A Vosges resident Philippe Berbin, ski touring with his wife in sector between Gaschney and Schaefferthal, has been killed by an avalanche. The couple were above the Schaefferthal refuge when the man decided to descend a narrow couloir. After a couple of turns a slab gave way under his skis and started a large snow slide. The 48 year old was carried over 350 meters by the slide in a couloir.
The cries of his wife were heard in the Trois-Fours cross-country skiing area and the mountain police (PGM) from Xonrupt-Longemer and Munster were alerted at 13h30 along with their colleagues in a special unit of the fire-brigade the Équipe de première intervention en montagne (EPIM).
The PGM arrived on the scene by helicopter with an avalanche dog but the snowslide was extremely difficult to access. The Sécurité civile helicopter from Bas-Rhin was called in to airlift the rescue workers directly into the couloir. M. Berbin’s body was finally located over 2 hours later by a probe team at the foot of a tree under 150cm of snow. He was not wearing an avalanche transceiver but the police believed he was killed instantly by the slide. His wife escaped the slide uninjured but was under medical treatment for shock. M. Berbin also leaves three children. The Munster section of the PGM have launched an inquiry into the accident and have called on backcountry travellers to avoid corniced routes and steep slopes in the area during the warm conditions.
Although not reputed to be dangerous the couloirs in the Hohneck sector have claimed a number of lives including a snowshoer who was killed in February 2003 after a cornice collapsed causing an avalanche. Météo France do not publish an avalanche bulletin on the Internet for the Vosges but an analysis of the snowpack is available over the Minitel system