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Avi Deaths in Verbier.

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Just had our Daughter phone, major avalanche on Vallon d'Arby.
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https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/four-missing-as-swiss-avalanche-strikes/43978896
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Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Oh no... report says 4 lost.
Looks like the south facing side in the afternoon, wet snow down to the base. No transceivers not that it would have necessarily helped them in that. Very sobering...



https://mobile2.lematin.ch/articles/5aabf698ab5c37758d000001
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Very sad news.
As soon as I read avalanche and Verbier, I thought I bet it’s the Vallon d’Arby. I spent a lot of time in Verbier 10-20 years ago doing all the great off piste and only did d’Arby once, we just never felt it offered much in terms of risk/reward.
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Apparently 5 now reported missing.
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https://www.lenouvelliste.ch/articles/valais/canton/avalanche-sur-les-hauts-de-riddes-les-recherches-sont-momentanement-interrompues-744129
Update this morning. Seems to be on the skiers right flank of the valley, not the usual itinerary on the left side
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This morning’s matin dimanche reports two bodies recovered. Rescuers say it’s the biggest avalanche they’ve seen in 30 years.

Bodies under 6m of snow.

Head of safety at Téléverbier points out that the right hand side of the valley, is not secured, the itinerary is the opposite side and there are rarely incidents that side.

Interestingly for the last two seasons there’s been a huge sign by the ice chute saying not to go down that side.

No transceivers.
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It’s a great run down Vallon D’Arbi but I’d never cut off right by the excavator. The snow field where the tracked route opens out is fantastic but below that not the greatest.

Very sad news but no av kit....??
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I think they were on the path at the bottom. Transceivers not going to help under 6m of wet snow. I very much doubt they triggered it. The problem was being under south facing slopes in the afternoon. Terrible luck too... there’s going to be some massive slides on the south facing stuff from now on as the sun warms the massive snowpack up high.
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So were the skiers on a marked itinerary? As a matter of interest, are the itineraries in Verbier avalanche controlled? This is something I've wondered about the itineraries in several resorts.
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Steve Sparks wrote:
.... Bodies under 6m of snow. ...No transceivers.

Which'd make body recovery harder, but would not have affected the outcome either way.
I guess it suggests an attitude to risk which I don't share.

Very sad news ..
I didn't know anyone in it.
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The marked route is on skiers left side of the valley, BUT in practice most people head down the middle. Then when you get halfway down valley floor steepens through trees and the easier option is follow a path that traverses you to the right side 😢 . The path is visible in the photos, crosses the slide about 1/2 the way up from the bottom

Would be the easiest thing to ski the path in a long line and then stop in a bunch when you reach the nice open slope (without looking uphill or wondering WHY there are no trees on this bit). Very sad.
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sugarmoma666 wrote:
So were the skiers on a marked itinerary? As a matter of interest, are the itineraries in Verbier avalanche controlled? This is something I've wondered about the itineraries in several resorts.


The Vallon d’arbi Itinerary passes along the other side of this valley. And yes it is definitely avalanche controlled as the entry traverse runs under some very avalanche prone slopes and you see the bomb holes above after every fresh dump. These skiers were far from the marked itinerary on the south side of the same valley and it is possible to access that side by dropping off the main path and staying right. The investigation is no doubt going to look at whether the resort bares some responsibility as the itinerary (which is often shut) was officially open on the day. This is a terrible accident but I hope it doesn’t lead to tighter controls - Verbier already does an amazing job of securing its terrain
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@BobinCH, thanks for the response. If the skiers chose to go off the itinerary, I'd hope that the resort aren't held responsible (so long as the itinerary is adequately marked). Would you expect all skiers who remain on the itinerary to have full avi kit?
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The lack of Avi kit in this terrible case is a red herring.
Nothing would have made any difference, not even an airbag, as the HUGE avalanche came from above and burried them very, very deep.

