Eight people have been killed in a series of avalanches this weekend. The majority of accidents occurred in the Savoie departments. At Tignes around noon today a group of eight Polish skiers were crossing an itinerary from the exit of the Sache valley leading to the open Echappatoire piste. Jean-Louis Tuaillon explained that the route is neither “marked nor pisted but is widely used to avoid the bottom of the run that is frequently icy”. The piste patrol had blasted for avalanches that morning without result.
Four skiers were involved in a slab type avalanche at 2,400 meters measuring some 80 meters long. and one was completely buried. Despite the rapid intervention of the piste patrol, specialists from the CRS and five avalanche dogs and volunteers the victim, aged 43, was found dead under 150cm of snow after some 90 minutes of searching.
At neighbouring Val d’Isère a 55 year old Paris based skier and property owner in the resort, accompanied by a instructor and a third person, was killed skiing off-piste by a slab avalanche on the popular north facing Grand Vallon route in the Fornet sector. The slide measured 200 by 30 meters. The man was buried under 1 meter of snow and was rapidly located by the instructor using his avalanche beacon. At around the same time a group of five were caught by an avalanche at the pointe du Grand Vallon, all escaped without injury.
Two ski mountaineers triggered an avalanche in the Dent des Portes sector in the Bauges mountains close Doucy. A 37 year old man, living near Anger in the Maine-et-Loire department, was killed after being carried 40 meters over cliffs. In the Haute-Savoie three ski mountaineers triggered a slab avalanche at 15h30 near the Dent d’Oche close to the ski resort of Bernex. A man from Lyon, aged 30, was killed by the slide.
On Saturday two ice-climbers have been killed near the entrance to the Mont-Blanc tunnel. The climbers were reported missing by their families on Sunday after they had set out to climb the torrent des Favrands. A rucksack was found by rescue workers at 1400 meters altitude close to the debris of a large avalanche which was up to 4 meters deep in places. The men were both teachers at the local Chamonix college. Saturday saw a sudden change in weather with very strong southerly winds that shut most of the local lift system and transported a lot of snow onto the north face of the Aiguille du Midi from where it is believed the slide had started. A pyrenean guide was found on the eperon Crox on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses after 3 uncomfortable nights at 3800 meters. He was suffering from minor frostbite. In the Sept Laux a 22 year old Grenolbe man was taken to hospital with serious back injuries after jumping a 5 meter snow wall.
The body of a skier, a 36 year old resident of à Besançon and also reported missing on Saturday evening, was found at 2,300 meters in the Combe des Lanchettes above Villaroger close to the ski resort of les Arcs. He had climbed with a friend to the route with crampons as the access lift had been closed. They became separated at the start of the run. The friend alerted the authorities when his friend failed to arrive at Villaroger but worsening weather meant that a helicopter could not be sent to the scene. A ground based patrol failed to find any trace of the man on Saturday evening. On Sunday a helicopter search spotted a ski pole sticking out of the snow and a signal from an avalanche beacon. The man’s body was found under 80cm of snow; the avalanche measured around 30 meters wide by 300 meters long. An avalanche in the Combe des Lanchettes 10 days previously ago killed two skiers. Finally a 48 year old ski instructor has been killed in the resort of Allos le Seignus in the Southern Alps while snowboarding off-piste. A local man he was with his brother who found him after 30 minutes under 250cm of snow using his avalanche beacon. The man was in a coma and seriously ill and died later at hospital in Digne-les-Bains.
The avalanche risk was 3 (considerable) on a scale of 5 at the time in the Savoie departments. Around 25cm of snow fell on Thursday in parts of the Haute-Savoie and 5 to 15cm close to the Italian border in the Savoie. The fresh snow was followed by a violent foehn (south-east) wind which formed many new snow slabs on various slope aspects. The warming temperatures also increased natural avalanche activity at lower altitudes.
Additional reporting: dg/st/sr/anena/afp/dl