Three ski fatalities in the Northern Alps

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.

Aiguille Rouge, scene of fatal avalanche today

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

Alain Duclos also witnessed a large avalanche on the Pointe d’Andagne in Bonneval Sur Arc in the Maurienne. The slide was triggered by a snowboarder under the Andagne chair. The victims were able to ride out the slide thanks to good technique.

Posted by davidof on  Monday, 17 March, 2008  at 09:57 AM

I have a large resolution picture of the Aiguille Rouge slide if anyone would like it. It’s taken from accross the valley in Ste Foy where I had spent the week. The crown wall (in 3 places) is clearly visible, as are 2 other smaller slides way over to the left of the main slide. At the very bottom of the slide (unfortunately too small to be clearly distinguishable) is a group of up to approximately 30 rescuers in a line arcing from left up to the right. Many of them were pisteurs flown in from Ste Foy and other resorts in the valley.

Posted by  on  Thursday, 20 March, 2008  at 11:44 AM

This is Daniel’s photo:


If you click on the link you can view a larger version. The slide has broken under rocks and also in the two couloirs. I think these slopes are slightly north-east oriented so probably stay colder than slopes directly to the east.

A few things can happen in this configuration. The snow-pack can be thinner on the rocks as snow tend sluff off. A thin snow-pack has a stronger temperature gradient (zero degrees at ground level) which can lead to the formation of weak snow crystals - these are large angular grains you often see on north sector slopes after a few weeks of cold weather.

Also snow sluffing can lead to slab formation under the steeper slopes. The irregular rock shapes can form stress points in the snowpack.

That said there is nothing particular to say that this route could not be skied other than the risks outlined in the bulletin (The Munter Method would surely have warned against such a slope that day). You can see the rescue team at the very bottom of this very big avalanche. Both skiers were found after around 1h15-1h30 under the snow (burial depth 150cm and 100cm) due to surface indications. The police report doesn’t mention if they were wearing beacons. I tend to think not given the time of burial but that is speculation. The departure point was a 35° slope.

Posted by davidof on  Thursday, 20 March, 2008  at 04:57 PM

I have marked up the scene using a photo I took across the valley last winter. The photo shows the terrain the avalanche covered - from the slide to where the pisteurs are seen in Daniel’s photo is at least 800m in altitude.  Poor lads.

Click for large version

We skied the same slope in the first week of February this year with two off-duty ski patrollers from Les Arcs.  Photos from that day are here - the first three photos are the Grandes Pentes taking exactly the same fall-line as the avalanche on 14th March:

The third photo of Philippe taking a call is the reverse perspective of Daniel’s photo - you can see St Foy behind.  In this photo we are just below where the line of pisteurs are making the search.  Philippe replied to a text from me on 15th March - he was one of the pisteurs making the search in Daniel’s photo.

I’ll be back in Villaroger the second week of April, and hoping that this latest snow has stabilized by then… There’s a working plan to do a ski tour on the glaciers in the Vanoise national park near Pralognan smile

Posted by  on  Tuesday, 25 March, 2008  at 07:18 AM
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