Prosecutor wants 5 year ban for ESF instructors

Two ski instructors from the Ecole du Ski Français are threatened with a 5 year ban and suspended prison sentences in a manslaughter trial at Albertville court this week. Readers of PisteHors will remember the avalanche on the 31st December 2009 in Orelle which cost the life of a client, buried for 15 minutes by an avalanche while skiing off piste.

photo: kees wolthoorn

According to press reports at the time the state prosecutor, Patrick Quincy was “shocked that a pro could take a group into a dangerous area” and that he was “aiming high” in launching a prosecution against the instructors. There was a polemic after claims that the avalanche risk was High (4/5) [Val Thorens/Orelle had the checkered flag showing in resort that day].

The victim was buried while skiing off piste with a group led by Yves Burroni. Another ESF group, led by Benoît Lajournade were skiing some distance above. It was this group of snowboarders that triggered the avalanche.

photo: kees wolthoorn

Patrick Quincy wants to prove that the defendants were negligent by skiing in the bowl. Apart from the avalanche danger the court will want to establish whether each instructor was keeping his group out of the fall line of the other. Quincy told the press that he wants to “start a real debate on off piste skiing that is totally unregulated by highlighting the errors committed by the defendants”. According to Quincy the local ski patrol says the bowl has “a permanent avalanche risk”. The case “is symbolic because it reminds us that off piste skiing, that has developed in a dangerous manner, can be a killer. Even if there are pressures the ski instructors need to remember that they have the lives of human beings in their hands”.

Quincy considers that Mr. Lajournade committed a more serious error than Mr Burroni (there is already case-law in France that climbers are responsible for stones they dislodge on others below). The judgment will be published on the 30th April 2012 but will only form proper case-law if the prosecutor’s opinion is upheld by a more senior court.

Here is the avalanche bulletin for the day (you will note the risk is 2 / 5 not 4 as reported at the time). The incident occurred at 2950 meters on a South-West facing 35° degree slope. The bulletin noted that “small slabs (15/20cm) were possible above 2300 meters but sub layers were less fragile due to a humidification and depth of burial with agreeable ski conditions above 2300 meters, gust of winds from the South-West to 40km/h, Zero Isotherm was at 2300 meters.



Courant de Sud-Ouest perturbe et doux. Isotherme 0°C: 2100m. Vent a 3000 m : Sud-Ouest rafales 40 km/h.

On est dans l’apres Copenhague !! la pluie s’est abattu sur nos massifs jusqu’a 2300m puis 1800 metres en donnant 5 a 10cm en haute-montagne. La fonte s’est donc accélérée en dessous. Pour les Bauges, c’est vraiment difficile… Une petite idée des températures ce matin : +5 degrés a 2000m et 0 vers 2500m, puis plus froid depuis…
Hauteur de neige sur des sites vierges :
a 1500 mètres : 15 a 30cm de neige pourri…
a 2000 mètres : 40 a 80cm de neige bien mouillée avec un peu fraiche dessus
a 2500 mètres : 90 a 160cm dont 15 a 30cm de fraiche plus sèche.
Qualité du ski : “mélange entre le ski nautique et le water-polo” en dessous de 2000 mètres, neige idéale pour se faire un genou...a partir de 2300 mètres, ski plus agréable.


ACTIVITE AVALANCHEUSE : en baisse sur tous massifs. La purge naturelle s’est faite en Beaufortain, Maurienne, Tarentaise plutot la veille ou cette nuit.

VANOISE, HAUTE-MAURIENNE ET MAURIENNE : Ces masssifs ont subi le redoux de plein fouet depuis 48h ou bien, les chutes de neige en altitude s’annoncent plus faibles (10/15cm). Des purges se sont déja produites également et l’enneigement diminue en épaisseur. En dessous de 2300 mètres, le risque diminue nettement avec le tassement mais le regel reste insuffisant. Au dessus de 2300m, plaques de faibles épaisseurs (cassures 15/20cm) possibles. Meme constant sinon, les sous-couches sont moins fragiles avec l’humidification et mieux enfouies. Départ de petites coulées naturelles limité.
-- Thierry Arno

Posted by davidof on Tuesday, 20 March, 2012 at 11:01 AM

I think the prosecutor is just doing his job. He wants to secure the skiers.

Posted by  on  Thursday, 22 March, 2012  at 07:32 AM

"Quincy told the press that he wants to “start a real debate on off piste skiing that is totally unregulated by highlighting the errors committed by the defendants”.”

So is walking.
This does not mean that a tourist guide is responsible if one of his tourists step off the curb, to take a better picture of his wife in front of the Louvre, and gets hit by a car.

It is, of course, not as easy as the example above but I would argue that it falls under the same, individual, responsibility.

Posted by  on  Sunday, 25 March, 2012  at 05:06 PM

Just out of interest, how much avalanche training does a ski instuctor get? Is it only the more senior/experianced that take clients off piste? I understand how long it takes to become a guide and how intensive that is and just wonder if the training as an instructor would be considered sufficient? I’m not instuctor bashing, I’m just curious if they may be leaving themselves a little open.

Posted by  on  Friday, 20 April, 2012  at 07:48 AM

The instructor who was above the group received a 12 months suspended sentence and various fines. The instructor with the lower group was found not guilty. Neither were banned from working as instructors despite a call from the prosecutor.

@darrenjhudson I’m not 100% what the French (ENSA) training is for instructors going off piste. It is certainly less extensive than guides training but in general those instructors taking skiers off piste are the most experienced and may be highly skilled (think Simon Christie, a BASI instructor, who posts here sometimes but there are also some horror stories of groups going out without beacons etc. For some between the pistes “powder” instruction this may not be a big issue.

If the bowl has a “Permanent avalanche risk” as the ski patrol apparently claims then maybe the mayor should pass a bye-law banning skiers from the zone on a permanent basis?

Posted by davidof on  Tuesday, 01 May, 2012  at 04:23 PM

To answer darrenjhudson, the above links give the latest minimum standards for ISIA (International Ski Instructors Association).
In summary:-
Only the top level ski instructors are qualified to lead their own offpiste groups.  Only Mountain Guides are qualified to lead on glaciated terrain.
All ski instructor offpiste and mountain safety qualification training and assessment is to be done by a mountain guide.

Posted by skipresto on  Sunday, 23 December, 2012  at 12:30 PM
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