Review of French Avalanche Incidents for 2009/10

The 2009-2010 ski season in France saw 41 avalanche fatalities in 33 incidents. The number of incidents is the worst figure since 1989/90 excepting the winter of 2005/6. Worryingly for the avalanche educators and the rescue services the last three seasons have seen an upward trend in both fatalities and incidents which can only partially be explained by the snow conditions.

As in 2005/6 we see that early conditions, thin snow pack and cold, can have a major effect on the stability of diverse slopes throughout the season. However the actions of backcountry travelers were a significant factor in the poor figures. The number of experienced skiers and professionals involved in incidents is a continuing worry. The proportion of ski tourers and snowshoers in the statistics seems to have finally leveled out indicating an equilibrium may have been reached with off-piste skiing after a rapid growth in adventure skiing over the last five years. The number of deaths of climbers this season is probably an anomaly but climbers on winter routes should certainly consider avalanche rescue gear. Once again we note that off piste skiers and snowshoers frequently do not carry avalanche transceivers leading to long and probably fatal delays in rescue.

Read full report here:

Posted by davidof on Sunday, 19 December, 2010 at 09:52 PM

Very helpful report (yet again)—thanks a lot for the careful work, David. Seemed shorter this year, perhaps fewer details on each incident, but more telling insights.

Case where new technology saved somebody, another case where they might have hoped new technology would save them, but it didn’t.

What fits for me most was the problems of the long-term psychological factors: such high percentage of risk level 3 days, so few weekends with sunshine. So when a sunny spring weekend day finally appeared, people tried tours they’d been waiting for a long time, and some died.

I think for experienced skiers, a restructuring of the whole context of our times and places around the snowy mountains—so we’re less tempted by those psychological pressures—gives the biggest gain in safety probability. But difficult and costly and to execute.

The more common approach seems to be, “I’ll take on some extra risk for just a couple of days each season. So in the overall scheme of the other bad things in my life which might get me, e.g. car crashes, the proportional increase in annual risk of early death is not enormous, and seems acceptable to me.”

I have no intention of denying them that freedom to choose risk - (though their family might wish differently).
Then when lots of skiers take that same risk management approach, it makes the statistics look bad—especially for holiday weeks when lots of people who ski fewer days than me get to exercise that strategy.


Posted by  on  Tuesday, 21 December, 2010  at 05:08 PM
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