As to the expectation/requirement to be fully kitted on a Verbier Itinerary....I am pretty risk averse, but there are certainly times when I would not bother on Chassoure or on Vallon Darbi. Those would be times when there has not been recent snowfall, constant temperatures, and I would be staying to the very well skied zones.

These are not obscure spots, they are very highly used and are Avi controlled regularly.

At other times...of course I would be kitted.

I don't think the resort will be held to blame. Switzerland has a pretty well established relationship between individual decision and risk. It can be summed up as "Don't be an idiot, but if you make a bad decision don't blame us". The Swiss accept that and choose accordingly, there really isn't a blame/sue culture.
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^ Tragic incident Sad

The obvious concern is that it was on an open itinerary run.
Which of course encourages less experienced people to go there without avy gear.
Skiers right of vallon d'arby is certainly a trade route / well skied / likely to be moguls.
Is it reasonable to expect tourists to consider this as off-piste when vallon d'arby is marked 'open' ?
The yellow marker poles on itinerary route are only rough indicators of direction.

I am not a fan of blame culture. I like the concept of itinerary routes.
However : if these people had been properly equipped for of piste skiing (... and thus aware of the risk?) then I might be more comfortable with this incident....

Certainly cause for thought : for both skiers and the resort alike.
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Quote:

However : if these people had been properly equipped for of piste skiing (... and thus aware of the risk?) then I might be more comfortable with this incident....


You'd be 'more' comfortable with them dying as long as they had the 'proper' equipment? Are you sure you mean that?
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I think the are degrees of deeply uncomfortable.

Having the kit may imply intention to do off piste skiing and knowledge/acceptance of the risks, but for me the key factor is whether the area was supposed to be controlled.
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mtsuit wrote:
but for me the key factor is whether the area was supposed to be controlled.


What kind of control were you expecting?
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BobinCH wrote:
Transceivers not going to help under 6m of wet snow.


Mate it's not that I disagree with you, because I don't... but when you put your kit on the in the morning and set out the door, you don't know how much snow is going to end up on top of you.

Granted transceivers wouldn't help much under 6m of snow, in a different time and a different place they could have been covered by half a metre and then they could have made all the difference.
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The unfortunate people caught up in this incident were not on an itinerary.

In fact they were the absolute opposite side of the valley of the itinerary.

The itinerary is effectively secured, and can be skied by skiers with no avalanche equipment, when it is open, as it was on Friday.

If you choose to detour from the itinerary, you are properly off piste, and should take adequate precautions. Those do not guarantee safety, but help with risk management, and minimise the risk to those with families who take part in the rescue
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There are several itinerary routes in Verbier including Chassoure and Tortin which see big volumes of traffic, and while there are orange poles marking the route, these are big valleys and people ski right across the valleys. They are comprehensively avi contrilled, many people ski these without avi equipment and the risk is low. They are more like a marked black run than an off piste route.

Vallon d’arbi also sees a fair bit of traffic but is more remote and IMHO requires more care. The marked route runs along two traverses and then down through the trees on the skiers left of the valley. However a lot of people head straight down the middle of the valley and into quite a steep couloir which gets quickly mogulled.

It seems these skiers went further right to the South side of the valley where there is a (walking) path that can be skied down. You can also access this side, properly off piste, from the Rock Garden traverse so it does see traffic, although much less. However like on any steep south facing steep slope you do not want to be there in the afternoon when the sun has been on it all day. There are glide cracks on many of the south facing slopes - you can also see them on this slope. And the avi report on Friday specifically called out glide cracks under 2400m as a risk due to the thoroughly wet snow pack below 2200m.

https://www.slf.ch/en/avalanche-bulletin-and-snow-situation.html#snowpack

You could argue that it would be likely that less knowledgeable skiers may end up on this side and hence it should have been controlled/shut but if we go down the path of aiming for no risk (which is anyway impossible) it will take away one of the USP’s of Verbier which is these itineraries.

