Five killed in Alps Avalanches

Five off-piste skiers, including a 49 year old British ski instructor and resident of Méribel, have been killed and one injured by avalanches this afternoon in four separate incidents at les Deux Alpes, Villaroger and les Menuires. The avalanche risk was high (4 on a scale of 5) at Villaroger and les Menuires and considerable (3/5) at les Deux Alpes. Meteo France had earlier issued avalanche warnings after up to 50cm of fresh snow fell yesterday accompanied by moderate to strong winds from the south-west to north-west.

avalanche savoie

The underlying snow pack is fragile after two weeks of very cold weather has destructured the bonds between snow crystals. Warm weather, the zero isotherm was at 3000 meters today at les Arcs and les Deux Alps has also lead to some natural avalanche activity but is not the underlying cause of today’s incidents.

Two skiers and a guide were involved in an avalanche close to the ski resort of les Menuires at around 13h30 afternoon. The clients, British nationals one of whom was a ski instructor, were residents of Méribel, part of the Trois Vallees ski area. The avalanche occurred at 2550 meters near the summit of the north face of La Gratte which is an off-piste run reached by climbing from the Lac Noir chair. One man escaped without injury. The guide, a former member of the Méribel piste patrol, was equipped with an ABS Airbag system. He suffered back injuries but was not buried by the slide and was able to find the third man using the signal from his avalanche beacon. Unfortunately he was already in a state of cardio-vascular arrest and could not be saved by members of the high mountain police (PGHM) despatched by helicopter from Modane. He had been buried for around 40 minutes.

Two men, aged 18 and 21, part of a group of off-piste skiers with a guide, have been killed by an avalanche in the Combe des Lanchettes at 10h30. According to Patrick Herbin, a captain in the PGHM based at Bourg St Maurice another group of snowboarders were involved in the avalanche but it has not yet been determined who triggered the slide. The men, along with a third person who escaped unhurt, were caught in the slide. Both were wearing avalanche transceivers and ABS airbags but it appears the two victims did not have time to use these. A police investigation is underway. This popular off-piste route is above Villaroger and part of the les Arcs ski area. A British snowboarder was killed by an avalanche in the Combe des Lanchettes last year.

Two members of the ski patrol at les Deux Alpes were involved in an avalanche while skiing off-piste in the resort at 14h10 today. They were marking dangers in the sector. The avalanche occured at around 2,000 meters in the south facing Pied-Moutet bowl and buried one of the patrollers. The avalanche was large, measuring 400 by 50 meters. The patroller was found after nearly half an hour under the slide and appears to have died as a result of injuries sustained in the slide. A separate slide occurred in the same sector a few minutes later. A skier, resident of Grenoble, was found unconscious and taken to Grenolbe by helicopter where he later died of his injuries. A futher avalanche occured in the same sector during the rescue operation.

There was also an avalanche involving a group of off-piste skiers at la Clusaz in the Balme sector at 2500m at 12h30. According to the piste director Joel Columb-Patton the slide was 200 meters long by 50 meters wide and 40cm depth and was triggered by the group themselves. One of the group was buried but found unhurt by one of three avalanche dogs sent to the area. None of the group had avalanche beacons and in an interview with French TV said they were unaware of the risks. The area has been the scene of a number of fatal avalanches in recent years. There were also avalanches involving skiers at Flaine in the Gers bowl and les Contamines where the debris crossed a ski piste and at Morzine in the Angolon bowl.


Posted by on Thursday, 19 January, 2006 at 06:14 PM

The Dauphiné Liberé has given the les Deux Alpes piste patroller’s name as Emilien Totoli, 26 years old and originally from the Vosges. The other victim in the resort was Olivier Perbost, 43 years old and from Gières near to Grenoble. He was skiing with his wife.

Les Arcs based have some additional information on the Combe des Lanchettes incident:

Posted by davidof on  Friday, 20 January, 2006  at 07:08 PM

Albertville court has been hearing the case against guide Nicolas Fabbri for the death of two young tourists in the Combe des Lanchettes above les Arcs on the 19th of January. The avalanche risk was High (4/5) on the day. The group were equipped with avalanche transceivers and the ABS Airbag system but the victims were apparently unable to activate their airbags in the slide.

The guide worked with Darentasia a co-operative that was also cited in the case. Judgement is expected on the 4th of February 2008.

Posted by davidof on  Monday, 28 January, 2008  at 11:32 AM

The Albertville court decided to acquit Nicolas Fabbri, a trainee guide at the time of the accident. The court decided that the trip was well organized and that the skiers were well equipped (beacons, airbags etc). The court noted that the avalanche risk was 4/5 (high) but there is no law governing off piste skiing in France and that it is up to individual judgement. According to the lawyer representing the famalies of the victims the guide should not have taken the route (combe des Lanchettes) under the conditions. The group comprised the two victims and four British skiers. The two victims were not able to activate their airbags which may have saved their lives (the airbag has a 90% success rate). Darentasia, which organized the trip, and was a co defendant, was also acquitted.

Posted by davidof on  Monday, 11 February, 2008  at 03:18 PM
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