Wind and fresh snow brings avalanches to French Mountains

With 30 cm of fresh snow and a strong southerly “foehn” wind there was a serious avalanche risk in the French mountains over the weekend with slabs in place at altitude. A series of incidents involved skiers and climbers. On Saturday a 32 year old woman was injured on the Pas de la Mine route on the Taillefer close to Grenoble. She was part of a group of seven. However four members of the group had made U-turn earlier after judging the conditions to be unsafe.

The group triggered small slab measuring 50 meters by 30cm deep which took them over cliffs. One of the group suffered knee and face injuries. Their colleagues who had remained at the bottom of the slope witnessed the slide and were able to call the rescue services and go to aid of the victims. The rescue helicopter was unable to land due to the high winds and blown snow and dropped members of the CRS des Alpes (specialized mountain police units based in Grenoble) nearby. They joined the group and they were able to stretcher the victim off the mountain in an operation that lasted four hours in total in freezing conditions. On the col d’Ornon four climbers were hit by a slide climbing an ice corridor. After beating the retreat they were hit by an enormous slide at the bottom of the route and they suffered light injuries. The group were able to reach the safety of the road where they were recovered by the fire-brigade.

The most serious incident of the weekend cost the life of a ski tourer, resident of Thonon les Bains in the Haute Savoie. The victim was climbing the normal route of the Grand Sorbier in the Belledonne mountain range with a local man when they triggered a large slab measuring 100 meters wide and 1.5 meters deep. The accident occurred at 2300 meters altitude around 13h00. The local was able to escape from slide and located his friend using his avalanche beacon. The buried man was recovered from under 150cm of snow in a state of cardio-vascular arrest and his friend started administering resuscitation. At the same time the rescue services were scrambled and flew to the scene using the Alouette 3 belonging to the Civil Security. This aircraft has participated in a number of recent rescues ‘in-extremis’ but was beaten back by the very poor weather and had to land the rescue team in the nearby ski resort of Chamrousse. When the rescuers reached the scene, 1h30 after the avalanche, they were only able to confirm the death of the victim. His friend, in a state of shock, was assisted by the rescue services. On the 20th March 2008 an elite mountain group of the French Army were caught in an avalanche on the West side of the Grand Sorbier, two members suffered serious injuries.

A couple of snow-shoers in jeans spent a very uncomfortable night on the flank of the Grand Som in the Chartreuse. Trapped by the bad weather and poor visibility they were unable to find the route down from the summit. They finally managed to get a mobile phone signal late in the evening. The rescue services were unable to reach the men. Finally the rescue helicopter beloning to the Civil Security was able to approach the scene at 7am and the men were taken to hospital with mild frostbite and the first stages of hypothermia.

The Pyrenees, which currently have the best snow cover saw a couple of incidents. A slide partially blocked the access road to la Mongie and another avalanche hit the Caperettes-Crêtes piste in the ski resort of Luz-Ardiden just after 17h00. Despite the late hour the resorts piste services probed the slide and dispatched their avalanche dog as a precaution.

Further Information

Taillefer accident report on

Posted by davidof on Monday, 01 December, 2008 at 10:10 AM

The victim was Stéphane Rebuffat who had begun ski touring 4 years ago. A member of he had a number of impressive descents to his name. His mentor Fabrice Berly was killed by an avalanche on the Dents du Midi in the spring.


Posted by davidof on  Wednesday, 03 December, 2008  at 10:59 AM

According to the Dauphine Libere 4 of the group caught in the avalanche on the Taillefer, including the victim, were members of the 93rd Mountain Artillery Regiment based at Varces (close to Grenoble). They were on leave at the time. The accident occurred at 11h30.

Posted by davidof on  Wednesday, 03 December, 2008  at 05:23 PM
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