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Avalance in Italy - skiers feared dead

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
So sad

Hope those still missing are found safe and well.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/02/04/two-british-skiers-feared-killed-avalanche-italian-alps/
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BBC reporting 3 dead and 1 missing (2 Brits and 2 French).

Awful news.
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The toll for the weekend in Italy is reported as 8 so far, so a few that dont get the coverage.

Sounds like a particularly bad weekend.
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@ster, sounds like it to me too. Grim.

While you have to - and I do - feel sorry for all concerned, we were up Brevent-Flegere on Saturday and the number of people with no obvious avvy safety kit heading down beautiful but absolutely deadly chutes with a level 4 risk pretty much everywhere and 50cms of very light snow (in the morning, getting claggy in the afternoon) was astonishing. Idiots.

As the inimitable Bruce Tremper says, the best way to not die in an avalanche is not to get caught in one.
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http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/italien-acht-tote-bei-lawinen-in-verschiedenen-regionen-a-1251451.html
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Was in Champoluc last week and Thursday/Friday it dumped for nearly 2 days non stop so I'm not surprised with all that snow on top of what was relatively light snow cover.
I hope those missing are found Ok.
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under a new name wrote:
astonishing. Idiots.


Taking a step back.

Astonishing yes... idiots though? Perhaps uneducated and unaware. Many people do take risks (don't we all) but to assume that all of those that you see have the necessary education and have decided to go ski these chutes anyway is misguided in itself.

We're all in this sport for one thing. We enjoy it's awesomeness. Unfortunately, there are still too many uneducated skiers/boarders out there that haven't even once in their lives had a discussion about the inherent dangers of skiing off piste and what avi danger is, especially in the fun bits. Their fault? IF they've previously been educated, then yes - totally agree. Too call them all idiots is a sweeping generalisation.

Perhaps something more needs to be done from an educational point of view to bring the teachings of inherent avalanche danger into the realms of the masses.

ie. How many years have we all been reading about school groups going off piste and getting caught in avalanches on closed pistes. Were those kids taught about avalanches and the warning levels system before they went to resort?

Yes, there are idiots, there are risk takers, but there are also uneducated and educated and there should be a distinction.
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In my experience most people skiing steep dangerous lines in Chamonix on high risk days are well aware of the risk of avalanche. They, like most of us, don’t expect it will happen to them, because generally it doesn’t. They may just have a very different risk tolerance to other people.

Very sad about those who died, doing what they loved, but not in the way they’d hoped.
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shoogly wrote:
Taking a step back.

Astonishing yes... idiots though? Perhaps uneducated and unaware. Many people do take risks (don't we all) but to assume that all of those that you see have the necessary education and have decided to go ski these chutes anyway is misguided in itself.


I think you are being kind to them. Anybody who can read will inevitably read these reports from time to time. They will therefore know that off piste is/can be dangerous.

Not sure whether your reference to 'necessary education' refers to general education, or mountaincraft?
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Sad news anyway Sad
BBC news has a vid of the area and conditions, taken from a heli, for those interested. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-47116059
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@shoogly, ... great post.

Risk is intrinsic to our sport. It is that risk that provides some of the thrill that we experience when we ski something that stretches us and takes us out of our comfort zone. If we were to eliminate all risk then we may never go further than skiing a kinder slope. Where is the joy in that, unless you are a rank beginner?

People generally do not develop an understanding of the risks without also developing the skills to ski steeper, deeper, etc. Learning is therefore a two-edged sword - but you hope your understanding develops faster than your appetite for more and more challenging lines.

Finally, you also need luck. I don’t need to remind people here that highly skilled & trained mountain guides have lost their lives in avalanches. Where they idiots? In most cases, I would assume no, they were not idiots - their luck simply ran out.

