French Avalanche And Off Piste Accidents 2002 2003

Avalanches > Accident Statistics > 2002-2003

They may be a clichés amongst experienced winter sports enthusiasts but avalanches have no respect for experience and nothing kills like fresh snow. However this message is still not getting through to some backcountry users in France. The 2002-2003 season got underway with considerable snowfall early in December which enabled many high altitude ski resorts to open their doors early. This snow also brought the first deaths in a particularly black weekend as ski tourists took advantage of the conditions. December was warm and wet but this was followed by a very snowy January and February in all areas of France. This period also saw a peak in avalanche accidents. In comparison with previous years the end of the season was characterised by a long period of mild, dry weather and stable snow conditions, with only a single fatal accident late in the season at La Grave, that of well respected German high mountain guide Philip Jaerschky.

avalanche statistics, France, 2003

Avalanche Deaths caused by Winter Sports in France (excludes climbing)

The excellent conditions throughout France saw a democratisation in avalanche deaths normally associated with the high mountains of the Pyrenees and Northern Alps with only the Jura range being spared. There were a total of 19 deaths in Alps, 2 in the Massif Central, 2 in the Pyrenees and 1 in the Vosges. The Hautes-Alpes department in South East France was particularly badly hit with 10 avalanche deaths, at one more more than the number of fatal road traffic accidents. The Pyrenees figure was low considering the bumper snowfall in the region although two people were lucky to escape with their lives in La Mongie when a chalet and car-park were hit by an avalanche. Prefects (State Governors) had been particularly vigilant in restricting travel in the mountains during periods of high avalanche risk, a controversial move amongst people earning their living from winter sports tourism.

avalanche chalet, la mongie

Chalet Destroyed at la Mongie

Of the 24 killed by avalanches, 14 had some experience of the backcountry, ranging from Mountain Guides to residents of ski resorts. The vast majority of victims were French. 10 of the dead were ski tourists all of whom were equipped with rescue gear including avalanche beacons, snow shovels and probes. 9 were off piste skiers, 5 of whom were skiing close to the pistes. 1 involved the increasingly popular activity of snow shoeing and there was a very rare cross-country ski fatality in the Massif-Central region.

Three of the four snowshoe deaths were related to corniche collapses with the remaining fatality attributed to a fall. Corniches are overhanging snow structures that form on ridges due to wind. They are extremely dangerous to approach.

corniches in the Vosges

Corniches in the Vosges, March 2003

Of the none-avalanche fatalities two were due to hypothermia after the victims spent a night in the open having become disoriented. This reinforces the need to carry survival gear, food and to be familiar with the terrain and be able to navigate in all weather conditions. A skier was killed in Flaine after falling into the notorious fissures found in the off-piste sectors. The off-piste incidents highlight the dangers lurking close to the pistes and the need to consult professionals in the resort.

At least three of the fatalities involved people travelling alone. Particularly sad was the death of experienced ski tourist Jean-Pierre Etienne who died after a fall on the Corsican Haute-Route. His shepherd dog Lola remained faithfully at his side for over a week and alerted rescue workers searching the mountains.

On a happier note six snowboarders, missing on Mont Rosset opposite the La Plagne were found alive after spending 3 nights in deplorable weather conditions. Although not particularly well equipped they used their experience of the mountains to build a shelter and ration their food until help arrived. They were then promptly served with a bill for their rescue costs under a recent French law. With helicopter time running at 45 € a minute this is a sobering thought for the uninsured.

Summary of Accidents Reported to PisteHors for 2002-2003

The following table shows all the off-piste accidents reported to in the season 2002-2003 for France (excluding climbing).

