Avalanches leave five dead in Northern Alps

A series of avalanches in the Northern French Alps have killed five skiers and snow-shoers. The two snow-shoers were killed late this afternoon by an avalanche in the Flaine area. The alert was given around 16h00. The group were in near the summit of the Arbaron when a cornice collapsed beneath them triggering an avalanche 140cm deep in places. 

Three of the group were buried. The remaining snow-shoer was able to rescue one of the victims but in the poor weather and high winds they were incapable of giving the rescue services their exact location and the helicopter was unable to take off. Eventually the piste patrol aided by members of the fire brigade were able to reach the group and help dig out a third person. The fourth victim was discovered by an avalanche dog. Both had been killed by the slide. It is the first avalanche involving people in the sector which is popular with snow-shoers and cross country skiers.

At around 15h00 a 21 year old French man took the closed Combe du Thuit run in les Deux Alpes. The piste patrol saw the man cross over barriers and warning signs and fearing for his safety alerted the rescue services. They had to wait 45 minutes for a clearing in the weather before flying over the sector where they spotted fresh tracks entering a large avalanche at 1600 meters altitude. The man was discovered under a meter of snow by an avalanche dog and after a long resuscitation was flown to hospital in Grenoble in a critical condition. He died later in the day.

At Lanslebourg-Mont-Cenis a 12 year old was buried for around a dozen minutes by a small avalanche skiing close to a blue run. He was able to free himself from the slide.

At Valmorel, scene of an avalanche earlier in the week, three youths were caught by a slide crossing between pistes in the steep Marquis bowl late in the afternoon. The slide measured 90cm deep. One of the group, caught in an air pocket 2.5 meters under the snow was able to get a signal on his mobile phone and his father to give the alert but without being able to give an exact location before being cut-off. Another group of skiers had been avalanched in the same spot a few minutes earlier. They told the piste patrol that they had seen fresh tracks entering the slide. Two of the victims were found in a state of cardio-vascular arrest under 150cm of snow and died in hospital later. The third victim was found under 250cm of snow in an air pocket suffering from hypothermia and sprains. The avalanche risk was between 3 and 4 on a scale of 5 today with strong winds on Friday and 40 to 80cm of fresh snow. Meteo France has warned skiers to take extreme care if venturing outside open ski runs as the snow-pack is extremely unstable.

Posted by davidof on Saturday, 24 January, 2009 at 08:45 PM

On Saturday a young trainee guide from Argentiere has a narrow escape after 30 minutes under an avalanche in the ski resort of les Houches. He was snowboarding with a group accompanied by a ski instructor. They took the Prarion gondola lift then climbed the Petit Prarion ridge to find fresh snow. The accident occurred at 10h45 after he overtook the instructor. The instructor located the victim with his avalanche beacon but the group did not have any shovels and had to dig with their hands and snowboards. They were joined by members of the rescue services (PGHM Chamonix) who had been alerted by the instructor by mobile phone. The victim suffered a fractured femur.

Posted by davidof on  Monday, 26 January, 2009  at 03:51 PM

The storm came out of nowhere on Friday afternoon in Courmayeur 1.30pm. We ascended the Chercrouit Gondola as the wind picked up and left us stranded with about 50 others in the Gondola station. Various groups tried to get down on skiis and boards but most returned to the station in 110kph winds.

It took 4 hours to get us down on the back of piste machines.

Posted by  on  Tuesday, 27 January, 2009  at 03:45 PM
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