My $0.02’s worth.
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@ulmerhutte,

Occasionally a skilled and trained mountain guide may lose their life in an avalanche! However they probably ski off piste every day and therefore expose themselves to the risks of being caught in an avalanche on a daily basis. They have the knowledge to reduce the risks to an acceptable level.

What I find unbelievable is that people don't even understand the danger they are putting themselves in when they ski off piste. What is worse is that they are often endangering the lives of others.

Recently I was skiing off piste with a group, we were all equipped with transceivers, shovels and probes. A chap with his 2 very young children followed us off piste, he wasn't equipped for skiing off piste.

On another occasion I was skiing off piste with a guide, we were of course equipped for off piste skiing. A lot of fresh snow had fallen the night before and we were being careful, we were choosing slopes carefully, leaving large gaps between each of us and stopping in places of "relative safety". The guide then saw a group above us without backpacks (not equipped for skiing off piste) they were following us because they could see we had a guide with us. Basically the group following us were endangering our lives as well as their own.

Not understanding the risks and dangers of skiing off piste is no different to people driving cars when they are drunk.
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On Friday night, French TV news was reporting avalanche risk at level 5 all over the alps so I very much doubt that Courmayer would not have avalanche flags out and the the risk level displayed. There are some people who just don't care.
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You know it makes sense.
I don't think any adult who ever puts on a pair of skis can be unaware that avalanches occur and skiers get caught in them on occasion. With such a baseline surely it is perfectably possible to describe those who venture, without kit or preparation, onto slopes of unknown stability after heavy snowfalls when published markers and information around the lift stations indicate a high level of risk as "idiots". Maybe they aren't all idiots, maybe they are trusting a "more experienced" mate whose experience consists of I'd skied this or similar before and it was fine.

I think lack of kit is a fair heuristic as to whether they are idiots or well informed risk takers. We all know kit isn't a magic bullet but investment in it is at least a hurdle that shows you have thought a bit about the risks and are prepared to do something to help others. I'm more than happy to stop and let an unequipped group go past me as I simply don't trust their ability to follow sensible etiquette or not actively endanger through their actions.
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Sadly there's a new posting elsewhere on this forum reporting another avalanche in Val d'isere.

I've been watching the conditons there because I will be back there next week. I woud have thought that the avi risks would have been at least level 4 following the recent snowfalls. I certainly would not have gone where the avalanche was in those conditions. The reports indicate the people caught were not equipped with transceivers.
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In the Arlberg last week, we were standing at the edge of the piste looking at a line that went down through the trees and then out of sight. We knew it got steeper lower down, but couldn't actually see it. While we were discussing our options, an instructor with three intermediate-ish clients came down the side and headed in the direction we were looking. None had any kit, and they were on fairly skinny skis, so I suspect the decision wasn't planned.

We contemplated following them, but the fresh snow made some steep lines a bit sketchy, so we decided to go elsewhere. I wonder if the instructor had had any discussion with his clients about the avi risk that day (it was 3)? I daresay he knew the terrain and reckoned it would be ok, but if instructors take their clients off-piste into such terrain without educating them, it's hardly surprising if they decide to have a bash themselves later on without consideration for changing conditions etc. I've been in this situation myself when I was learning, and would have blindly followed the instructor too. Guides and instructors on off-piste specific courses have always had more diligence.

We saw the group later at the lift, so I know they were fine. Still didn't ski that line though.
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Whenever there's a tragic incident such as this then it's the same debate on here.

We see literally 100's of people skiing "off piste" without any equipment after a big snowfall, that's what happens, simple.

Last two days have been exactly that, with top lifts closed, then today bluebird and top lifts open!

Trouble is the off-piste looks safe and people going up on the chair see those people skiing nice lines of untracked and they want to do the same, the vast % simply have no awareness and are not reckless or idiots, it's just not on their radar.

