Three skiers, including a high mountain guide, have been killed by an avalanche in the notorious North East facing Combe des Lanchettes at les Arcs around midday today. The guide, 35 year old Benjamin Gaimard, was accompanied by a season worker and a tourist, both French nationals. Benjamin is the son of local guide Alain Gaimard owner of the ski school Arc Adventures and grand-son of former Bourg St Maurice mayor. Needless to say the whole community is in shock at the news.
All were equipped with avalanche beacons and ABS Airbags. The bodies of two of the skiers have been found under 6 meters of snow. Another skier has been located under 9 meters of snow but the rescue services were not able to recover his body. The avalanche was over 1000m long and broke on two sides of the combe. The debris was spread over a 100x50 meter zone and was 12 meters deep in places. The snow was extremely heavy and wet.
The avalanche risk was 3/5 (Considerable) above 2100 meters. Meteo France noted that the snowpack was slowly stabilizing with the freeze/thaw cycle but above 2100 meters there was up to 70cm of fresh snow in the sector that had been accompanied by west to south-west winds. Wet snow had fallen to 2500 meters adding to the instability. The avalanche bulletin warned against west to north to east slopes where a weak layer of facetted snow is present with the possilbility of triggering avalaches of considerable volume.
There have been seven deaths in France so far this season. The other fatalities occured in Corsica, the Hautes-Alpes, Haute-Savoie and Savoie.
PisteHors readers will remember two young men who were killed in the same combe in January 2006 despite being with a ski instructor and having ABS Airbag systems. There was another fatality a few days later.
A British snowboarder was killed in the same combe in 2005.
As Benjamin Gaimard has himself said “the mountains are an domain which make their own rules, rules you can’t cheat”, yesterday was a brutal reminder of that fact.