As for avi gear, although I almost always wear it myself, I wouldn’t see it necessary for itineraries, when open. For example, the ski schools take groups of kids down these routes, especially Chassoure.

In any case it would have made no difference in a wet snow avalanche like this.
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red 27 wrote:
Quote:

However : if these people had been properly equipped for of piste skiing (... and thus aware of the risk?) then I might be more comfortable with this incident....


You'd be 'more' comfortable with them dying as long as they had the 'proper' equipment? Are you sure you mean that?


I am not comfortable with anyone dieing while skiing.

However this is not a normal 'off piste accident' as it happened on well tracked variation of an itinerary route.

I have skied Vallon D'arby many times - lovely run. It is easy to see how less experienced skiers could be lured into the sunny / less steep right bank believing it is all itinerary - geographically Vallon D'Arby as marked on map is the entire valley.

The signage is not great and I bet thousands of skiers have skied that variation in belief they are still on a marked and controlled route.

I love the concept of itinerary runs and wild skiing. However there needs to be acceptance, from lift operator and skiers, that it introduces a grey area of liability.
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davidof wrote:
mtsuit wrote:
but for me the key factor is whether the area was supposed to be controlled.


What kind of control were you expecting?


Having skied this route many times the signage is not great / obvious. Remember this is not proper off piste but marked on map as dotted yellow line. Skiers follow a vague route marked by well spaced single yellow poles.

For right, or wrong, thousands of skiers and families will inavertently ski the right bank on exit from vallon and (... wrongly) believed they were en route.

Now - mountains are not play grounds but wild places. I don't believe in signs everywhere. All risk can't be removed. However if you are going to have marked itinerary routes then there needs to be minimal level of care / education?

No doubt those who died were totally unaware of risk (no beacons) and probably didn't believe they were off piste until too late.
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We have a son and daughter living and working in Verbier, both say that Vallon d’arbi had become increasingly 'sketchy' and they were unimpressed that parents were taking kids down the route. Apparently there are kids missing.
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Local news this AM suggesting that searching is not possible due conditions (not specified).
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Haggis_Trap wrote:
davidof wrote:
mtsuit wrote:
but for me the key factor is whether the area was supposed to be controlled.


What kind of control were you expecting?


Having skied this route many times the signage is not great / obvious.


Yes, it is similar in Davos, you have to be really careful about route finding.

They no longer have itinerary routes in France, or at least they are not legal, for this reason and you may remember la Grave had some legal problems with signposting despite being all off piste.
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@Haggis_Trap,
You said"The yellow marker poles on itinerary route are only rough indicators of direction."

It is worth pointing out that they are rather more than that.
So long as you are in a corridor of 20m (might be 25) either side you have an "on piste" status in the event of a pisteur intervention for injury etc. You are covered under the lift pass insurance specifically.
Under Swiss regulations any instructor below ISTD/Brevet is not allowed to take clients Off Piste...but again the Yellow Poles corridor is permissible to any instructor with clients.
They also mark a specific way down that has been Avi assessed and controlled.


Sadly these poor people were not in that part of the valley.
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Very sad news indeed. Have skied this route many times and once needed a helicopter rescue for a friend of mine as he got stuck on a cliff. Anyway, the side that avalanched always seems to avalanche when the sun gets strong enough. In march 2009 I skied this route on a sunday and everything was fine, but two days later we had to cross massive debris at the same place as the avalanche on friday. I am very pro the itinerary concept but having seen a lot of beginners to the mountain ski down this valley with children etc, I am questioning whether this route is suited for being an "official" itinerary. There are so many pitfalls and skiing towards the area that avalanched might be tempting for many as it might seem easier terrain compared to going straight down. For new people on the mountain, the itinerary might just look like another good slope, while in fact it is backcountry. It is also high risk area in the spring regarding wet avalanches as the day progress. I dont like the blame game after accidents at all and like the Swiss approach towards the risks in the mountains. At the same time, this might be a good time for evaluating the whole Vallon d'Arby itinerary.


