An officer attached to the specialist mountain units of the Gendarmerie (PGM) has been killed by a large avalanche in the resort of Le Lioran in the Massif-Central this morning. The 21 year old man was on patrol prior to the opening of pistes this weekend. He was skiing what is normally a black piste known as the Aiguillon in the Laveissière sector of the resort when he was hit by a slide of humid snow while passing through a natural terrain trap.
The man was located by two other officers under the snowslide using avalanche beacons and probes. Buried under 150cm of heavy snow the victim was freed after some 15 minutes in a state of cardiac arrest and despite reanimation efforts was declared dead by a doctor dispatched to the scene. The rescue operation was hampered by poor weather, rescue helicopters were unable to land.
The Massif-Central area has had a lot of snow over the last couple of weeks and Le Lioran reports 150cm at the top of the pistes. Avalanches are relatively rare in the region but not unheard of. The last fatal avalanche accident in the area was in February 2003 at the nearby Breche de Rolland and involved a French Alpine Club group killing their instructor. In mid-November a member of the Gendarmerie was killed ski touring on the Italian side of the Col d’Agnel in the Southern Alps and last weekend there were a number of avalanche incidents in the Pyrenees including a fatal accident involving a Spanish climber.
Backcountry enthusiasts are warned to take great care with the arrival of fine weather this weekend. The last week has seen over a meter of snow in places, this was accompanied by strong south to south-west winds last weekend which has created hard and soft snow slabs on north-sector slopes. Some of these will be at some distance below cols and ridges and will be difficult to detect under fresh snow. The relatively snow free and cold autumn has left a weak layer of snow some 10-20cm deep at altitude.