Avalanches killed 26 people in France during the 2003-2004 season, exactly the same number as last year according to the Institute for the Study of Snow and Avalanches (ANENA) based in Grenoble.
Almost all the accidents occurred in the Alps. The authorities recorded a single avalanche victim in the Hautes-Pyrénées. 107 people were involved in these accidents and 37 buried. Apart from the 26 deaths a further 28 people were injured according to the ANENA.
The figures for the last two years are lower than the average over the last 15 years. This trend is partly due to the drop in the number of victims amongst snow shoers and ski tourists with 9 deaths as opposed to 15 the previous season. Amongst the buried victims, 12 (5 alive and 7 dead) were found thanks to their avalanche beacon, 9 by an organised rescue using probes (1 alive, 8 dead), 5 due to dog search (1 alive and 4 dead) and 4 thanks to signs on the surface of the snow (1 alive and 3 dead).
None of the accidents occurred on ski pistes but there was another victim amongst the piste patrol. A pisteur was killed during avalanche control work at Ste Foy en Tarentaise. The 5th such accident since 1990.
“The measures taken over many years in the backcountry community have borne fruit. Today they are better and better equipped, especially with Avalanche Beacons”, according to Frédéric Jarry, spokeman for the ANENA.
Mr Jarry highlighted that the directors of ski resorts are now well informed about the risks they run if there are fatal avalanches on their runs and noted a court judgement handed down on the 21st of May at Besançon. The Besançon state criminal court sentenced the director of Métabief in the Doubs department and his deputy to a nine month suspended sentence with a fine of 4000 Euros following the death of a 23 year old woman, victim of an avalanche on the 18th of February 1999 while she was skiing on pistes in the domain. The director and his assistant were prosecuted for manslaughter and have to pay 70.000 Euros in damages and were banned from exercising professional activities connected with the offence for a three year period.