Six off-piste skiers have been killed since Friday in the French Alpes after being caught by three separate avalanches in Savoie, Haute-Savoie and the Isère, where the mountain ranges are presently covered by a particularly unstable snow mantle.
At Megève (Haute-Savoie), the body of a high mountain guide and his two Swiss clients were recovered on Saturday at the end of the day after lying for many hours underneath a large snow slide on the west side of Mt Joly.
The president of the guides of Megève, Christophe Viard, 39 years, and his two clients who were residents of Geneva were equipped with Avalanche transceivers and were skiing off-piste when they were caught by an avalanche at the beginning of the afternoon, according the the PGHM (peloton de gendarmerie de haute-montagne) based in Chamonix.
A helicopter reconnaissance was made but the search and rescue operation was undertaken in difficult conditions with a risk of further avalanche. The alert was given at 5 pm by the wife of one of the clients at the guides office after she became worried that the group had not yet returned.
Early on Saturday afternoon three young skiers were caught and buried by an avalanche in the Prapoutel sector of the Sept-Laux ski station (Isère) near Grenoble. The avalanche started from the col de la Poutat (2150 meters). A woman (23 years), resident of Orléans and a man (21 years) resident of Meylan near Grenoble were found in a state of hypothermia. The woman died at the CHU (University Hospital of Grenoble) on Saturday evening and the young man died on Sunday afternoon. The third skier escaped without injury.
At Valmorel (Savoie) on Friday, a 20 year old skier was caught by a slide which was set-off by his passage as he skied off-piste at around 2000 meters altitude above the ski lifts, according to the PGHM of Courchevel.
The young man, from Saint-François Longchamp (Savoie), was in a state of cardiac arrest when he was found by rescuers, he died that evening in Moutiers hospital.
Since the 6th of September 2001, a dozen people have died in avalanches off-piste on ski, snowboards or snow-shoes incidents. The mountain rescue services have asked for prudence and strongly advise against off-piste skiing in the current conditions. On Sunday rain fell to around 1800-2000 meters and wet snow fell to 2200 meters greatly increasing the load on the existing snow mantle and reducing the adhesion to underlying snow layers and the mountain.