Skier missing on the Vallee Blanche

A Lithuanian skier has been missing since Friday afternoon after attempting a descent of the Vallée Blanche above Chamonix. An extensive search for the 26 year old man had found no trace.

The head of the high mountain police (PGHM) section in Chamonix said that the man, who was skiing alone, was poorly equipped for the descent and had neither the technical abilities nor the terrain knowledge to attempt such a route. In season thousands of skiers descend the Valley Blanche each day but it is heavily crevassed in places and should always be skied with someone proficient in crevasse rescue.

No one on the route saw any trace of the man – clothed in jeans and a leather jacket. The lift operators on the Aiguille du Midi had tried to dissuade the man from setting out on the run.

Further Information

Danger, Crevasse
Louis Lachenal the star that fell to earth
Brit Boarder in Valley Blanche Crevasse Fall
Fatal crevasse fall in vallee blanche sector

Posted by davidof on Monday, 14 January, 2008 at 05:03 AM

Davidof is quite correct. I suppose it is not in good taste, and I am sorry for his friends and his family who have certainly lost someone close to them.

There is a difference however between this story of an inexperienced person being bull-headed and ignoring advice and getting himself killed, and reading a story of say a sudden serac fall killing a skier, which is a tragedy that can happen on the VB even when you are well-prepared for which everyone would immediately have an outpouring of sympathy. Mountains always carry certain types of risks that no one can control and for this reason to improve your chances, it is important to maintain control carefully over the factors which you can, such as your own fitness, training and equipment, as well as monitoring the conditions before you set off. Those who flaunt this common sense are often swiftly punished in the mountains.

When you live in Chamonix for a number of years and hear these stories year after year, of people who ignore the advice of experienced mountain professionals, and go out and get themselves killed by attempting things for which they are ill-equipped and ill-trained (several university students died last summer climbing Mt Blanc without adequate clothing, started up the mountain in a storm against the warnings of the hut keeper and froze to death for example, having no equipment to even dig a snow cave—while due to the weather, the rescue services could only talk to them on their mobile phones and listen to them dying), you start to develop a pretty thick skin about it.

Think also about the jobs of the mountain rescue services who every year have to deal with finding the bodies of these people - it is not an easy job for them, because of course no one wants to see someone else die. It is very frustrating for the rescuers to see these situations of inexperienced people who are warned even multiple times but ignore that advice.

It is incredibly stupid to give no respect to these mountains and to give no respect to the people who work in them, many of whom have trained for years to be in them and know how to reduce the risks as much as possible—ignoring those professionals when they warn you that you are doing something unsafe is practically suicidal.

I am fully in favor of leaving the mountains free for anyone and do not want to see restrictions such as those in the US where people can be prosecuted for skiing out of bounds. But with freedom comes responsibility, and in such a case then we are also free to criticize those who die or endanger others due to their own selfish and foolish decisions.

After so many years of seeing these stories, I no longer have pity for someone who is adequately warned he is doing something in the wrong way and then ignores the advice of those far more experienced than himself, and then puts the lives of others (the rescuers) in danger when they must try and find him, and also when they have to deal with the recovery of his body later, and then to have to inform his family. It puts an emotional burden on the rescuers who are further frustrated in knowing that someone in fact to stop this man from killing himself this way.

Many locals who skis the VB as well as employees of the lift company and professional guides every year do manage to turn back at least 2-3 parties a day in high season that are seen doing something incredibly stupid - a terrified woman being bullied by her husband down the arrete with no crampons on and clearly no mountain experience (or desire), people with snow blades and no avalanche beacons or any other gear beyond their lunch pack, a guy who had been down it only once before and is now bringing down a beginner skier he fancies to try to impress her etc..

Despite the signs warning in many languages of the dangers of the glacier and off piste high mountain route and despite seeing the many other people around them dressed and outfitted with serious mountaineering gear - some of these people do not listen to sense or reason and then stubbornly go off and get themselves killed, leaving it to someone else to find their body and call their family. Others get lucky and do make it down in one piece. Others end up calling mountain rescue when they are too scared and/or tired to continue, perhaps wasting the mountain rescue services resources who should truly be dealing with more serious cases (as happened only 2 weeks ago).

