Four separate avalanche incidents have resulted in the deaths of four people today in the Savoie. According to rescue workers all the accidents involved slab avalanches, formed by the action of fresh snow and wind.
Off-piste conditions this afternoon
The first accident occurred at 9h45 when a skier triggered an avalanche at around 2000 meters in the Lac de Lou sector between Val Thorens and Les Menuires. The sector is served by two off piste itineraries from the Masse 2 lift in les Menuires and the Boismint 2 chair in Val Thorens. According to the Piste Director at Les Menuires the skier, a Norwegian national, was part of a group accompanied by a professional. He died despite being quickly located by rescue workers using his avalanche beacon. A snowboarder also had a lucky escape at Les Menuires after being buried up to his neck by an avalanche while riding off piste. He was able to free an arm and phone the rescue services. Airlifted to hospital in Moutiers he was suffering from a shoulder injury.
Just before midday a female ski tourer and her guide were climbing towards the Pointe du Tougne at 2500 meters close to pistes in the Roche de Mio sector of the resort of la Plagne when they were caught by an avalanche that descended from east facing slopes above their route. The avalanche was either natural or remotely triggered by the group. The guide was able to free himself and along with the piste patrol from la Plagne was able to find his client using his avalanche transceiver but she was already dead as a result of injuries sustained during the slide itself. Late in the day the CRS des Alpes had to airlift five snowboarders who had become trapped. Worried that the slope they were on was unstable they had telephoned the rescue services for assistance.
Just after midday a group of five snowboarders engaged in the Combe des Lanchettes, a popular off-piste run above the ski resort of les Arcs. This North-East facing route has a reputation for avalanches in its upper section. (Lanche is local patois for avalanche). The last two of the group were caught by a slab avalanche close to the top of the Combe at around 2450 meters, one of the boarders was able to rest on the surface but the other was buried several meters under the slide. Again the victim was wearing avalanche beacon which enabled him to be located rapidly.
Just after 2pm a snowboarder was caught in a slide at Val d’Isère descending into the Manchet valley of the the Bellevarde sector. Alone, Jacques Pugeot a resident of the resort, had followed the tracks of two skiers who escaped the slide without injury. Located by an avalanche dog some 45 minutes after the alert, rescue workers were able to reanimate the victim but he subsequently died of his injuries.
The Chamonix Mountain Police (PGHM) also had to intervene when 5 skiers were caught by a small avalanche close to the Plan de l’Aiguille although there were no injuries. Rescue workers also searched slides at Val Cenis and under the Aiguille du Midi at Chamonix but did not find any trace of skiers.
Over a meter of snow has fallen in the Savoie over the last three days. The quantity and density of the snow probably contributed to the deaths despite the fact that the victims were wearing avalanche transceivers. Last season the Anena recorded that 7 out of 12 victims who were wearing beacons did not survive the avalanche.