It has been a good winter for avalanche incidents in France with just 6 confirmed deaths. This record low can be attributed to the lack of snowfall and stable anticyclonic weather. This week winter was back with 30 to 80 cm of snow falling above 2200 meters accompanied by strong north-west winds. Enough to raise the avalanche risk to High early in the week. It was still Considerable today with a return to clear skies and sunny weather.
A group of three skiers were caught by one of the numerous slabs formed over the last few days while skiing off the Aiguille Rouge in the les Arcs 2000 ski domain. The avalanche occurred at 2900 meters. Two members of the group were taken by the avalanche. The third was able to give the alert. A 36 year old Parisian was killed by the slide, his companion, from the Savoie was serious injured.
There was also an on piste avalanche in the Brevent-Flégère ski domain above Chamonix. The slide had started in a couloir under the Cornu chair and caught two skiers. The assistant head of ski runs and An English woman who suffered mild spinal injuries. The avalanche risk was described as a “good 2” by Meteo France. A few minutes later there was a second slide in the Lachenal bowl. The slide started on the slopes of the Pic Janvier and finished on a red slope. A search operation confirmed that there were no victims. After an overnight refreeze tomorrow is expected to be one of the hottest days of the year in the French alps with valley temperatures hitting 20C. The rain midweek has also left a lethal layer of ice between 1500-2000 meters.
Elsewhere the body of a young German snowboarder missing since yesterday was found at the bottom of a waterfall at Valmorel in the Savoie. A French national, aged 68, fell 30 meters to his death in a crevasse at 3,400 meters altitude on the Vallée Blanche in the Mont Blanc range. The accident occured at 13h30. The man was with a large group who were skiing the route without a guide. It seems he had strayed some meters from the route followed by his companions when a snow bridge gave way. Meteo France have warned of poorly bridged crevasses on alpine routes. Some minutes before a spectacular Serac collapse on the east face of the Mont Blanc du Tacul finished close to the Vallee Blanche route.
Posted by davidof
on Friday, 14 March, 2008 at 11:37 PM
Hi - small typo - Brevent-Flégère (it just says ‘vent-Flégère).
Posted by on Saturday, 15 March, 2008 at 12:46 AM
Thanks, I fixed that. Something to do with my spell checker. I read in the Dauphine Libere that there were nine major search and rescue operations yesterday.
I was touring in the Chablais today. It was worth making an early start as the east slopes were very soft at 10am. However that should be contrasted with north facing slopes which had a 3-5cm layer of ice on them. Very dangerous and I regretted leaving my crampons in the car.
Posted by davidof
on Saturday, 15 March, 2008 at 04:07 PM
Hi - regarding the reported avalanche while skiing off the Aiguille Rouge in Les Arcs: it happened in the Grandes Pentes, an East facing slope (your picture shows a different aspect of Aiguille Rouge facing South-East with the prominent Colouir Valdez). In March 2005 we followed a group of four people into the Grandes Pentes. The slope avalanched in front of us and the one person broke a leg when taken over a cliff. We were buzzed by the rescuing helicopter but skied out safely. It’s a dangerous place after the weather has warmed up and the morning sun has been on it, with avalanches feeding gullies that descend to the valley floor.
Posted by on Monday, 17 March, 2008 at 08:38 AM
Thanks for the extra information. I’ve just got the police report and it gives the start point as a north-east angle (effectively those facing la Thuile that you reach by skiing down the north facing black from the cable car). As you say these east sector slopes take a lot of sun in March (the sun is twice as strong as it was in January).
The start point was 3020 meters and the slide was 200 meters in length. The slide ran 1600 meters over a number of gulleys and small cliffs. It is described as a very “large slab avalanche”. The approx time of the slide was 14h00.
The two victims were brothers, the survivor, in a very serious conditions, was taken to hospital in Grenoble.
I think your point about the timing is important. Although I’ve skied similar slopes with maybe similar risks I don’t like being on such slopes in the afternoon. Of course slab avalanches can be triggered at any time of day - they depend primarily on a weak layer or sliding surface so I don’t want to be overly sanguine in comparison to these unfortunate skiers.
I’ve updated the photograph.
Posted by davidof
on Monday, 17 March, 2008 at 09:47 AM
There was an incident in les Karelis in the Maurienne. Two skiers and two snowboarders (including a pair of piste patrollers) were skiing the Pointe d’Emy. One of the snowboarders was caught by an avalanche and buried with just an arm visible. He was taken to hospital with very minor injuries.
The avalanche happened on a north-east slope at 2900 meters at 12h30. 150cm crack thickness, risk 3.
Posted by davidof
on Monday, 17 March, 2008 at 09:52 AM