Two fatalities in l’Espace Killy avalanches

The return to better weather after a weekend where over a meter of snow fell at altitude accompanied by strong winds from the west then north-east tempted skiers and snowboarders out in force today. The result was two deaths and two serious injuries in avalanches incidents in Tignes, Val d’Isère, Courchevel and la Plagne.

tignes avalanche
Avalanche which claimed an American boarder

The most serious incidents were in the Espace Killy. Locals and tourists in the Fornet were put on guard early in the day when a powder avalanche covered the village in light powder. However the opening of the lifts was like a starting pistol for the powder hounds. Soon every slope and aspect was scared with tracks. Wayne Watson, a guide from Alpine Experience said that skiers and boarders were “attacking the mountain like there was no tomorrow” and showed little respect for the majestic slopes of the Espace Killy. He was in no doubt that there would be some serious incidents and so it was.

At 12h30 a mixed group of skiers and snowboarders, all season workers, triggered a sizeable avalanche the Marmottes slopes in the Manchet valley in the ski resort of Val d’Isère. This area is well known for its avalanche risk, a member of Henry’s Avalanche Talk was avalanched here a few years ago losing a friend in the slide. The slide was 100 meters wide and ran over 500 meters carrying a Swedish national, aged 20, who worked for Precision Ski over a series of small cliffs and rocks. His companions were able to find him using his avalanche beacon but his back had been broken by the fall. A number of other groups were on the slope at the same time.

tignes avalanche
The Tufs sector at Tignes

At Tignes a 28 year old American national, resident of Boston, triggered an avalanche above the lac du Tignes at 14h00 while riding at speed off-piste with a French friend. She didn’t see the slide and the rescue services were not alerted for some time. The avalanche carried the man, named as Michael Paul Gordon, into the lake where his body was recovered by rescue workers. Despite efforts they were unable to revive him. The area was already quite heavily tracked at the time of the avalanche.

The victim was using a snowboard and the bindings were non-releasable, a member of the piste patrol said that this probably contributed to the gravity of the accident. Bindings are a problem for snowboarders, last month a New-Zealand national was carried through trees by an avalanche with his board attached above le Tour severly injuring his legs and arms.

The search for the man was hampered by the fact that he didn’t have an avalanche beacon. His body was eventually located by an avalanche dog. Jean-Louis Tuaillon, the director of piste security, who we interviewed in January said that skiers and snowboarders have a tendancy to nibble away at the off-piste areas in the resort “but when they go too far, it is far too late”.

The avalanche risk was High (4/5) in the resort and a safety announcement was made in English on the lift the couple took to reach the itinerary. In January 2004 two snowboarders were swept into the lac de Tignes by an avalanche involving rescue workers including army divers in a complicated nighttime operation.

At la Plagne a group of seven skiers accompanied by a ski instructor triggered a large, full depth avalanche in the Combe du Renard. The headwall of the avalanche measured 2 meters. Four of the group were buried, one partially. The survivors and instructor set about rescuing their friends using their avalanche beacons and shovels. By the time the CRS des Alpes arrived by helicopter from their advanced base at Courchevel the last victim was being recovered. He had been carried over 200 meters and was suffering from hypothermia and taken to hospital.

At the ski resort of Courchevel an off piste skier triggered a slab avalanche in the Suisses sector around 14h00. A large rescue operation involving around 300 probers found the victim after 20 minutes under the slide. He was taken to hospital. The slide was almost a repeat of an avalanche which cost the life of an American on the 1st of January, 2006.

corsica avalanche

Three ski tourers were also lucky to survive a large avalanche on the Pinzi Corbini in Haute Corsica. They were traversing the island on the GR20 and were in the Rotuondo sector betwen the Refuge de l’Onda and the refuge Pietra Piana. Two skiers were taken by the slide after triggering a wind slab at 1750 meters. One skier managed to stop himself using his ice-axe, the other was carried 500 meters down the mountain. He was trapped by the slide for 90 minutes with just his head visible before being rescued by members of the fire service and PGHM. The avalanche risk was Considerable (3/5) at the time.

Two Belgium ski tourers were injured after triggering an avalanche above Monetier-les-Bains (Serre Chevalier). The slide occured around 15h00 while they were skiing in steep woodland.

val d'enfer avalanche

The ski resort of Le Mont Dore in the Massif Central also suffered an avalanche in the Val d’Enfer on Saturday. The slide ran for over a kilometer and hit three drag lifts damaging five pylons and a dozen snow canons. There were no injuries.

There have been 46 fatalities this season, 19 of them in the Savoie department. Officials in l’Epace Killy said that people in the resort must have been aware of the risks as the area has been cut off by avalanches for the last 48 hours.


Thanks to Dan for the Tignes photos

Posted by on Monday, 06 March, 2006 at 07:18 PM

The Times is running an interesting blog that has also picked up on the dangerous conditions this winter: France’s deadly winter

Posted by davidof on  Tuesday, 14 March, 2006  at 06:30 PM

Here is a photo report on the Le Mont Dore avalanche

Avalanche Val d’Enfer

Posted by davidof on  Saturday, 18 March, 2006  at 10:17 PM
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