Interesting information. I’ve just updated our accident statistics and we now have 3 deaths on the Vallee Blanche for this season
I thought there were 4 actually on the VB this season due to crevasse falls. Early season Lithuanian, UK snowboarder taking off his board (with guide), French older man in his 60s in large group w/o guide at the col de Rognon I think March 15 (not reported in the English Chamonix websites but read it in the Dauphine) and Russian snowboarder with guide just below the Requin refuge March 19 (last two in nearly the same week?). The PGHM post is dated March 13 (which makes sense for the numbers) and looks like a translation of something I saw on a French off piste site written just prior to the last 2 deaths ?
Andrius, the Lithanian victim, died falling on the slopes below the Requin but didn’t fall into a crevasse. Still the PGHM’s point is the same, he was not properly equipped for the route.
However maybe the Compagnie de Mont Blanc have a role to play in all this? I also note that two of the fatalities were with guides - I’m not criticizing guides here, they are not supermen. I make this point because the two unfortunate victims had take the precaution of hiring an experienced professional.
Still that is 4 deaths on the Vallee Blanche this season ... not 3 total deaths?
As for the Compagnie du Mont Blanc - they do have giant warning signs up where you leave the secured area at the top of the lift station warning of the dangers of leaving the lift station and that you are on your own responsibility, stating that it is a high mountain area unpatrolled and unsecured, and the bottom of the Aiguille du Midi lift station does not advertise itself as a ski piste and there are no maps of pistes like at the other ski areas. It is included on the Unlimited ski pass - but then it has been included on the comprehensive valley lift pass since I’ve lived here ...
In the case of Andrius several people who were employees of the lift company tried to convince him to turn back, and two of the others were with guides so how could the CdMB be blamed for that?
Some in town suggest maybe the arrete should not be roped ever to make it more difficult to descend (some people after skiing it think the arrete was the most dangerous part and do not realize the crevasse danger) because it gives a false impression that something is done to secure the route, and once you are past that other dangers might also be indicated or that the ‘hard part’ is done with.
However guides are often the ones who do want it roped, so that they can take more groups down the route faster and safely. Maybe if it was not roped, there would simply be more people dying sooner, who knows.
As far as dying when you have hired a guide, I think that some people hire them to do the route because they heard you should do so, but they still don’t pay attention to the guide’s direction the same way you would if they were leading you up an ice climb, for example, because they are skiers at heart and not mountaineers. From what I am told by someone knowing the UK snowboarder’s guide, he was supposedly told not to remove his board. I have no details on the guided Russian national.
I suppose one could post the yearly death statistics for Mont Blanc and the VB at the bottom of the cable car or something ... maybe that would help ? Mont Blanc has the same issues but in summer. People heading up to climb it in t-shirts etc. is not unheard of and many die there each year.
Hiring a guide is never a guarantee of safe passage, it is simply a better chance at it - there are also mountain climbs where guides have been killed or guided clients have been killed in avalanche, rock fall or other types of accidents. Perhaps the average skier does not realize this level of risk exists as it is more of a mountaineer’s realm - hard to say. But hiring a guide and following all their advice can be two stories ...
BTW - I found the Dauphine story for the accident with the 68 year old French man which is http://www.ledauphine.com/montagne-avalanche-et-neuf-interventions-des-secours-journee-noire-dans-les-alpes-@/index.jspz?article=15328&chaine=14 .
Is the internet partly to blame for the ever growing popularity of this route, causing people with no mountaineering skills to decide to take it on? Articles that are ridiculous, incorrect etc. can stay online forever whereas a printed travel magazine was good for only the month it was published and a bit.
I’ve also seen off piste forums like the one at Teton Gravity calling the VB route ‘boring’ and basically pooh poohing it (trying to look uber-cool no doubt and clearly not realizing how many variations exist); I’ve seen articles online telling you how to pack the correct wine and cheese to eat at the Salle a Manger as the main concerns for the route.
In fact, one day this season we were nearly bowled over on the route by a group of drunken idiots going through some of the flat crevasse sections below the Requin hut skiing erratically and who did knock into one member of our party - people who’d apparently stopped for lunch and an alcoholic drink at the Salle a Manager and could barely control themselves during the ski out.
I have seen countless British press ski articles talking about the route in a way that makes you wonder where the hell they were skiing (no one ever mentions how often there is sun or wind crust up there and how slow you must ski between crevasses in certain sections - it’s always ‘powder’ and always blue sky sunny etc.).
I would say the number of websites out there who extoll the powder skiing and great views, who make the route sound like a stroll in the park with some slight silly little ‘danger’ involved that might require this appendage called a ‘mountain guide’ are more to blame for the large numbers of ill-prepared people taking on the route.
The route has a mystique to it, which makes people want to do it—they hear it’s a ‘must do’ and then they read the glorification articles. Many people have no clue there are even yearly deaths on this route before they start up it. I speak to people with false impressions of the route on a weekly basis in winter . . .
Fortunately if you type “vallee blanche” into Google the Pistehors page is the first result:-
it gets around 200 visits per day. Not as much as the VB I admit.
The problem is a lot of websites have jumped onto the “freeride” bandwagon to flog stuff like DVDs, chalet holidays etc without really understanding or caring about the environment. Caveat Emptor.