The Vallee Blanche is not a ski piste

Thursday 13th of March, 2008. We’ve just done our 14th crevasse rescue and our second fatality this year after a fall of 30 meters. We don’t repeat this often enough but skiing on a glacier requires certain precautions and a knowledge of the terrain.

You are probably thinking “Just 14 crevasse rescues this year.” But that is just the tip of the ice-berg because a good number of people who are not injured are rescued by their mates, properly equipped witnesses and above all high mountain guides who work regularly in the Mont Blanc range. With the exception of four incidents all of our rescues were on the Vallée Blanche.

Reality is somewhat different, our first 12 people rescued were all, without exception, extremely lucky. With falls from a dozen to 25 meters where daylight is visible as a little “ray of hope” when you raise your head (if you have the space...).

Lucky doesn’t mean without injury but rather alive because a large number are victims of diverse injuries (facial, skull, back etc.).

So, without any pretension and without being complete, let us give some common sense advice for anyone who wants to descend this wonderful route, during good weather conditions only!

Firstly, don’t go alone. The fact that you are at least two will double your chances of survival if there is an accident, even if it is just to raise the alarm. Who will know you’ve fallen in a crevasse if you are alone?

Being on a glacier implies that you have a minimum of gear. Screw gate karibiners, prussik loops, pulleys, ascender and the knowledge of how to use them. Yes, all the gear but no idea? You need to know how to rig a hoist. A number of books and courses can teach you the basics. Inform yourself.

Take at least an ice screw and wear a climbing harness. You can at least secure yourself to the wall of the crevasse. Normally when a snow bridge gives way it forms a secondary bridge lower down where the crevasse is narrower. There is the rub, you are now on another snow bridge which can give way at any moment, especially if you remove your skis or board.

Your harness should have a length of cord, around 60cm free, attached with a screw gate karabiner on the other end. The karabiner should be clipped somewhere high on your person, the collar of your jacket for example. Like that we can easily pull you out in case of external rescue.

Never take both skis off (or your board) when on a glacier. Recently a snow boarder who lacked enough speed to get over a small uphill died after taking off his board to walk while he was unroped. We highlight this because you can walk on foot on glaciated terrain, you need the security of a rope with a couple of other people..

The sirene voices of untracked powder call skiers to their doom. The person who died today was just 15 meters from the main track, sometimes just a few meters is sufficient.

Finally, if you are able, form a group and hire a guide who, thanks to his knowledge, will help you pass your day in safety.

The mountains are a fantastic playground but put as many chances on your side as possible to enjoy it for as long as possible.

Posted by pghm-chamonix on Wednesday, 02 April, 2008 at 11:24 PM

ps thanks for the “Daubine” link, I did mention about the poor Parisian guy at the time

without over analyzing the report this seems to be a case of leaving the established track in a heavily crevassed section of the route (something the article above mentions). The 30 meter fall was a long drop and having crevasse gear would not have helped. As with avalanches the kit can be thought of as a joker - the idea is avoidance.

Posted by davidof on  Wednesday, 09 April, 2008  at 11:00 AM

Did I say Daubine instead of Dauphine ?  . . . forgot the accents as well.

Posted by  on  Wednesday, 09 April, 2008  at 03:06 PM

grin no I was just using the nickname “la Daube” - for obvious reasons for francophones.

Posted by davidof on  Wednesday, 09 April, 2008  at 07:07 PM

Have to agree with Firechick.  Although I have never skied the VB.  I have skied the glacier in Zermatt several times and have came to the determination that there is alot of people out there that do not have the respect for the mountains.  The DVD/TV/Pics etc etc have publicly exploited the art of skiing.  I came to the understanding that there is alot of people out there that don’t understand “There is a chairlift up there, I can ski that” Although I take chances on the slopes and off the slopes I still respect the mountain for what it may or may not give me that day.

Posted by Mongo's Last Dance on  Friday, 11 April, 2008  at 01:47 AM

Stopping on a glacier must be taken with great caution, especially unroped.  Its best to not stop much except off the glacier, on the side or at a hut. 
The over-hyping of skiing and climbing in the vast cultural wasteland of suburbia has created too many uninformed participants who want to be extremo.  So they ski places like the VB without experience or forethought of someone who knows what they are doing.  The number of accidents will only increase.

Posted by  on  Friday, 11 April, 2008  at 04:50 PM
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