Pic du Midi avalanche kills cop

A senior police officer and qualified high mountain guide, member of a specialist mountain unit of the CRS, has been killed by an avalanche while preparing a ski competition route in the Pyrenees.

The officer was part of a team of 10 that were marking the route for the Open Altitoy. A ski mountaineering competition with around 600 competitors that takes place between Luz Ardiden and the ski domain of Barèges / le Tourmalet.

The group were on touring skis and were descending from the col de Sencours towards the lac d’Oncet below the Pic du Midi. According to press reports, at around 16h00 the team noticed that two of the group were missing and spotted a large avalanche higher up the mountain with tracks leading in. They immediately contacted the rescue services (PGHM based at Pierrefitte) and began climbing back to the slide.

They located their colleagues using avalanche beacons. One man was in a state of cardio-vascular arrest. Resuscitated at the scene he was taken by helicopter to Toulouse where he died later. The other man was suffering from hypothermia. The avalanche risk was High (4/5) with 60-90cm of fresh snow in the area and accumulations of over 1 meter under the influence of a north-westerly wind. The avalanche bulletin warned of “soft slabs which can be triggered by the slightest load” on most aspects which could provoke fairly large avalanches.

In the Hautes-Alpes a 34 year old snow boarder was found last night after getting lost off piste in Risoul. He sent an SMS to his girlfriend who informed the rescue services. In nearby Ceillac a young off piste skier suffered back and head injuries yesterday afternoon jump cliffs.

Posted by davidof on Wednesday, 28 January, 2009 at 10:45 AM

18 deaths from avalanches so far this season, this is a high figure for the end of January and an indicator of the unstable conditions we’ve had


Posted by davidof on  Friday, 30 January, 2009  at 10:19 AM

A couple of questions about this one.  Why was it felt necassary to mark out a route 5 days before the competition - they were doing that today!

Also there were more than 10 (I saw at least 15 leaving three trails) - was said to be routine training at the time.  Out of all these guides didn’t at least one question what they were doing....

It was a bit of a owder frenzy day!

Posted by Chopper on  Friday, 30 January, 2009  at 07:52 PM

In one report a member of the group said: “we took a gulley, there were tracks so we let down our guard”. That’s the second time this week I’ve heard tracks mentioned as a sign of security. They are not. Of course you have to take some reports with a pinch of salt.

I was surprised they were out in those conditions. the slopes below the Pic du Midi are around 35 degrees so prime avalanche territory. Ok the south facing slopes will have a reasonably stable base but the avalanche bulletin doesn’t give much confidence. That said, you have to judge on the terrain as well. I was also surprised they were on a south-facing slope so late in the day. The snowpack must have warmed up quite a bit by then.

The first leg of the Altitoy event was cancelled.

Posted by davidof on  Tuesday, 03 February, 2009  at 11:10 AM
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