There is nothing good in someone’s death. In this case I feel it is worth noting his actions and the circumstances of his disappearance to serve as further warning to others who want to attempt this route and might happen to read Piste Hors before going. It further points out that if you are not already an experienced MOUNTAINEER with proper equipment (not just an experienced off piste skier) then you need to find a mountain guide to take you on this route. Unfortunately it appears this man was neither of the two.

Posted by  on  Monday, 21 January, 2008  at 01:05 PM

I can understand your argument completely, I don’t think anyone could argue otherwise, but at the end of the day he paid the ultimate price anyone can pay.

Let’s just someone reads this (or similar tragic story) and heeds the professionals advice.

Posted by  on  Monday, 21 January, 2008  at 02:11 PM

It’s easy to chastise this man, and I agree that he wasn’t blessed with the greatest amount of common sense, but how many of us can truly say we never did anything stupid on a mountain as novices? I know I did, as did many members of my local mountain rescue team, who take this philosophy with them when they’re out on a rescue.

So yes, I do feel sorry for this man and just wonder - with no disrespect for those who tried to advise him - whether other tactics might have worked in this situation? Us humans have a tendency to assume we know best and to react badly to being told otherwise, so how about we present the facts in a different way? I used to work in an area with a ridge climb, notable as being the hardest ridge on mainland Scotland. Like the VB, it attracted a lot of people and, like the VB, the rescue helicopter was a regular visitor.

A father and son mentioned to me that they were planning on climbing it the following day, and while my immediate thought was to tell him not to be so irresponsible, I thought I’d try something I’d seen a colleague do a few days earlier - I told them how great the ridge was… in glorious detail. I said how exhilarating the airy scrambles were and how stunning the 360 deg. views were when you’re balancing on the top of the pinnacles. By the time I got to the bit about the ‘fun’ of jumping a gap in the (by this point) 50cm wide ridge I could see on the man’s face that there was no way he was going to attempt it and while he was probably disappointed at having to change his plans, he was happy with his choice and (presumably) didn’t feel he’d been lectured to or made to feel stupid.

it may not be a suitable tactic for every situation, but it’s worth having up your sleeve if the opportunity arises because, while I find the information on this website invaluable, I have a feeling that it’s only those of us who are already competent in the mountains who read it.

Posted by  on  Wednesday, 23 January, 2008  at 07:27 PM

Hi Mine name is Bikke from london.
Andrius is mine best friend he as well lives in london.
First of all I wana thanks for “davidof” for trying to stop andrius for skiing towards the decent. You are a good man.
Really upset about the comment “firechick” left regarding the “darwin award”. Its very inhuman and hurts. Specially at this moment. We friends we know what Andrius is like. Its sad that I have to say this but this is the best death he can have. N i am sure he didn’t regret about it. Probably he must have said himself when he knew he was in danger “Dam there’s no girls here, its fcking boring.” He is full of life, and fun and most of all insane. N there is something about this place, he been talking it since years n years to me. We were at Switzerland last Christmas for skiing, and he kept talking about this place. So I believe there is always end in people life after they finish what they meant to do. He lived his life 4 time faster then normal people lifes. So his age now is 125 years old. 125 years isn’t short life.
Anyway I cant write this anymore, but “firechick” i am really upset with your comment, but surely you didnt meant to upset us. But I am sure Andrius is up in heaven if there is one, and having a good time with all the angels and probably playing counterstrike with god.

Posted by  on  Friday, 25 January, 2008  at 02:49 AM


Sorry for your loss in this situation.  People, generally, can do what they want with their lives, however, in mountain areas and the same applies with the sea, what people do and where they go puts other people lives at risk.  What this guy did was stupid and against the instructions of mountain experts.  It would have been easy to hire a guide.  Now people have been searching for him in dangerous areas putting themselves at risk.
Yes the nature of the darwin awards are insensitive but everyone who receives one has a family or friends who perhaps aren’t happy that the award has been given.
On the other hand they highlight acts that could and should have been avoided.....
I have lived by the sea and in the mountains and seen a lot of avoidable rescues.  I have also lost friends, had friends put at risk or have friends who have seen things beyond their years - these places are not playgrounds and they need respect.

Posted by  on  Friday, 25 January, 2008  at 01:11 PM
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