Last edited by Poster: A snowHead on Mon 19-03-18 12:50; edited 1 time in total
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Ripping the itineraries because of some clueless people is unacceptable. Let Darwin sort it all out and not the Nanny State.
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Woosh wrote:
It is also high risk area in the spring regarding wet avalanches as the day progress.


And this type of avalanche is impossible to release with explosive.

As you say, later in the day is more risk prone but avalanches associated with glide cracks can release when it is cold. Skiing under glide cracks is not a good idea if the escape routes are limited. There have been some experiments with water injection to release the snow below glide cracks as the consequent avalanche can be a major issue for infrastructure, however from memory the tests have been inconclusive.

As rungsp (I think said), wet snow avalanches, albeit slow moving are very dangerous if caught and safety gear is of little help. At best your are looking at broken bones if only partially buried.
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@Gerry, I'm sure Snowheads will club together to have that put on your gravestone, and it will be a great comfort to any family you have rolling eyes
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rungsp wrote:

So long as you are in a corridor of 20m (might be 25) either side you have an "on piste" status in the event of a pisteur intervention for injury etc. You are covered under the lift pass insurance specifically..


Good information - though I would bet most punters don't know that?

In reality people are skiing everywhere when itinerary is open. I am all for concept of controlled itinerary runs, manicured piste is boring. However there needs to be acknowledgement of the potential grey areas (... by both skier and resort).
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Does anybody know when it became an itinerary? I don't believe it was back in my day (90's), but I could well be wrong. I'm glad that it is now as at least it's monitored and they can at least indicate to people when it's too dangerous and should be avoided.
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Haggis_Trap wrote:
... In reality people are skiing everywhere when itinerary is open. I am all for concept of controlled itinerary runs, manicured piste is boring. However there needs to be acknowledgement of the potential grey areas (... by both skier and resort).


I don't think there are grey areas. From a safety perspective marked itineraries are no different to any other piste. Stick to the itinerary, or piste, and you can expect to be safe. Leave either and you are at greater risk.

People "skiing everywhere when itinerary is open" is no different to people skiing everywhere off-piste when pistes are open. Some have the appropriate knowledge, gear etc; but many are foolish and just follow other peoples tracks irrespective of risks, or ski obvious terrain traps etc etc
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ecureuil wrote:
Haggis_Trap wrote:
... In reality people are skiing everywhere when itinerary is open. I am all for concept of controlled itinerary runs, manicured piste is boring. However there needs to be acknowledgement of the potential grey areas (... by both skier and resort).


I don't think there are grey areas. From a safety perspective marked itineraries are no different to any other piste. Stick to the itinerary, or piste, and you can expect to be safe. Leave either and you are at greater risk.

People "skiing everywhere when itinerary is open" is no different to people skiing everywhere off-piste when pistes are open. Some have the appropriate knowledge, gear etc; but many are foolish and just follow other peoples tracks irrespective of risks, or ski obvious terrain traps etc etc


I thought itineraries are only marked with one set of yellow poles down the 'middle' of the run and therefore it is not clear where the boundaries are between controlled and not-controlled.
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I have the 4 Vallées ski map in front of me, and am looking at the photo from le nouvelliste. As far as I can see, this seems to be the NE, SE-facing side of the Vallon d'Arbi with the line running across the photo being the track from the Les Plans bowl, below the Lac des Vaux down to La Tzoumaz (I make it 46° 7'10.23"N - 7°15'51.28"E )

If I am interpreting the photo' correctly, then this route is not an itinerary.

The itinerary route takes you along the narrow path to the Col des Mines, where you either ski left, down back to Verbier, or right, down to La Tzoumaz. This latter is down the NE-facing side of the Vallon d'Arbi, opposite where the photo' seems to be showing.

Happy to be corrected as the reports I've read aren't very exact about the precise location of the avalanche, other than 'above Riddes'.
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