Instructors take groups down with no equipment as it's a safe bowl etc

Trouble is after most of the "safe" stuff is tracked out those same people start traversing higher lines to get to more terrain, and as they venture further away so they might encounter terrain traps without knowing it, thinking this is a great gulley, or let's jump that lip before we enter the bowl below, or due to taking a wrong line, simply not knowing where they are going, or doing the classic of following tracks could find themselves in more challenging terrain where "knowledge" becomes far more important.

However it's the guys on their one-week holiday, powder hounds who maybe take a calculated chance, those Brits in Courmayer would have been aware of the conditions and as my mate texted me a few hours ago who more or less lives next door, "Yes 4 in the spagnola couloir...horrible place", and sometimes that calculation can go tragically wrong.

If you're after steep and deep, and below 3,000m then invariably you will be venturing out when risk is at least 3 out of 5.

I'm very conscious of exposed steep terrain above the tree line, however, once in the forest I probably take too many risks thinking I'm safe (classic heuristic trap), and I have paid the price, though luckily I survived only losing a ski and injuring my knee and was off games for a couple of weeks.

Even today we had a mini incident that could have been so much worse, the slide was more akin to a slow-moving Spring slide but did go down a good 100m maybe, my wife and I had enough time to ski to either side of it and the guy who cut it was ok above, but this was in very dodgy terrain where we were being extremely cautious.



As ever a photo does not show the actual aspect!
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The line they were killed on is the Spanish Couloir and is not particularly difficult if it’s banked out. It’s easily accessed from Youla cable car but you have to climb over a metal barrier. The youla cable car has been closed for a while due to the high avi risk.
It’s an area I know well, and it’s a bit of a terrain trap at the bottom which is where from the photo In the telegraph the accident occurred. There may be 4 dead.
Of the 4+ lines in that area it’s probably the least done as there is often a small abseil in the middle of the bottom section. In the guide book it particularly stresses the high natural avi risk on that route. I suspect they may have been off route!
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I’ve marked the line in orange on this fatmap image. The area shaded red is out of bounds to protect wildlife.
We were there on Thursday when Youla was closed, we skied some more inbounds off piste and the new snow was quite thick.
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@Scarlet, Never Follow any group OFF Piste.... That is Deadly
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I’ve marked the line in orange on this fatmap image. The area shaded red is out of bounds to protect wildlife.
We were there on Thursday when Youla was closed, we skied some more inbounds off piste and the new snow was quite thick.
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@stanton, hence the decision not to...
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According to one report at least some were wearing airbags so no doubt had kit.

We were up on the hill yesterday in Aosta but turned back as conditions deteriorated. The Avy report was very clear as to the issues but the weather arguably made things worse (winds, snow transport, low viz.) Unfortunately a second group were not as lucky.
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@shoogly, have you seen just how many signs and descriptions there are about avalanches, danger, having kit, knowing how to use kit, testing kit, there are at base and top stations in Chamonix?

Idiots.
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@AndAnotherThing.., two had deployed airbags and three were found using transceiver signals so I think they were well equipped. Contrary to earlier reports they were not in a banned zone and none were English. Two were living in Chamonix. Two in London.
I was intending to do a tour with my daughter at Courmayeur on Sunday, because of the high risk we were going to skin up the cat track going up to zerotta which I felt was safe. She had trouble digging out her car and we switched to Chamonix instead!
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Sad, sad story.

I ski with all the equitment including airbag. However, I don’t believe necessarily that people who don’t ski with equipment are idiots. Skiing with avi gear might give you a false belief that you are much safer than otherwise , at least I myself thought that when I first skied with all the gear years ago. So, not having gear might help you doublethink your lines. Avi gear might or might not help you in a very bad situation (or help finding your friends etc) and I believe it is essential, but that is my opinion. At Nordkette in Innsbrück 2 weeks ago I saw some awesome old skiers (70 +) skiing pretty steep stuff. None had any avi gear, but I guess they knew that mountain and the snow conditions better than anyone else.

