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Extreme danger off piste in the Alps
Wednesday January 6, 2016 - Email this article to a friend

Two people have died in separate avalanches in France this week and others have been buried. The authorities urge caution as more snow is falling again. UPDATED

The fatal accidents happened on Tuesday after heavy snow fell. 

A 37-year old man died in Val d'Isere and a 30-year old man died in nearby Saint-Colomban-des-Villards

Others remain seriously injured.

On Tuesday In the Savoie region of the French Alps the rescue services were called to eight separate avalanche incidents.

See here for our report on the accidents.

The avalanche risk was 4 on a scale of 5.

This means avalanches are likely to be triggered on many slopes even if only light loads are applied.

In some places, many medium or sometimes large spontaneous avalanches are likely.

In short it is HIGHLY DANGEROUS in many places.

Unstable snowUnstable snow













One Tuesday an avalanche buried a person at Siviez near Verbier in Switzerland.

The skier was rescued uninjured after heading off piste.

In Switzerland the avalanche risk remains high and the Swiss Avalanche Institute issued the following bullletin on Thursday.

"As a consequence of fresh snow and strong wind extensive snow drift accumulations have formed.

Avalanches can penetrate down to the ground and reach dangerously large size.

Until late in the night individual natural avalanches are to be expected, including large ones in isolated cases.

Exposed parts of transportation routes can be endangered. As the day progresses the natural avalanche activity will decrease.

The snow sport conditions outside marked and open pistes remain dangerous.

Single winter sport participants can release avalanches easily, including medium-sized ones. Whumpfing sounds and the formation of shooting cracks when stepping on the snowpack serve as an alarm indicating the danger."

This season one person has died in an avalanche in Switzerland - as skier tourer back in October 2015.

With poor snow in December there is very little base to the snowpack and the conditions are very unstable at present.

Heavy snow falls on a limited base and shears away - a so-called slab avalanche.

This is combined with pent up frustration of some people being unable to ski powder this season. 

Some are desperate to head off piste without realising the dangers. 

It has been a recipe for disaster in some cases.

Anyone who ventures off piste should have the correct safety equipment and know how to use it.

However prevention is much better than cure.

Here at PlanetSKI we firmly believe there is too much emphasis placed on having the correct safety equipment.

We 100% believe in being correctly kitted out but the best advice is not to get caught in an avalanche in the first place. 

The 30-year old who died had all the safety equipment including an airbag but it counted for nothing.

Avoiding avalanches comes through training, knowledge, common sense and experience. 

Skills that require time to acquire.

As a rule of thumb people should not be venturing onto slopes over 30 degrees at the moment as most slopes beneath this gradient are too shallow to slide.

30 degree is about as steep as a decent black run so that gives plenty of scope for powder turns.

The slopes are dangerous at the moment, but this doesn't mean off piste skiing should be avoided.

"There is no reason not to go off-piste. It's not rocket science, but you do need to know (AND APPLY) some simple rules all the time," said the off piste guide, Henry Schniewind, who works out of Val d'Isere - scene of one of the fatal avalanches.

Henry gives off piste safety talks in the resort and they are highly recommended by us here at PlanetSKI. 

We skied in Val d'Isere with Henry two years ago when conditions were also very dangerous with numerous fatalities. 

We kept on safe slopes and had some fabulous skiing - see here for our reports from the time.

Val d'IsereGoing up















Coming downComing down















"We know you just want to enjoy a bath of powder snow right now, but the avalanche risk is very high (4/5), so please, be strong, stay on the pistes," said a statement from the neighbouring resort of Tignes this week.

However one so-called pro rider, Theo Lange, skied the Col du Palet in Tignes.

And the result was that he was caught in an avalanche.

See here for a video of the incident.

Many runs are closed but that does not stop some people ducking under ropes and barriers believing they know better than the experts.

Two more idiotsTwo more idiots















One way to learn about off piste safety is to do a course or ski with experts.

The Ski Club of Great Britain runs a number through its Freshtracks holiday programme.

We have reported on them in this news story - here they are enjoying the powder this week.


Out of the slopesKeeping under 30 degrees




















See here for further details about its off piste courses and holidays.

The Club has holidays going to St Foy this week and next week that still have places left.

Here is what it looks like at the moment.

Sainte Foy, FranceSainte Foy, France













Fresh tracks with FreshtracksFresh tracks with Freshtracks













More snow is set to fall on Thursday and it will land on an already unstable snowpack.

More people will no doubt be out skiing on it as soon as it eases off and the lifts open - the vast majority doing so safely.

But there will be a minority who probably don't even know the dangers they are putting themselves, and others, in.

As Henry says: "Ride Hard, Ride Safe."

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

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