and anyone inspired to be one’.

Ed Leigh kindly gave up his time to introduce our initial piste safety video. Kondrad Bartelski has been a big supporter and has helped us to rally the support of snow sports journalists. We have featured in Falline skiing magazine, Ski & Board Magazine and The Times.

Recently, the Piste X Code was introduced on Ski Sunday by Chemmy Alcott and we’ve been thrilled at the traction we’ve been gaining.

6. What future plans do you have for expanding or enhancing the Piste X Code campaign?

The Piste X Code is forever evolving. This season we have aimed a lot of our safety work at children. Our main project this year has been launching a child friendly animated video to teach children about the rules of the pistes. This has been a huge success.

We also launched a pin badge award scheme. Ski schools that have joined this scheme can award a ‘Monty the Mascot’ pin badge to children that demonstrate a good awareness of piste safety, specific to their age. For example, children can show that they know to stop at the sides of the piste and check that the coast is clear before they set off.
We currently have a couple of projects on the go behind the scenes. We have been in contact with every snow dome and dry slope in the UK. As this is where a lot of people learn to ski and snowboard we think that it is important that the rules of the pistes are taught and put into practice from the get go.

We are also working with bodies that organise school ski trips. We want to disseminate the Piste X Code to all children who are going on school ski trips - both in the UK and in France.

A large focus at the moment is looking best practice of piste safety around the world. We are looking at how different countries implement piste safety. We will gather ideas from around the world that can help us improve piste safety in France and Europe.

Our long term goal is to see the presence of piste patrollers on the slopes in France with clear consequences for those that behave recklessly.

7. What has been the most rewarding aspect of running the Piste X Code campaign for you personally?

The support that we’ve had from both our local community and on a global scale. Even the ski club of Dubai contacted us and they are using the Piste X Code to educate their ski team! Seeing how important the work that we are doing is for so many people helps to keep us motivated.

8. What advice would you give to skiers and snowboarders, both new and experienced, to stay safe on the slopes?

Follow the Piste X Code!

Whatever your level, the best way to stay safe on the slopes is by respecting other mountain users. Always stay in control and adapt your speed to the terrain and snow type, the visibility and other slope users.

Ski and snowboard lessons are invaluable in learning to control your speed and how to stop safely. Be aware of children, who are more likely to be unpredictable on the slopes. If you are a parent or caregiver, educate children on piste safety.

Here is a blog with tips on how to do this.

Young girl skiing behind parent

9. How can individuals and businesses get involved or support the Piste X Code campaign?

The more people that follow our campaign and share our resources the better. If you are going on a ski or snowboarding trip, share our piste safety quiz with your friends and family to get them thinking about piste safety before they hit the slopes.

All our resources are free, therefore businesses can share any information via their websites, newsletters and social media channels.

We also welcome and are grateful for any donations offered via PayPal.

Female snowboarder smiling

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