Guy Cattai, the director of the Superbagnères ski resort in the Pyrénées is considering asking the authorities to charge four snowboarders who triggered an avalanche in the ski area on the 2nd of March with reckless endangerment.
The slide reached an open piste hitting nine skiers including two members of the piste patrol and four children. Fortunately no-one was hurt by the slide. The avalanche happened at around 11am. The four young boarders were on an off-piste itinerary when they cut a slope triggering the slide. The avalanche risk was four out of five at the time, this was signaled in resort by a yellow and black checked flag.
”We’ve got to make people aware of the dangers”, Cattai added. However some people have questioned the resort’s avalanche clearance policy (PIDA) and wondered why pistes were open below dangerous slopes with such a high avalanche risk.
Improvements in skis and the introduction of snowboards has made off-piste areas increasingly accessible especially to young people. Avalanches within the ski area are a worry for resorts that are, at the same time, keen to promote an image of freedom. On the 24th of February two skiers triggered an avalanche that hit five policemen and a member of the piste patrol. They will appear in court on the 8th of April and could face up to a year in prison. Last year a 14 year old Swiss girl was killed close to the ski pistes in La Clusaz. Eyewitnesses claimed that two snowboarders had triggered an avalanche that reached as far as the Crintiaux run.
At a conference last year for avalanche professionals there were calls for draconian, US style restrictions to off piste skiing in resorts. Some French resorts already have by-laws prohibiting skiing off-piste and on closed runs when the avalanche risk is above 2 [moderate]. Another idea that has been trialled are access gates controlled by avalanche transceivers. The theory being that anyone who has purchased a transceiver will hopefully have some backcountry awareness. To cater for the demand for ‘off-piste’ style skiing resorts including Tignes and Méribel are leaving expert level runs unpisted to create safe ‘freeride’ areas.