Disastrous April 1st
Justin Audenino, a member of the Volopress Team and a friend of Romain’s has posted these words to their site.
Emotion overcomes me so much that I have trouble finding words; Yesterday at La Grave my friend Romain Berger, with whom I had the joy of sharing the majority of my trips, was buried by an avalanche from which he didn’t escape. He, a young person, happy and passionate about the mountains. My thoughts go to all his family and friends. Arvi pa (au revoir) Romain.
The Mountain Police (PGHM) also rescued two Belgium skiers stuck in cliffs in the lac de la Fare sector of Oz-en-Oisans yesterday. Two Dutch snowboarders slipped to their deaths at the end of February after venturing into cliffs in the same area.
This is another sad story of a young guy my age dying whilst having fun on the mountain. Perhaps in cases like this where we are in contact with someone who was in the group we should get a better description of what happened in the hope that we can all avoid this kind of incident in the future. Maybe we could ask Justin what the conditions were like(snow, temperature, visibilty), where exactly they were, and what he thought went wrong.
We are not going to stop skiing off piste, so we should help each other to make it safer. Reading this site makes me realise what is going on out there, just how many people are getting killed or injured. I think that it is better to be well informed.
It is a tragic accident and I don’t want to post anything that could be construed as criticism of Romain Berger who was an experienced off-piste skier.
There are some general lessons. Even though there had not been a lot of fresh snow, about 30cm over the previous week this had been moved around by strong winds from the south. The lift system was not running at full speed that day due to the winds. It would therefore be natural to expect northern slopes to be loaded to some extent and the wind to have formed some hard slabs.
Even though we are now moving into spring, the zero isotherm was around 2400 meters on Thursday, high altitudes and northern slopes are still cold and this can lock in any instability such as poorly bonded slabs. The avalanche risk was 3 in the area which means that in the opinion of Meteo France such slabs could potentially be triggered by a single skier. The accident also occured quite late in the day (I’m told 16h00) so despite the altitude the snowpack would have been warmed by that time, this may have contributed to any instability. The accident occured in a couloir above the Trifides, the victim had to reach the couloir by climbing, unlike the Trifides couloirs the slope would not have been stabilised by the passage of skiers over the season.
The avalanche itself was what is called a: ‘plaque friable’, a soft slab avalanche. This is a slab composed of fresh, loose snow. These are very hard to detect as they have a similar appearance to the surrounding snow. The slab may have been poorly bonded to a hard surface, competitors in the Derby reported that the snow was glass hard in places.
Finally an important point made by Mr Berger’s friends and mentioned in our report. Mr Berger was not killed by being buried but during the slide. Even very small avalanches can have serious consequences where there is a degree of exposure (cliffs, rocks, steep slope).
I know this doesn’t answer some of your specific questions and is just some thinking based on 20:20 hindsight and should not be seen as a criticism of Mr Berger.