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Lack of snow fuels accidents in the Alps
Tuesday December 22, 2015 - Email this article to a friend

The authorities are urging caution as rocks, ice, hard-packed snow and crowded slopes have led to accidents on those slopes that are open. PlanetSKI reports as New Year week starts

It was not the Christmas that us skiers and snowboarders wanted.

There are now generally very poor conditions across the Alps and the warm temperatures are making things worse day by day.

The freezing level is now up to 3,000m+ in some parts of the mountains.

Many slopes are closed and those that are open are doing so extensively on artificial snow.

With the Xmas and New Year crowds out there are limited numbers of slopes that can be open and many are crowded.

The New Year week is usually busier than Xmas and yet the snow conditions get slowly worse.

However runs are open and many are in surprisingly good condition, all things considered.

Last week PlanetSKI was in the French high-altitude resort of Va Thorens and now we are moving round to Verbier in Switzerland.

We will be reporting shortly from Verbier, but what was it like in Val Thorens?

In a word - crowded.

The AlpsVal Thorens, France















And many were skiign beyond their means and the conditions.

A single hour in the Val Thorens & Les Menuires area of Les3Vallees in France last Tuesday morning makes the point well.

A team from PlanetSKI was in the area and saw two people taken off the mountain in blood wagons, one person being carried into an ambulance by paramedics, two sets of crossed skis indicating injuries, several near misses and numerous incidents of people skiing fast and out of control.

All in just 60 minutes.

It is likely to be reflected in other ski areas in the Alps that are open as people flock to the best conditions.

The AlpsTuesday 22nd December















The picture below was taken one minute later and about 700m away from the image above

The AlpsTuesday 22nd December















"The ski area has done very well to keep so many slopes open given the lack of natural snow, but many people do not seem to be adjusting their skiing speed to deal with the conditions," said the PlanetSKI content editor, James Cove, from Val Thorens.

"In short many are skiing and snowboarding far too fast on difficult and crowded slopes and the consequences are inevitable; accidents & injuries," he added.

The Alps30 minutes later above Les Menuires















The Alps15 minutes later towards Meribel















"The snow is hard in places so please control your speed and respect other skiers. The avalanche risk is 1 out of 5. Whilst the risk is limited, please do stay on the slopes as the snow cover is limited," said a statement from the Val Thorens Ski Patrol to PlanetSKI.

Val Thorens has all its lifts open and 80% of slopes.

The AlpsCrowded slopes















The AlpsLong queues















Much of the snow is artificial and this has a different texture to real snow.   

The piste bashers have also compressed it to make it hard pack and by the end of the day it has turned slushy or sugary.

It is challenging to ski on especially for those with poor technique.

Then an overnight freeze can make it icy and hard again.

The piste patrollers are undertaking a Herculean task in Les3Vallees to keep things open, but they have limited resources.

Les3ValleesCovering the bare patches














Les3ValleesAll hands to the pumps















Last week a 17-year old British skier died on a blue piste in Meribel.

He was reportedly skiing out of control at speed and broke his neck in a crash; we reported on it at the time.

"My message to the English public is to please be careful. Ski slopes are dangerous and it's important to be cautious with your speed to help avoid an accident and keep you safe," the authorities in the resort said in a statement.

There is no sign of the weather changing in the next few days and with more people expected in ski resorts for New Year the situation could deteriorate further - both in terms of accidents and snow conditions.

It is a similar picture across the mountains

"Indeed there are accidents on the slopes due to the lack of snow and the ice. The resort of Tignes ask its clients and all the skiers to be very careful and not to go off piste skiing," said Margot Sella from the Tignes Tourist Office.

There is thin snow cover and crowded slopes, but not everywhere.

PlanetSKI reader, Rod Frazer, is in Les2Alpes in the southern French Alps.

"Les 2 Alpes is also struggling for snow, with a lot of runs shut and/or with thin snow cover. The hill is doing everything within it's power to maximise the skiing. Ski tows on the glacier usually reserved for summer skiing are up and running, and they have just marked up a new piste on the glacier to increase the steep skiing available.  I even saw the chopper moving snow around the hill, in order to keep one of the runs back to resort open," said Rod.

He is a director of one of the local ski schools, BASS.

In Les2Alps it is not so crowded at Val Thorens and, if anything, people are staying away according to Rod.

Many local French people are simply remaining at home.

The AlpsUncrowded in Les2Alpes













And there is some good skiing to be had.

The AlpsRod in action













So, is any fresh snow forecast for the Xmas and New Year holiday?

To answer the question we turn, as always, to the alpine weather expert Fraser Wilkin from

"The weather in the Alps will stay mostly dry and mild for the rest of the week, with no significant snow forecast within a reliable timeframe. There is hope of a change to the endlessly mild pattern towards the New Year, but the various models keep chopping and changing and, as yet, there is still no broad consensus as to what exactly is going to happen," he said on Tuesday.

Do check back on Thursday when we will have our weekly snow report from Fraser.

The situation could get worse - but there was still good snow to be found as we reported from Alpe d'Huez last week.

However a reader in the resort has told us that the crowds and continued warm weather have seen conditions deteriorate.

And there was good snow cover even in resorts that have no natural snow as we reported from the Dolomites earlier.

What has changed since we posted those two stories on PlanerSKI is the crowds. Hundreds of thousands more people are on the slopes.

And continued warm weather.

In the meantime people are urged to ski and snowboard safley and according to the local conditions.

The simple answer is for people to slow down, ski in control and exercise caution.

The vast majority is doing so, but a sizeable minority is not.

See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the world of snowsports.

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