9 people have died and three are missing tonight following a series of avalanches in the French Alps and Pyrenees. A number of other skiers have had lucky escapes. Authorities had warned back-country enthusiasts to remain on open ski runs or exercise extreme prudence.
The Hautes-Alpes mountain rescue had already recorded nine avalanches by the middle of the afternoon in every range in the department. Skiers were caught by avalanches at Montgenèvre in the Gondran sector on the Envers du Chenaillet, on the Pic des Trois Évêchés near the col du Lauteret and on the south face of the Pelvoux on the top section of the Puy Aillaud. There were no injuries – the head of mountain rescue said it was a “miracle” but warned skiers that the situation remains delicate and “miracles by definition, don’t happen every day”.
In the Isère, the mountain rescue said that seven skiers were involved in avalanche incidents with five injuries. In the Belledonne two ski tourers were hit by a slide in the lac du Crop sector. One of the skiers was buried up to his shoulders. He was able to free himself and search for his companion who was totally buried. The second skier was heliported to Grenoble hospital with severe hypothermia. Both skiers had avalanche beacons.
Two skiers were also complete buried by an avalanche under the col du Pra in the Belledonne. They were rescued by eye witnesses without the involvement of the rescue services.
At alpe d'Huez around noon two skiers were caught by a small slide, one of the skiers was taken to hospital with a fracture and in the early afternoon in the Oz sector a group of five off piste skiers were caught by an avalanche. One of the group suffered from a fractured tibia, another skier, completely buried by the slide, was also taken to hospital in Grenoble. Not counted in that figure were a couple of miraculous snow shoers who were caught by a slide in the Crête de Brouffier sector close to ski resort of l’Alpe du Grand Serre. Not equipped with avalanche transceivers the women was buried with only her arm visible. Her companion was able to dig her out and they returned to their car under their own steam.
Not so fortunate were two skiers killed in separate incidents in the Haute-Savoie in the off-piste area of Vallorcine. Both incidents occurred around 14h00. The first avalanche buried a skier in the Posettes sector. Recovered by the rescue services in a critical condition the victim died later in Sallanches hospital. Another skier was injured by the slide. A few minutes later a second avalanche struck a group of Belgium skiers accompanied by a guide skiing the couloir du Rand. One skier was killed by the slide, a second suffered serious back injuries after being taken over cliffs. At 16h00 there was another avalanche in the Posettes, a skier suffered serious head injuries.
Finally near Samoëns a pair of Swiss snowshoers were caught by a slide around 11h15. The incident occurred above the Bostan refuge at 2050 meters on a 35 degree slope under the NW face of the Dents d'Oddaz. A major search operation lasted all afternoon. One victim was recovered in a serious condition after about 45 minutes. The search had to be suspended due to the weather conditions. A man is still missing, presumed dead. The couple were not equipped with avalanche transceivers.
A group of ski tourers were also caught by an avalanche at the pointe de Chavache above the ski resort of Sommand. Shaken but not injured they lost some gear including a ski. The avalanche risk was 4/5 in the Haute-Savoie today above 2200 meters, risk 3/5 below.
In the Savoie two skiers are missing tonight after having been caught by a slide at Planay in the ski resort of d'Arêches-Beaufort. Yesterday a father and his son were caught by an avalanche in the same sector. The incident occurred around 16h30 under the col de la Bâthie. The 16 year old son was hospitalized as a precaution. A women also suffered a shoulder injury following an avalanche near the lac Tournant above Arêches-Beaufort. The avalanche risk in the sector was 3/5 over the weekend.
Conditions remain critical in the Southern Alps with the avalanche risk at 4 (High) on Monday and Considerable (3/5) in the Northern Alps. The interior ministry has advised skiers not to venture off piste.
Despite extensive searches no trace has been found of the missing snow shoer at Samoens nor the two skiers in Planay. The searches are ongoing today involving dozens of rescue workers. Since the start of the season there is a missing British skier in la Plagne and two missing ski tourers in the Pyrenees.
On Monday a skier was caught by an avalanche on the popular Tournette route near to Annecy. At le Reposoir two ski tourers were caught by an avalanche that descended from the pointe d'Areu. They were able to free themselves from the slide but one of the skiers was injured and had to be evacuated by the mountain rescue.
At le Sambuy, near to Annecy, a ski tourer was caught by a slide in a wooded area. Unable to move he was recovered by the mountain rescue. There had been a series of skier triggered slides in the sector on Sunday.