Last season continued a worrying increase in fatalities to off-piste skiers and in particular snowboarders despite an overall figure for avalanche accidents roughly in line with the 14 year average The Savoie department was particularly badly hit with 50% of the the fatal accidents and 16 of the 25 fatalities. La Plagne and Tignes now have avalanche beacon practice areas and Tignes has continued the SPOT initiative.
There were a total of 6 fatal avalanche accidents involving ski tourers, a slight increase on last season but still lower than the average of figure of 8 but there were 12 fatal off-piste accidents, well above the average figure of 8.5. The Northern Alps saw 75% of the fatal avalanches, roughly the same as in 2003-2004 and slightly above the average of 68%. However the vast majority of accidents (60%) were in the Savoie with two other fatalities occurring just over the border with the Hautes Alpes. 10 of the 12 accidents in the Savoie involved skiers and snowboarders off-piste. This is well above the average of 31%. There was also an increase in fatalities in the Pyrenees; three deaths against 1 the previous year.
Many of the victims in the Savoie either had some experience (season workers, club groups) or were with guides or instructors. The majority were equipped with avalanche transceivers but the size of the slides proved fatal. A reminder that search and rescue equipment should not be used to take on more risk.
The excellent conditions in mid-mountain areas of the pre-Alps brought ski tourers out in force. According to the [url=http://www.SkiRando.ch]http://www.SkiRando.ch[/url] website tours in these areas increase from 27% to 38.5% of the total for the Northern Alps as a whole. One might have expected a corresponding increase in incidents. However it seems from trip reports that ski tourers opted for safer routes on higher risk days compared to off-piste skiers.
SPOT: Skiing the Powder of Tignes. A number of secured off-piste or unpisted itineraries aimed at attracting freeriders and making them aware of safety issued.
Full Report: An analysis of off-piste and backcountry accidents for France 2004-2005 - PDF format 646kb