Winter conditions leads to rise in avalanche deaths

A return to winter conditions has brought a smile to the faces of ski resorts as they look towards the end of the season but has also brought a significant increase in avalanche incidents. A reminder that the conditions that lead to unstable snow conditions are not confined to the winter months. There have been 15 confirmed deaths over the winter in France with 9 occuring during March and April. Yesterday an experienced ski tourer was killed in the Maritime Alpes and two other skiers seriously injured above l’Alpe d’Huez.

Pioches couloir
Couloir des Pioches, alpe d’Huez

An avalanche above Boréon, in the Mercantour national park has killed a retiree. The victim was named as 57 year old Jacques Marro by Nice Matin newspaper. He was ski touring with two companions in the Combe des Gaisse under the Tête de Trécolpas, a route he knew well, when he was buried by a large slide. His friends were able to rapidly locate and recover his body in 25 minutes thanks to his avalanche beacon but the slide had proved fatal. Mr Marro was a regular contributor to the website, logging over 40 outings in the area over the last couple of years. The avalanche risk was high (4 out of 5) and Mr Marro was on an open 35-40 degree north-west facing slope.

Combe du Cerisier
Combe du Cerisier, alpe d’Huez

At l’Alpe d’Huez the Sécurité Civile rescue helicopter, stationed at the airport, was called to the Combe du Cerisier a little after midday. The Cerisier is a classic off-piste route from the summit of the ski resort. A skier had been caught by an avalanche in the bowl but had managed to stay on the surface losing just skis and poles. An hour later two local skiers were caught in another snow slide, this time in the steep couloir des Pioches. Having safely negociated the couloir they were carried around 80 meters over cliffs. Despite major injuries one of the skiers was able to free himself from the slide and start searching for his partner. An eyewitness, who had already alerted the rescue services, was able to assist the search. They found the second skier whose hand was visible on the surface. He was taken to hospital by the CRS des alpes in a very serious condition. Both slides were on north-east slopes. An avalanche had already caught another skier, part of a group of five, in the same sector during the morning.

The avalanche bulletin, issued by Meteo France on Friday evening had given the risk as Considerable (3/5) in the area. Friday night was marked by very strong winds from the south to south-west with between 5-20cm of fresh snow. The bulletin warned of slabs formed under the influence of this wind and in the Mercantour said these could cover other fragile slabs already sitting on a layer of depth hoar. North-east slopes were identified as being at particular risk. A risk of wet snow slides at lower, sunny elevations was also given. A situation that would persist throughout the weekend.

Posted by davidof on Sunday, 20 April, 2008 at 08:08 AM

We don’t normally cover Swiss avalanche incidents but just to reinforce the dangers at the moment there has also been a serious avalanche on the Dents du Midi just over the border in the Swiss Valais.

A man was climbing the couloir between the Doigts at la Haute-Cime with the intention of skiing the slope. He was followed at 200 meters distance by two French snowboarders, also on foot. The lead skier triggered a snow slab which carried the group several hundred meters downslope. The lead climber was able to free himself from the slide and give the alert. He then found the two boarders under the slide. One had been killed by his injuries, the other was taken by helicopter to hospital in Sion.

A 48 year old man was also killed last week while ski touring in the Grisons, climbing to the Piz Paradisin. Rescued alive he died on Friday night in hospital.


Some details on the French stats above. The figure of 9 fatalities includes a group of four climbers killed on the Pic du Midi de Bigore. There are also two unconfirmed avalanche fatalities that I’ve not included in the statistics. The overall figures are currently the lowest on record.

Posted by davidof on  Monday, 21 April, 2008  at 09:33 AM

There was also a slide in the Combe à Marion in the Aravis - photo

The slide occured at around 10h30 under the slopes of the Blonnière. Three ski tourers were involved with one being taken to hospital with injuries.

Posted by davidof on  Monday, 21 April, 2008  at 10:05 AM

We went to La Grave last saturday. At 9 o’clock they told the crowd it would be close for the hole day due to the avalanche risk. Mountainguides let us know that the avalanches produced itself and couldn’t be predicted in advance at some popular places like the vallons. The mountainguides said snow moved as they were looking at it.
We went back to Alpe d’Huez and did some small off-piste tours. The snow was indeed very heavy. The only accident i’ve seen is a french Ski monitor, who was brought away by paramedics. Lucky for him his accident happend at the end of the season. Offcourse, better would have been no accident at all.

Posted by Cindy on  Tuesday, 22 April, 2008  at 02:38 PM
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