There was a certain surprise that two Spanish skiers turned up for their trial last month. They were accused of accidentally triggering an avalanche at Peyragudes in the French Pyrenees that buried three children on the Aigles blue run which was open at the time.
The accused were described as “very experienced skiers”. They’d come to the resort on the 17th January 2013, with a group of friends to ski off-piste. An area they knew well. The two amigos left the group to ski a steep couloir above the blue run triggering a slab as they skied. Below three thirteen year old children, part of a school group, were caught by the slide, one of the suffering a knee injury. The children were severely shocked by the incident.
The avalanche risk was High, four on a scale of five. The court was told that the risk was clearly indicated, flags, warning signs, information at the ticket office and the mayor had also banned off piste for the day. The accused said they’d not noticed anything in particular and pointed out that on the resort’s own website advertised the off piste, even offering advice about safety. They were equipped with transceiver, probe and shovel. The prosecutor said this showed they intended to ski off piste come what may.
The court also learned that after disembarking from the chairlift the two men had to pass behind a piste patrol hut and climb under a yellow and black rope barring access couloir. The skiers contradicted this version of events saying there were no patrollers and no rope and that the couloir was well tracked with lots of people skiing it during the day. They said nothing showed they triggered the slide and that “helmet cam footage proves it”.
The prosecutor claimed she had witnesses that showed otherwise and went on “you worry about your own safety but don’t care so much about other peoples’. You’ve gone against the rules of prudence and safety and you actions could have led to a catastrophe. I’m scandalized at your attempts to wriggle out of responsibility. You can defend yourselves, yes, but don’t go too far. They saw nothing, heard nothing, are they having a laugh? They must be blind and in that case they shouldn’t be skiing in those conditions”.
The defence lawyer pointed out that “off piste skiing is not a crime and in fact it is a major marketing point for ski resorts. If the risk was so high the resort should have been closed, ski runs included. The risk was the same in the days leading to the incident. It is skiers who are defending themselves, not thugs. They were first to go and help look for victims of the slide. Many skiers skied the couloir that day, who is to say it was her clients who were directly responsible for the slide?”
The court’s judgement is due on the 14th of May 2013