<<I’m becoming more wary of Le Tour, the safety record there must be appalling. Do you think that it is because it is perceived as an ‘easy’ ski area which also has very readily accessible off piste terrain which coerces the inexperienced into attempting them in unsuitable conditions and unprepared?>>
The ski area of Le Tour has a good safety record of protecting their pistes from avalanches. These are all off piste accidents. I do not think the ski area coerces anyone - people fool themselves and die each year in the alps whether at Le Tour or in other ‘easy’ resorts. I think statistics show that most avalanche deaths happen actually quite close to pistes. False sense of safety.
It appears that in this case, if he was just off the Solonges piste, that is in the middle of the resort and leads back to the main lift down. The piste is wide and marked with piste markers, but has large deep gullies if one goes not too far off the marked piste; natural little terrain traps in the level 4 avalanche danger posted that day. It becomes relatively dark at 5pm at this time of year and his friends reported him missing at 5.30pm according to the French press report in the Dauphiné. So by the time they called PGHM, he was likely already dead for more than an hour based on last lift times. In any case at that time of day the likelihood of finding him in the snow, cloud and darkness was always going to be poor unless he was still up and moving about himself, as he did not have a transciever. The French press reported the PGHM searchers found a small “coulée” of snow the following day at the edge of the Solonge piste ... that would normally translate as a slide ... and decided to probe it. « Nous avons repéré une petite coulée en bordure de la piste de Solonge, explique un gendarme secouriste. Dans le doute, une équipe est allée la sonder ».
What we can take away from both of these incidents IMHO is that some skiers just seem to be absolutely ignorant of very basic mountain safety rules, and are dying as a consequence. The best ‘safety measures’ at Le Tour would not have saved either person as their own poor decisions were to blame for their demise. Last year, we had luck at Chamonix with lots and lots of stable snow and very few incidents. This year is starting off a bit of the opposite.
Everyone should know that you just do not go skiing off piste ANYWHERE without an education in avalanche safety and equipped with the proper gear, be trained and practiced in transceiver searches yourself and should always and only ski with others who are equipped and also know how to also use their gear (and who pay attention that everyone in the group is visible). Locals respect the off piste areas near Le Tour area greatly and do not go into these areas when the winds have created slabs - it is very undulating terrain, can be steep and gullied and therefore has plenty of natural terrain traps and certain areas which regularly go to ground. We all recall a man having his leg torn off in a slide several seasons ago on the Vallorcine/Swiss side off piste of Le Tour in the woods for example.
It’s clear from the lack of equipment on the dead man from Limoges that he had no avalanche training or awareness. However, the other 2 caught had transceivers - they should have known better than to allow him to come with them if they were indeed a set of friends skiing together, and they themselves should have known better than to venture there, period. The area he went to was very much off-piste with a rope to pass under and warning signs and not visible from chairs. As Andy Perkins pointed out, you could not have chosen a better place to find an avalanche if you tried on that day. It was obviously dangerous to anyone with the least bit of avalanche awareness training or in fact if you even noticed the massive wind lips formed or took a turn or two on any smaller slope of the same aspect, closer to the piste it was sliding like crazy and was enough to realize that venturing further was unwise.
The latest incident at Christmas whilst very sad, was also I must say a result of lack of mountain awareness too. There was a high avalanche risk marked that day and visibility was piss poor from about 2pm with snow squalls. You do not ski alone in bad visibility even on piste, especially at the end of the day when light is fading and people are leaving. It is unclear if he went off piste on purpose or in error but certainly one would not venture off piste alone in such conditions if you had the slightest ideas about mountains safety.
How many times does it take for people to die this way - alone on a mountain - whether it be hiking, biking or skiing - to know that splitting up and going alone is a bad idea in poor mountain weather ? I recall another incident a few years back at Le Brevent where an American died on a similar stormy day after telling his girlfriend he wanted to go off piste - she refused to go with him, and he refused to listen to reason and was only found that Spring. Don’t ski alone, most especially in bad weather or off piste. Don’t ski in natural terrain traps after fresh snow and high winds. This should be common sense but many people do not think about skiing as being ‘in the mountains’, but rather as being ‘in a resort’ even when they are off piste and completely out of the control of the ski area.
Le Tour is one of the worst places to be in off piste in a white out because it lacks features of any kind being above tree line, is rolling but also has steep gullies and some cliffs. If you stray off the piste and end up in a steep gully, taking a deadly tumble is not out of the question in addition to avalanche danger. A small slide localised in such a gully was also easy to expect in level 4 conditions.
Sad but somewhat inevitable tales. All we can do is to try to learn from them and not repeat their mistakes.