Three ski tourers killed by avalanche in North Belledonne

Three ski tourers have been killed by an avalanche in the North Belledonne close to Chambery. The skiers were heading for Le Chapotet in the commune of Presle. It is the most serious avalanche accident in France this season.

le chapotet
Le Chapotet (archive photo, early May).

The bodies were found at 1570 meters on a north facing slope above the refuge de la Grande Montagne du Verneil. The avalanche was about 300 meters long and 50 meters wide, it seems to have been triggered at a break in the slope by the passage of the three skiers. The avalanche risk was Considerable (3/5). There has been about 50-70cm of new snow over the last few days and this was poorly bonded to the base. The alert was given by another group in the sector who witnessed the slide. They were able to recover one body before the rescue services arrived on the scene by helicopter. All the members of the group were equipped with avalanche beacons.

Le Chapotet would normally be considered a low risk destination. The normal route follows a north-west ridge. However Pistehors’ route guide warns of the avalanche risk on steeper slopes. It appears that the group were not on the usual route but following a steeper north facing path. We noticed a number of surface slides today on east (sunny) slopes between 1200-1400 meters where a layer of 20-30cm of fresh snow had no cohesion with the base. Although the sluffs we saw were limited in size the fresh snow was very heavy and on an open face could mobilize a considerable amount of snow.

An employee of the French electricity company EDF has been killed by an avalanche 100 meters below the dam at Mont-Cenis on the border with France and Italy. The man was on touring skis and was hit by a mid-sized avalanche. The alert was given by a colleague and the man’s body found by Italian rescue workers around during the night of Saturday/Sunday.

With the return of fine weather the rescue services were busy yesterday They went to the aid of a ski tourer yesterday afternoon on Notre-Dame-de-La Salette who had broken an ankle and to the Pas de la Porte on the Granier where a skier had fallen, also breaking his ankle. A skier was also rescued from the couloir Rectiligne on the Pas de chèvre where he had suffered head injuries after a fall. The man was rescued by a ground based team, the helicopter was unable to fly. A snowboarder in Valmorel had a nasty fall ending in a snow hole with a freezing stream at the bottom. Rescued by the High Mountain Police he was transported to hospital with hypothermia.

At les Arcs an American has been rescued in a state of hypothermia after falling down cliffs in a wooded area. It seems she had missed the last car on the Paradiski link and had decided to attempt the traverse between la Plagne and les Arcs on skis. The woodland is crossed with small cliffs. The ground rescue operation was extremely dangerous. A team of three rescuers from the mountain police reached the woman in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Posted by davidof on Saturday, 07 March, 2009 at 06:18 PM

Thanks for the careful reporting, David.

I’ve never toured in the Presle - Chapotet area (ESE of la Rochette). I notice on the IGN 1:25000 topo software that there are a couple of ups and downs along the NW ridge, and in the section directly S from Chalet de la Grande Montagne du Verneil, the hiking trail is marked as going below the ridge on its N side—presumably as a “short cut” to bypass P 1764m and go more directly from the col 1675m pass P 1808m. Or perhaps to avoid a little extra work needed to climb directly over P 1808m.


Posted by  on  Monday, 09 March, 2009  at 12:14 PM

Some info from Eric Laurent who lives near the mountain and knows the area well.

“The altitude given of 1570 meters surprises me as it is just 100 meters above teh refuge with slopes of less than 20°. The steeper slopes are between 1650 and 1800 meters.

The only time I climbed to the Chapotêt this year the track climbed further to the east compared to the classic route which is steeper and more dangerous. Without hesitation I left that track to climb the steeper route in 60cm of fresh.

Between 2002 and 2007 I covered that slope 40 times at risk 4 and 5 with more than 1 meter of fresh snow with total snow depth of 250 cm. It is really not fair for the victims.”

I’m not sure that gives you a better idea of exactly where they were. However a couple of people on skitour say they have kicked off slides on those slopes. It seems that there is a rollover where snow accumulates above the refuge.

Posted by davidof on  Monday, 09 March, 2009  at 02:04 PM
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