Date Deaths Range Department Location Experience Activity Cause Remarks Rescue Nationality Time altitude
08/12/02 4 Alps Hautes-Alpes la Petite Buffe 4 CAF Ski Touring Avalanche   Transceiver French 11h00 2120
08/12/02 1 Alps Hautes-Alpes la Quarlie   Ski Touring Avalanche   Dog French 14h15 2300
24/12/02 1 Alps Haute Savoie Vallée Blanche Guided Group Ski Off Piste Avalanche Serac Fall Transceiver British   2530
29/12/02 1 Alps Hautes Alpes Pra Loup   Snowboard Off Piste Avalanche Closed Piste/Alone Dog French 13h00  
01/01/03 2 Alps Savoie Méribel/glacier du Borgne Local/Young Snowshoe Cornice Collapse Snowboard Touring   French   3042
05/01/03 1 Alps Hautes-Alpes Arvieux-en-Queyras local to Megève Ski Touring Avalanche   Transceiver French 12h35 2700
10/01/03 1 Alps Savoie Méribel/Cote Brune Ski Instructor Ski Off Piste Avalanche     French    
10/01/03 1 Alps Hautes Alpes Montgenvre Experienced Ski Off Piste Avalanche     French   3000
11/01/03 1 Alps Savoie Courchevel   Ski Touring Avalanche          
11/01/03 1 Alps Isère la Mure   Cross Country Drowning Frozen Lake Fire brigade French    
13/01/03 1 Alps Isère Les Deux Alpes   Ski Off Piste Collision Collision with object   British   2100
15/01/03 1 Alps Haute Savoie Brévent    Ski Touring Avalanche Disorientation   Australian    
20/01/03 1 Alps Isère Belledonne/Gd Colon   Ski Touring Avalanche     French 14h30  
25/01/03 1 Alps Alpes-Haute-Provence Chabanon   Ski Off Piste Avalanche Between Pistes     12h45 1600m
25/01/03 1 Alps Savoie la Toussuire   Ski Off Piste Fall     French    
27/01/03 1 Alps Haute-Savoie Flaine   Ski Off Piste Fall Between Pistes        
01/02/03 1 Vosges Vosges Hohneck   Snowshoe Avalanche Cornice Collapse   French 14h30  
01/02/03 1 Alps Haute-Savoie La Clusaz Guided Group Ski Off Piste Avalanche Between Pistes Transceiver Swiss 13h30 2400
05/02/03 2 Alps Savoie Valmorel Instructors Ski Off Piste Avalanche Between Pistes Dog French    
12/02/03 1 Alps Hautes-Alpes Ceillac   Ski Touring Avalanche Transceiver Malfunction Dog French 14h00 2400
15/02/03 1 Alps Hautes-Alpes le Tabor   Snowshoe Fall   PGHM French   200m
19/02/03 1 Pyrenees Haute-Pyrenees Artigues Snowshoe Guide Snowshoe Avalanche   Transceiver French 12h15 2225
19/02/03 1 Massif Central Puy de Dome Orcival   Cross Country Avalanche          
22/02/03 1 Alps Isère Les Deux Alpes   Ski Off Piste Avalanche   PGHM Italien 17h00 2000
22/02/03 1 Massif Central Cantal Brèche de Rolland CAF guide Snowshoe Avalanche     French 13h15 1647
28/02/03 1 Pyrenees Haute-Garonne Pic de Burat   Ski Touring Avalanche     French 11h30 1600
09/03/03 1 Alps Haute-Savoie Mont Blanc/Grand Mulets   Ski Touring Fall Snow Bridge Collapse     13h00 3400
11/03/03 1 Alps Haute-Savoie Vallée Blanche Guided Group Ski Off Piste Fall Crevasse       3000
16/03/03 1 Alps Haute-Alpes Risoul   Snowboard Off Piste Hypothermia Disorientation   French    
20/03/03 1 Alps Hautes-Alpes La Grave   Ski Off Piste Collision Collision with Skier        
11/04/03 1 Alps Hautes-Alpes La Grave Guide ski off piste Avalanche     German   3000
21/04/03 1 Corsica Corsica   Experienced Ski Touring Fall Alone with Dog PGHM/Dog French    
09/05/03 1 Alps Hautes-Savoie Mont Blanc/Grand Plateau   Ski Touring Fall     Bulgarian   4200

<< | Accident Statistics | French Avalanche and Off-Piste Accidents 2003 - 2004 >>