The most serious French avalanche of the winter has killed four ski tourers in the French Maritime Alps close to Nice. The group of 5 were holidaying in the village of Entraunes and doing day tours.
Accompanied by a High Mountain guide, local to the area, the group were climbing in the direction of the col de la Cayolle when the avalanche struck the group. They had stopped at the refuge de la Cantonniere for a hot drink and were not far from the refuge when the avalanche struck. The route is not particularly extreme although there are one or two pitches that are at risk from slides.
The avalanche risk was 4/5 (HIGH) following fresh snow, strong winds and rising temperatures. The guide and an injured client were able to raise the alarm and begin the search. All the group were equipped with avalanche beacons. Tonight the guide was in police custody and a manslaughter investigation has been opened.
The area was difficult for the rescue services to access as the main road was cut due to the avalanche risk. Two helicopters were able to drop rescue workers at the scene during a break in the weather. The local authorities have appealed for backcountry enthusiasts to be prudent and to remain on open ski runs while the avalanche risk is significant.
At les Deux Alpes a young women was recovered from an avalanche that hit her on the green Bellecombe piste late this afternoon. She was unconscious and taken to hospital in Grenoble by helicopter. A major search operation was ongoing this evening in the sector to check for other victims.
Update Thursday 8 March 2018
An initial investigation says that it is likely that the skiers triggered the avalanches via remote triggering. This would be consistent with a risk 4 situation. The guide told investigators that he had gone ahead to test the slope as he was concerned about the conditions when a first slide hit the group behind. He turned around to help and was hit by a second avalanche. It took him 45 minutes to free himself, he was able to aid one victim but the other members of the group, 4 French nationals, had been killed by the slide. The slide was 300 meters long and 30 meters wide consisting of a considerable amount of fresh snow on an existing layer on a steep slope. A manslaughter investigation will consider whether the decision of the guide to climb to the col was was consistent with current practices and will also look at the reality of the risk and the competences of guide and clients.