Serious Judgement for La Grave

The Marseille administrative court has found the commune of La Grave in the Hautes-Alpes department responsible for the death of a young snowboarder in 1996.  On the 27 December Pascal Ambrosino, aged 19, died after falling 20 meters from the Fréaux cliffs.

The court heard that the snowboarder was following tracks while descending to the village.  These tracks lead him over the cliff.  The court decided that la Grave had not established that the victim was at fault and that the danger was not clearly signposted.  The commune was ordered to pay 13,000 Euros to the mother of the victim who had started the action in 1999.

Entrance gate to the la Grave area

The court continued that it was up to the Mayor of La Grave to signal dangers appropriately in his high-mountain ski area and that on the day of the accident this sign posting was insufficient. Some commentators have seen the judgement as reflecting the ‘fashion of security at any price’. However a similar case came before the French Supreme court (Conseil d’Etat) way back on the 22 of December, 1971.  The court found against the commune of Mont-de-Lans near les Deux Alpes after a skier fell 100 meters into the Combe-du-Thuy.  The court stated that communes’ must signpost dangers on off-piste routes that are accessible by lift and, because of the configuration of the ski domain, are regularly taken by skiers.

Another accident, this time in La Grave itself occured on the 18th December 1988 and seems relevant.  An avalanche in the Vallons de la Meije during a period when the avalanche risk was 4 [high] killed a skier. The administrative court in Marseille said that although la Grave was not strictly a ski station the existance of ski lifts meant that it was a large off piste domain under the control of the commune and that they had an obligation to take measures to inform clients of dangers appropriate to the circumstances.  The commune was found partly responsible for the accident and this decision was confirmed on appeal.

An English snowboarder was killed on the 17th of February this year after falling over cliffs in Meribèl, friends of the young man claimed that the route, although off-piste, was well used by skiers and snowboarders and that the cliffs were not obvious from above.

According to an informed member of the Skipass forum La Grave intends to appeal the decision.


Posted by davidof on Monday, 05 April, 2004 at 12:18 PM

I don´t know about making it illegal,but maybe such skiing that can lead to death should not be allowed just with a guide so it is save again.For Everest , you need a climbing permit and prove you can climb with relative savety to get it.I had no idea how dangerous Valley Blanche can get ( see Danger, Crevasse ).The mountain savety system saved my life with incredible help from guides and helicopter.I ´d say let´s prevent death on skiis from my experience.I was 2a or 1b in one week in Lech which takes people normally 10 years or so to achieve and skiied 30 - 40 weeks after that.Call me a duck , I was the fastest duck I saw in Lech.Chamonix holds off piste areas whose dangerousness people don´ t understand.Inform till everyone is save.Anything goes wrong and a 3 minute descent becomes a day march or a grace without rescue.

Bernhard Franz

Posted by  on  Sunday, 25 April, 2004  at 11:50 PM
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