French Avalanches Kill Four

It has been a black day in the French Alps.  Fresh snow on Sunday has increased the avalanche risk as three skiers found to their cost in separate incidents in Tignes and Val d’Isère in the Savoie and at La Clusaz in the Haute Savoie.

The first incident occured at around 12h30.  A British skier, named by the police as Jonathan Smout, aged 34, was with a group of six accompanied by an instructor from the UCPA (l’Union nationale des Centres sportifs de Plein Air), a non-profitmaking French body that organises adventure holidays.  The skiers were in the Tufs couloir, a popular but difficult off-piste route in the Lavachet sector.  The small avalanche occured on a 35 degree, west facing slope above Tignes le Lac at around 2,500 meters altitude.  Rescue services arrived rapidly on the scene but were unable to resuscitate the skier who had suffered a broken neck in the slide.  The avalanche risk was 3 (considerable).  Skiers and boarders are reminded that slopes between 30 and 45 degrees, especially facing to the North, are avalanche prone.

Grand Vallon Avalanche
Photo © Henry Schniewind / HAT

At 16h00 in Val d’Isère a group of four people were involved in a large avalanche while descending an off piste route near the top of the Grand-Vallon in the Fornet sector.  Not technically difficult, the slopes are a favourite with skiers and snowboarders after fresh snowfall but are avalanche prone. The slide, believed to have been triggered by a snowboarder cutting the slope higher up, measured 200 by 800 meters and buried three of the skiers, two were able to free themselves.  The body of the third victim, aged 60, was found at 16h45 and one of the other victims was taken to hospital in Bourg St Maurice.

Another avalanche, almost a carbon copy of a similar incident last season that resulted in the death of a 14 year old Swiss girl, occured close to the ski resort of La Clusaz.  The slide, measuring 100 by 400 meters and 80cm deep, was triggered by the passage of two skiers in the Balme sector at 2,400 meters altitude close to the Torchére run on a north-west slope referred to as the Rampe de Parrossaz .  They escaped without incident and gave the alert at 15h30.  A large rescue operation was organised and the body of a third skier, a 35 year old man, was found in a state of cardiac arrest by rescue workers with dogs at 17h00.  They were unable to resucitate him.  Although the headline risk for the area was 2 (moderate), the avalanche bulletin gave the risk as 3 (considerable) over 2,300 meters.  This highlights the need to read the detail of the avalanche bulletin before going off-piste.

At la Toussuire (les Sybelles) two off-piste skiers triggered an avalanche, fortunately there were no victims.  A number of other slides have been spotted in the area.

A Spaniard, aged 18, was killed by an avalanche on Sunday while climbing near the village of Gèdre in the French Pyrénées. The climber was with four friends who were also hit by the slide.  The rescue operation only started on Monday due to the bad weather conditions in the area.

Posted by davidof on Monday, 29 December, 2003 at 09:40 PM

We have been contacted by someone close to the British skier Jonathan Smout.  They asked us to make it clear that Mr Smout was skiing with a guide at the time and was not responsible for the accident.  Having visited Tignes and spoken with the UCPA and the guide they believe he took due care and that the death of Mr Smout is simply a tragic accident.

We would like to point out that any comments we make about current conditions are not intended to be criticisms of accident victims but are there to help other people going off piste.

Posted by davidof on  Friday, 19 March, 2004  at 01:41 PM
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