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2 Brits Killed on their last day in Tignes

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
2 British skiers were off piste on Grand Motte above Tignes when they were swept away by an avalanche on Thursday. They had not been found by Friday morning. Still looking for latest news.
Original Mirror story

<<<< EDIT - they were boarders and not skiers and in their 20s not 30s - see below for correct versions >>>>


Last edited by Poster: A snowHead on Mon 25-04-05 10:58; edited 3 times in total
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Same day, same place but this time 2 boarders and confirmed dead in the avalanche. Report from the excellent pistehors.com
Are these widely differing reports actually about the same tragic incident ?? I suspect so. The first says 2 skiers in their 30s. The second says boarders in their 20s. The Pistehors article is more informative and probably more accurate than the Mirror's attempt. How sad to be killed on your last day after working a season. Seems they didn't trigger the slide and were just very unlucky to be caught by a big one. Sympathies to the families.
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Thanks for that, Ian. PisteHors report the avalanche danger at '3'. I wonder how many times, over the last 40 years, I've skied off-piste with that level of risk. It maybe reinforces the argument that there should be fewer danger levels - it's so easy to misinterpret this one as 'average' (on the scale of 5).

Maybe the risk of '3' is the biggest warning to us all - I guess really knowledgeable guides etc. will know the safer terrain on that level, but not everyday skiers.

Doubtless many relatives and friends of these two guys will be left feeling very upset indeed. It's a cliche, but at least they were consumed while having a blast.


Last edited by Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see? on Sun 24-04-05 17:40; edited 1 time in total
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A terrible shame. Condolences must go to the family and friends.
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David Goldsmith wrote:
Thanks for that, Ian. PisteHors report the avalanche danger at '3'. I wonder how many times, over the last 40 years, I've skied off-piste with that level of risk. It maybe reinforces the argument that there should be fewer danger levels - it's so easy to misinterpret this one as 'average' (on the scale of 5).

Maybe the risk of '3' the biggest warning to us all - I guess really knowledgeable guides etc. will know the safer terrain on that level, but not everyday skiers.



In Canada at least, the 3 of 5 level is apparently when most people are killed, these guys unfortunately just seemed to have run out of luck Sad
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stuarth, it's the same in Europe, the majority of avalanche deaths occur at level three.
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As I recall from Henrys Avalanch Talks, they reported that most probems occur with a risk level of 3. See www.henrysavalanchetalk.com

The Alpine Experience newsletter for 22 April has some more details. Both Wayne and TJ write about this avalanche. See www.alpineexperience.com/news.html
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I have mentioned before in this forum. that more skiers/borders are killed when the Avalanche Level is Posted at 3 than any other level.
This is because it is interpreted as not high so worth the risk where in fact it the risk is considerable.
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Adrian, thanks for 2 excellent links.
snowHeads - Have a look at the experience the guides have amassed in alpine experience. Most impressive.
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Today's London Evening Standard has this report from Peter Allen in Val d'Isere.


Last edited by Ski the Net with snowHeads on Mon 25-04-05 12:04; edited 1 time in total
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Maybe I'm simple, but should people be skiing at level 3 if most deaths occur at this level????
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The problem is that most people are not really aware of the way the system works and thus when they see a level 3 risk seem to think it means no reall risk at all in fact 3 is classed as a considerable risk, it means that the snow has only weakly bonded to many slopes and that an avalanche can be possibly started with very little effort e.g a skier going over it, under certain conditions medium or even large natural avalanches can occur.

If you read the charts you will realise that sensible skiers only go off piste when the risk is either 1 or 2 and at 2 they may avoid the steepest of the slopes

Steep slopes are classed as those being of greater than 30 degrees in angle, again many people seem not to realise this factor

Perhaps the answer would be to add this information to piste maps in order to help to increase peoples awareness
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D G Orf wrote:

Perhaps the answer would be to add this information to piste maps in order to help to increase peoples awareness

Well anything that might save a life is worth trying but in this case these 2 guys seem to have had lots of experience of the area and were presumably aware of the risks they were taking boarding in that area so late in the day.

Links in this thread now have a contradiction. Most indicate the big slab slide started well above them and they were just unlucky to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We have no information about how many other people were nearby and how well tracked the area was. It is possible they felt they were comparatively safe if the offpiste area had either already been well used that day or there were many others around. Safety in numbers not always being a valid concept. One link however indicates they triggered the slide.
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
I know plenty of "so called" Ski bums who go to work the season in St Anton and have not a clue of the risks involved when the level is 3.

