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Monday February 13, 2017 - Email this article to a friend

Four snowboarders - three members of one family and their ESF instructor - died in the massive avalanche in the French Alps on Monday. The instructor has been named as Laurent Ruiz.

The avalanche swept through an off-piste area of Tignes on Monday morning.

First reports said nine people had been buried, but it was later confirmed that only four were caught in the avalanche and their bodies have been recovered.

The dead have been named as 48-year-old Pierre Nicalek, his 15-year-old son and 19-year-old stepson, and an experienced and well-known local ESF instructor, Laurent Ruiz, who was 59.

Tributes have been paid with messages of condolence on the Facebook pages of Laurent Ruiz, his former clients and ESF Tignes Le Lac.

Laurent RuizLaurent Ruiz - photo Facebook




















ESF have posted a video of the instructor with the message:

In tribute to Laurent, an instructor, a friend, a passionate person.  All our thoughts go to the families of the victims on this day of mourning. 

One message described the instructor as "a generous man and just plain good"

Another said "With great sorrow and sadness we share with all ESF ski instructors our sincere feelings for the death of Laurent Ruiz. He was our friend, he was our brother, he was our best ski instructor."

All the victims were French nationals and were equipped with avalanche transceivers.

The Tignes authorities say they were found quickly by rescuers but were unfortunately already dead.

The family members were regular visitors to Tignes and were there on holiday.

The avalanche risk at the time was 3 out of 5.

A news conference on Monday evening was told that the four snowboarders had been walking with their boards in their hands when the avalanche hit.

A fifth person - said to be another teenager - is reported to have left the group shortly before the avalanche and has been speaking to the authorities.

The avalanche, which happened at 10.35am local time was on a huge scale.   It was up to 100 metres wide and 400 metres long.

It happened on a steep off-piste run known as the Lavachet Wall which can be clearly seen from the resort centre at Tignes Le Lac. 

Lavachet Wall avalancheAvalanche rescue as seen from the centre of Tignes Le Lac








The Lavachet Wall is a popular route for advanced skiers and snowboarders.

The four who died had been on run earlier that morning and it had been skied in recent days.  There were many tracks on the slope.

The rescue operation involved 50 members of the piste patrol, 60 instructors, the mountain gendarmerie, and volunteers.

Nine search dogs and three helicopters were also sent to the scene.

Search and rescue operationSearch and rescue operation







An investigation is underway to determine the circumstances leading to the avalanche.

The Tignes webcam shows the top of the slope before the slide at 10.30am.

Lavachet Wall, TignesBefore the slide, 10.30am









And at 10.40am just after the slide.

Massive avalanche, Lavachet Wall, Tignes Feb 13 2017After the slide, 10.40am








Tignes is popular with British skiers and this week is busy in the resort with the British half-term and French holidays.

Phil Harding, who has an apartment nearby, described the crown wall of the avalanche as enormous.

Just before 2pm local time he told PlanetSKI he could see a line of rescuers still probing the snow, looking for others who were thought to be buried.

Another Tignes local and PlanetSKI reader Alexandra Beuchert went to help the rescue effort with her husband Simon Perry.

Tignes avalanche rescue effortRescue effort - photo Alexandra Beuchert
















"Having stopped at our apartment for an early lunchtime delivery, we were in a perfect position to join in on the search and rescue efforts, using probes & following the commands of the Pisteurs in a line," Alex said.

"Photo shows my approach--the volunteers swelled in time. Sadly whilst we were there, no victims were recovered.

"Humbling indeed--my thoughts are with the victims & their loved ones."

The Tignes resort has also passed on its condolences, saying the thoughts of everyone is with the victims and their relatives.

Another three people were killed in separate avalanches in France at the weekend.

According to France Bleu Provence, a ski instructor from Montgenèvre died in the Briançon area on Saturday.

On Sunday two skiers in their 30s were killed after being caught in avalanches in Praz-sur-Arly and La Clusaz.

The authorities are advising extreme caution off piste.

They urge people to follow all the safety advice and to ensure they have all the correct safety  equipment and know how to use it.

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

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