Second, what is acceptable risk? Going off-piste can always be risky. You can be unlucky and be swept away on a “safe” slope on a risk 1 day. The fact that someone is willing to take more risks than you, does that make them an idiot? I have become more conservative when it comes to skiing on risk 3 days and demanding pretty stable conditions before going truly steep, but I still know that riding above 30 degrees always carry some risks. If others have higher risk appetite, who am I to judge?

Third, I think most people who are experienced free riders can look back on their own history and say that at one point we all were a bit clueless. I have had some close calls and can also look back at days where everything went okei, but looking back, that was just pure luck.

We all learn as we go along hopefully and better education and more information from the resorts can go a long way to help educate people. But as been said above, a lot of people come for one week of riding and are desperate to go off-piste no matter how the snow is and how the winter has evolved. That being said, all the powder marketing in the ski industry and from the resorts are in my opinion escalating the problem. If you have followed any given resorts Instagram account this winter, I am pretty sure you will have seen a lot of great powder pictures. No wonder that when Mr or mrs X is arriving they are ready for some good riding...
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I'm a slow and steady easy red skier. The closest I get to off-piste is if I fall over on the side of a run. My questions is, in the past, have many people died/been seriously injured by avalanche whilst skiing on groomed runs? I always hear of off-piste skiers being affected but just wondered what the liklihood is otherwise.
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@bambionskiis, no.
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The risk of that is extremely low. Google it down if you really care - the USA ski resorts association posts actual statistics of that sort of thing and it's almost none existent. You're more likely to die driving to the slopes or drinking too much beer. These people died because they choose to put themselves at risk. It's not a risk people who ski on piste take.
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@bambionskiis, It does happen but it's very, very rare. There's been one I can think of in recent years in Tignes. The first was down towards Brev where it was set off by an instructor on his day off who was skiing with his mates, the slide then engulfed the piste. I got to hear about it because on the coach on the way home the couple in front of me managed to ski out of it, but saw others go down. I was told a year or three later that one of the party "who were responsible" broke his leg. Ok, not really a serious injury but it's the only one I know of.
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@bambionskis I’m glad you asked as I’ve been wondering! My non-skiing husband is the type to read the news and worry about us being caught. I keep saying on piste is much lower risk, but I’ve been saying that to shut him up rather than knowing it’s true. Reading these threads though has made me way more aware and I’ll be looking for relevant signs before I head out for the day, particularly as I’m likely to be on my own (but never off piste)
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bambionskiis wrote:
I'm a slow and steady easy red skier. The closest I get to off-piste is if I fall over on the side of a run. My questions is, in the past, have many people died/been seriously injured by avalanche whilst skiing on groomed runs? I always hear of off-piste skiers being affected but just wondered what the liklihood is otherwise.


I cannot find comparable stats for Europe, but for USA, the NSAA data states that 53 million ski days were recorded last winter and 10 ski deaths from avalanches. Yes, those stats do not differentiate between on & off piste activity, but in raw numbers, that is 1 death per 5 million ski days. I would therefore suggest the likelihood is minuscule.

In the above context, what is “acceptable risk” mentioned by some of the posters above?

Dated article, but interesting read: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/7961412_The_Impact_of_Avalanche_Transceivers_on_Mortality_from_Avalanche_Accidents