"so called " because most are transient workers who only put in 1 or 2 seasons (max) & are there more for the party than the skiing Sad

A real ski bum (+10 seasons under there belt) would know the risks wink
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I'm afraid I disagree with that - you can do 20 seasons and still not have a clue what's going on! It all hangs on how much you ski/board, what you know already, what you learn, who you listen to etc. Someone one skis like crazy for a season can learn a lot more about snow conditions and avalance risk than a perenial 'seasonaire' who is in resort for upteen winters...
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 Poster: A snowHead
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Bootsy, I seriously doubt that.
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Changing the ratings isn't the answer. Education is. After all, the only time when there is no chance of avalanche is when the rating is 0/5. Even at 1/5 you can get avalanches. You need to be able to assess every slope before skiing it and if you are not able to do that, ski with a guide.

To clear up a few details. Firstly, it has been stated that they were unlucky and there does seem to be some element to that. However, nobody can know what happened so its hard to say. It seems that the slope slid due to extra loading - the boarders with the fracture line being high above them (not uncommon). TJ at alpine comments that they were on the slope too late in the day which could have been a contributing factor.

From where TJ reported them to have been skiing, they were probably the only people to have ventured into that sector. Its not skied that often.

However, it seems that these were 2 experiencedboarders who understood a fair bit about mountain craft. I suspect that they would have known the avalanche risk and I am sure that they would have known what it meant. Even the most knowledgable get caught out (Henry admits to this!) and it seems that this was one of those unfortunate events. My thoughts are with their family and friends.

To me, the biggest lesson to be learned is to ALWAYS wear your transiever. Never put it in a pocket or a rucksack. have it inside your clothing so it cannot be ripped off. Although it probably wouldn't have helped in this case, it is a leasson to learn.

Finally, at the risk of starting a fight over such a tragedy, I cannot agree with the comments of D G Orf "If you read the charts you will realise that sensible skiers only go off piste when the risk is either 1 or 2 and at 2 they may avoid the steepest of the slopes". It is simply not so. I only really ski off piste these days and regularly ski when the risk is either 3 or even 4 (draw the line there - never at 5!!). And we tackle steep stuff. Sensible skiers only ski in places and situations where they have the knowledge to stay safe. If your level of knowledge is such that means only going off piste when the risk is 1 or 2 and avoiding steep stuff at 2, fine. However, there are a lot of (knowledgable) sensible skiers who can safely ski off piste at higher risk.
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Bootsy, Get Real.
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Bootsy wrote:
I'm afraid I disagree with that - you can do 20 seasons and still not have a clue what's going on! It all hangs on how much you ski/board, what you know already, what you learn, who you listen to etc. Someone one skis like crazy for a season can learn a lot more about snow conditions and avalance risk than a perenial 'seasonaire' who is in resort for upteen winters...


I'm with Bootsy on this. There is a difference between being experienced because you have had the same experience 20 times, or being experienced because you have had a variety of different experiences several times. If your experience as a seasonal worker means that you go out to party and ski on piste when hangovers allow, then that is all you are going to know.
If however you go out for one season and go b@lls out to learn and experience as much as you can about back country skiing then you are going to be way ahead of the other guy.

I guess it all depends on where your interests lie.

Did not mean to detract from the message at the start of the thread, and my condolances go to their families.
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SimonN, unfortunately it is just such an attitude that results in so many deaths occuring at level 3, you may be happy to go off piste in such conditions but what about the people who follow your tracks an hour or two later ? Level 3 is called a considerable risk because it is just that, if someone lends you a car and tells you there's a considerable risk that the brakes will fail do you use it to drive the narrow mountain road ?
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I have to say that it's totally up to people what level of risk that they want to expose themselves to as long as they do it knowingly. It is not for us to say what level of risk is acceptable, it must be a personal choice IMHO.
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To only ski when the risk is 1 or perhaps as bad as 2 sounds appealing, but in practice that is unreasonable as almost all of the nicest powder will have been skiied out by others. So it is a matter of slope assessment, when the risk is high be very careful about where you ski looking both far above and far below you. A nice gentle slope may have a huge face of precariously steep snow above it. After the snow falls of mid-Dec-2004 and mid-Jan-2005 I skiied a lot of off piste when the risk was 4 and then 3, but only skiing gentle slopes with modest exposure above or below. Even when the risk dropped to 2 our perfessional guides stayed on the gentler slopes because they believed the risk in some areas was higher than quoted. Remember that the risk quoted by the resort is one simple number to cover the entirity of the resort. To further reduce our risk we almost always skiied one at a time down the steepest of these gentle slopes and elsewhere we left big gaps.

