A group of three ski tourers have been caught by an avalanche at 1800 meters in the east facing Combe du Tépey. The slide occured in the Pierre Barme sector. The group had initially tried to climb the western side of the col from the Breda valley. The slide, some 400 meters long, broke at 16h00 as the skiers were descending. The avalanche risk was 4 (high) on a scale of 5 at the time. The lead skier told PH “I was knocked over by the air blast from the avalanche then covered by snow, as the slide settled I was able to struggle to free my upper body, I had suffered four broken ribs”.
The two men attempted to search for their missing colleague, buried under a large amount of snow at the top of slide but “the signal from his avalanche transceiver was masked by terrain features which explains the difficulties we had to localize him”. The uninjured member of the group descended to the village of Saint Colomban to get help from the rescue services.
A helicopter dispatched from Courchevel approached the injured man and instructed him not to move then proceeded to overfly the avalanche debris looking for a signal. It then dropped a doctor, an avalanche rescue dog and two members of the mountain police (CRS) some distance from the accident before being forced to leave the scene due to deteriorating weather conditions. The rescue team were unable to reach the scene of the slide and had to spend the night on the mountain in sub-zero temperatures and with further fresh snow. At this point the injured man decided to descend to St Colomban where the helicopter transported him to hospital.
The valley floor of the Combe du Tépey is relatively long and flat but steepens after la Pierre at 1765 meters, the valley sides are relatively steep. The survivors said they had detected no obvious signs of instability during the climb.
The search for the missing skier at St Colomban restarted at 9am this morning in very poor weather conditions. The missing man was a member of the French Alpine Club’s (CAF) Lyon section and said to be an experienced ski mountaineer.
Two rescue helicopters from nearby Alpe d’Huez and Modane have not been able to land due to very limited visibility. There is 50cm of fresh snow in the area. At around 1pm a ground based rescue operation reached the scene and detected a signal from the victim’s avalanche beacon. The man’s body was recovered under 2 meters of snow.