Quote:
Rapid extrication is the most important determinant of survival in avalanche victims. To facilitate rapid localization of avalanche victims by uninjured companions, avalanche transceivers are widely used during off-piste and backcountry activities. Despite their widespread use, the influence of transceivers on survival probability in avalanche accidents is controversial. The aim of this retrospective study was to analyze the influence of transceivers on the mortality of avalanche victims. There were 194 accidents in Austria from 1994 to 2003, involving 278 totally buried victims, which were analyzed. Avalanche transceivers were used by 156 (56%) victims and were associated with a significant reduction in median burial time from 102 to 20 min (p < 0.001), as well as a significant reduction in mortality from 68.0% to 53.8% (p = 0.011). This reduction was due to a decrease in mortality during backcountry activities involving ski tourers in free alpine areas (from 78.9% to 50.4%, p < 0.001). Transceivers did not reduce mortality during off-piste activities beside or near organized ski slopes (67.7% with versus 58.5% without transceiver, not significant). Mortality of persons using a transceiver is significantly higher if burial depth exceeds 1.5 m. Despite a significant reduction, mortality still exceeds 50% even with the use of transceivers. Therefore, in addition to the use of emergency equipment like transceivers, avalanche avoidance measures are critically important. The fairly modest influence of the use of transceivers on survival probability may be due to the highly efficient mountain rescue service in the Austrian Alps. In remote areas the reduction in mortality will probably be far more pronounced.
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Most of us have a natural belief that "it wont happen to us", whether that is driving, walking down the road, riding a bike, skiing or whatever. Sure many folk dont understand the risks they are taking but even the best equipped and most knowledgeable mountain guides can get caught out. I believe the recent fatal avalanche in Le Deux Alpes involved a very experienced local.

One, often unacknowledged, attraction of any mountain sport is the element of risk, the fact that people can and do get killed falling off mountains or getting buried under tons of snow is one of the reasons mountain sports are popular. We enjoy the excitement of, at least pretending to, putting ourselves in "risky" situations. It is ourselves against the mountain and of course we think we can "win". Most times we are right and in fact any risk is very small. However sometimes we miscalculate, overestimate our strength or abilities or are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The consequences can be serious but we know that before we set out.
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@jbob, I'm pretty sure that's the same general area where there was a big slide with 3 killed and over a dozen caught up 2 years ago? Val veny? Think the line you describe is off the higher lift, was accessed from, I think, plan gabba the last time

The chute in the helicopter video does not look like a place I want to be on a 4 day

@gixxerniknik, was there not a skier killed on an open piste about 3 years ago in ischgl?

That aside it is 100 per cent not worth worrying about - you are far far more likely to be killed driving to the resort or by another skier on the piste

@Woosh, I couldn't agree with you more. The point about powder marketing, either intentional or collectively on social media in particular. I've found myself thinking about that a lot recently, how I've become obsessed with powder but the dragon is never as good as the chase and you forget how great piste skiing is.
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New deep snow on old icy base = deaths.

Happens every year, like clockwork.
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"I've become obsessed with powder but the dragon is never as good as the chase and you forget how great piste skiing is."

Hmm. I'm not so sure about that.

St George is a happy bunny - as we've had plenty of good dragons this season! Very Happy Very Happy
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Just in case it needs saying there are about 3 things going on in this thread.

People killed in the Courmayeur avalanche we don't know their circumstances. Quite possibly they were well equipped, skiing in a risk averse manner and just got really unlucky.

People who stay on pistes - nothing to worry about.

People who ski off piste without thinking. Please don't be that person. Learn a bit about how to make good decisions and recognise when others are making bad ones. Most of the time you can make bad decisions and be fine. It doesn't make the decision objectively safe. And remember if your chance of being near an avy is 1% if you are a really keen offpiste skier you'll hit that within 2-5 seasons.
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fwiw, the risks are fairly obv to anyone in italy at the moment... risk flags all at 4, and local regs and signs here in canazei forbidding offpiste....
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@8611, the previous avalanche was close to the Gabba lift. This one was a little further up the Val Veny.
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Woosh wrote:
........Third, I think most people who are experienced free riders can look back on their own history and say that at one point we all were a bit clueless. I have had some close calls and can also look back at days where everything went okei, but looking back, that was just pure luck.


I'm big enough to own up to that!

I have kitesurfing mates who are top 10% in UK for big air, get them on their one week snowboarding holiday and they act like complete ladies' front bottoms chasing powder (and no gear), luckily they only ever seem to score 5-10cms and then they post pics and comments on social media of how awesome it was rolling eyes
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