As Wayne says in his book, off piste skiing is about when to ski and when not to ski. For the book, but not the precise quote, http://www.takethat.co.uk/books/offpiste_sample.htm
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Kramer, yes if and only if the slopes that these people are on are not going to affect anyone else, but what about an off piste slope above a piste ? If the off piste skier sets of a slide that hits the piste and hits people what then ?

Off piste skiers must ensure that it's only themselves that they place at risk and nobody else
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To the best of my knowledge, avalanches that start off piste, and then cause fatality or injury on piste are extremely rare. I think that the last time that it happened was about 10 years ago in Tignes (although I'm willing to be corrected on this), so the risk of it happening could be considered to be so small as to be almost zero, and so not really worth considering when making a risk assessment. You're far more likely to kill someone driving to the airport, feeding them peanuts, or colliding with them on-piste.

When accidents happen, it is human nature to search for someone to blame, however I don't think that it is necessarily the best course of action. One of the first things that you learn as a doctor is that poo-poo happens, and sometimes people die.
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Woa, that's really sad... my brother is at his first year of college in Steamboat Colorado... so he is skiing a wicked lot more... and he loves the powder... and he go into some avalance and I guess he rode it out, when he stopped the snow was up to his neck and his friends had to dig him out. Shocked
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There was actualy an avalanche last monday in valdisere which was started off piste , in a very safe area which went on to the piste and there were 2 victims.
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From The Times today
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1585558,00.html
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Dave J, if they're still around to tell the tale after 20 seasons, then then it's 100% certain that they "have a clue what's going on"
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David Goldsmith wrote:
Today's London Evening Standard has this report from Peter Allen in Val d'Isere.


Just to note out of interest that Peter's report; and all the other reports I've seen in the British Press are based on the Pistehors report.
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Davidof Is the size of the organisation inversely proportional to the likelihood that you'll get credited? (The BBC has a report too)
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Ian Hopkinson wrote:
Davidof Is the size of the organisation inversely proportional to the likelihood that you'll get credited? (The BBC has a report too)


I think it is what is known as "background research" - if you are writing a piece and do a check on the names of the victims and facts and stumble on what appears to you to be "a well written and obviously well informed source" you would probably use some of basic information. I think they would only credit if they took your report in whole or interviewed you.

The journalists obviously spoke to other people such as the VP of Snowline and possibly had the AFP press report (although one journalist I spoke to didn't have this even though their paper has an AFP wire). I only mentioned it because if some details originate from a single source you shouldn't necessarily trust them even if they do appear in many papers (keeping in the snowheads theme here of doubt).

The Mirror obviously had their own sources of information although the two victims were on snowboards (source: French Rescue Services).
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To be fair to Kramer, I accept that it is very unlikely for an off piste skier to start an avalanche that hits on piste skiers lower down, however I certanly recall of an incident last year where off piste skiers or boarders started a slip that hit people lower down, I particularly remember the incident as the people that got hit were the local police !

I used the on piste example just as a for instance, I could just have easily said off piste skiers below or even village below, the point is that it is the responsibility of those people going off piste to be aware of not just how an avalanche may effect themselves but weather or not such an incident might effect others below them, I too have been off piste when the avalance warning was higher than 2 but I knew the slopes and the snow depth on those slopes and judged that the risk was minimal to anyone including myself, the problems often seem to occur because reasonably experienced off piste skiers are skiing in an area unfamiliar to themselves, or because far less experienced skiers are unaware of the risks
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davidof, thanks for that info. Do you, as a standard facility, have access to the official investigator's report (i.e. is it standard French practice that this report is published?). Is it similar to the UK, where either or all the agencies are involved - police, health+safety, coroner etc. Does the ski patrol publish an interim report to the public?
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David Goldsmith wrote:
davidof, thanks for that info. Do you, as a standard facility, have access to the official investigator's report?



The local gendarmerie will have the accident report although for incidents like avalanche accidents these will take some time to prepare as an outside expert may be involved. These will be passed to a judge if a criminal prosecution follows.

David
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I'm not suggesting that a long time spent in resort is not valuable - just that it is not the be all and end all. Of course, true seasonaires who stay year after year, and experience the mountain in all conditions are going to be leagues ahead of someone there for only a year, but those people are few and far between.

