Over the last months, the mountains have killed unfourtunately a big number of skiers…On this difficult context, the importance of the Mountain Rescuers is frequently omitted.

They risk their lives to rescue the others, in an extremely dangerous environment they know like the back of their hands…They allow the winter sports enthusiasts to enjoy their passion. But who are this rescuers on the shadow?

To answer this questions we have interviewed Olivier, an experienced Mountain Rescuer guide from the CRS, the french Security Forces on the Pyrenees.

Which are the essential qualities for a Mountain Rescuer, taking for granted an excellent knowledge of the environment?

The main qualities are to be a passionate for the ski and to have a great interest for teamwork, be devoted for the others.

This profession is not a default choice. You must like to work outside in very difficult conditions sometimes and develop your job on the mountains in all the ways (climbing, ski, winter and summer mountain climbing, canyonning, speleology).

The technical level required are the ones from a high mountain guide. Some rescuers have a guide certificate and some collect qualifications (ski-monitor, speleology certificate, climbing certificate…) The technical training is the base of our service days. We are also and overall Mountain Rescuers.

We have the First Aid Certificate level 2, that allows us to give first aid and also to help the doctor during his interventions. The Mountain Rescuer works also to legally determine the details of the accidents in front of the judicial authorities.

Finally, these 3 complementary competence allow the rescuers to work in prevention campaign and information for the participants in mountain activities.

Which authority do you work for? Could you explain the particularities and differences with other status of Mountain Rescuers?

We are part of the Compagnies Republicaines of Security (CRS) of the French National Police. The Rescuers in mountain work 24h/24 and 7days/7 ensuring safety on the massif of the Alps and Pyrenees, and we work together with the specialists of the rescue in the Gerndarmerie Nationale. In some provinces, expert firefighters on the mountain rescue also cooperate.

Since 1958 and with the tragic event of the death of two alpinists Vicendon and Henry, the mountain rescue is ensured by public institutions and not only by the montaineers voluntary organisations that used to create a Rescue Society.

In France, the rescue intervenctions are free of charge. The French Government has the compromise to give assistance to everyone involved in a mountain accident. A distinction must be made between a mountain rescue, that brings assistance to everyone hurt on an mountain accident ( public domain), and the rescue on the ski domain, this one under the responsibility of mayors and the rescuers from the ski resort (private domain). This last one might be charged.

Could you describe to us the mandatory equipment the high mountain professionals use when participating on a rescue? 

The content of the bag will depend of the medical and recue equipment we wiil need (by foot or by helicopter), also depending on the weather conditions. The equipment is installed on a 40 litres and will allow the rescuers to deal with all the technique and climate complications.

In relation with the medical and rescue equipment we need for the intervention: the backpack has to be very complete, but the capacity is limited. It has a basic equipment: technical material to climb (snap hook, descensor) with a 50 metres rope, a small pharmacy kit, a communication method radio or telephone, special clothing ( in case there is a climate change), sunglasses, gants, winter hat, food and material necessary for the juditial determination (camera, notebook…).

During winter, to this equipment we need to add crampons, ski mask and security kit to find victims of avalanches (ARVA system with avalanche probe). The rescuer is equipped with an harness, helmet, boots and mountain clothing. If the transportation is made by helicopter, a second backpack is reserved for the medical material: immobilazion equipment (stetcher, KED…), resusitation material or the searching victims of an avalanch electrical system RECCO.

If there is a terrestrial intervention, we have to transport, by foot or skiing, evacuation sledge. There is a lot of material to transport that we call “recue convoy”.

The experience and the great advices from Olivier are also explained in two more articles. One about the mountain accidents, far too many, and another one with some recommendations for the victims of an avalanche, directly from a high mountain rescuer. This advices will allow us to know how to react against danger. And they might save our life!