For example I worked in France last winter and skied probably 80% of the days the resort was open - in sun, snow, slush, powder, crud etc. I have been fortunate to have skied from a young age, but I don't profess to be an expert by any means. However, bear this in mind...

There were 5 'vets' who were staff / stalwarts of 2 popular bars in resort and had c.30 seasons amongst them. Between them they managed go get up the hill 3 times all season. On chatting to them, they confessed that season was no exception and that it was unusual for them to ski more than a couple of times each per year.

Now, who do you think is in a better position to comment on the state of the snow?

I am not so naive to beleive that this makes me (or anyone else similar for that matter) any more or less likely to be caught in a 'freak' slide, but my point is residence does not automatically equate to knowledge.
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D G Orf wrote:
....I too have been off piste when the avalance warning was higher than 2 but I ... judged that the risk was minimal to anyone including myself...


I imagine the unfortunate subjects of this thread made a similar judgement but got it wrong. It can happen to anyone and the consequences are plain for all to see. Skiing is dangerous and we all accept the basic risk when we venture out. Off-piste skiiers apparently increase the risk (albeit only marginally) for us all - even those of us whose skill level precludes off-piste forays - every time they go out but that's the way it is. The only solution would be to ban off-piste altogether but that would be a ridiculous over-reaction IMO
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Bootsy,
Quote:

but those people are few and far between.


There are more than you think if you only understand/speak English you probably missed out on 90% of them Smile

Quote:

There were 5 'vets' who were staff / stalwarts of 2 popular bars in resort and had c.30 seasons amongst them. Between them they managed go get up the hill 3 times all season.


These people are refererd to as the imported workforce that live in "the bubble".

I wouldnt call these Ski bums either unless the 3 days they go out are Powder days (more than 1metre) Smile

I posted this once before about a Real Ski Bum who I have ad the pleasure of meeting on a number of occasions in Telluride.
http://www.skimag.com/skimag/features/article/0,12795,410154,00.html

While I was digging it out I found a recent news article about Captain Jack
http://www.skimag.com/skimag/news/article/0,12795,485491,00.html

Sorry for drifting off orignal topic.
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D G Orf wrote:
SimonN, unfortunately it is just such an attitude that results in so many deaths occuring at level 3, you may be happy to go off piste in such conditions but what about the people who follow your tracks an hour or two later ? Level 3 is called a considerable risk because it is just that, if someone lends you a car and tells you there's a considerable risk that the brakes will fail do you use it to drive the narrow mountain road ?
I think your comments are misguided, based on ignorance and also are a bit insulting to many people and in particular professionals, who ski off piste.

Firstly, I am not responsible for anybody other than my own group. If others chose to follow, then that is their look out. If we accepted your attitude nobodyshould ski off piste unless what they were skiing is suitable for any skier who might follow their tracks. If my tracks lead to a 45 degree couloir with serious exposure, I cannot be responsible for somebody who chooses to follow my tracks and nor can I be responsible for somebody who follows tracks into unsafe terain.

Almost all my skiing is done with mountain guides and we regularly ski in high avalanche risk situations. We follow variosu risk assessment techniques, local knowledge and years of exoperience to safely ski terain that others wouldn't. Are these guides acting irresponsibly? I don't think so and nor do resort authorities. In addition, I have skied with pisteurs in high avalanche risk situations and they have no problem with going off piste in those conditions so long as it is done safely. In fact, pisteurs regularly leave tracks on the mountain that shouldn't be followed and that is in the course of their jobs.

Deaths in avalanches happen for many reasons but suprisingly few happen because of people following tracks. Check the data. I agree that seeing off piste tracks might lead people to think things are safe but you get slides when the risk is 1 and 2 so by your reasoning, we shouldn't ski off piste at all.

Education is the only way forward. In the same way as a skier knows that if they are an intermediate they shouldn't ski black runs, a skier should know if the risk is 3 or 4 they need to either be with a guide or know what they are doing. You should also know never to follow other tracks unless you know where they are going and what is in store.
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SimonN, given that I've been skiing for over 30 years it might be a little insulting for you to call me ignorant, however my point really was not that you would be responsible for the people that followed your tracks, rather that it is due to a lack of education, whilst it might be safe for someone to ski a route in the morning skiing the same route after a few hours of sunshine could be disasterous, now as you say education is the key probably combined with experience.
I have no problems with proffesional guides going off piste at level 3 and under certain conditions even level 4, however most of these guides have spent a long time becoming a qualified guide and many live in the areas in which they guide so know (hopefully) where it is and isn't safe to ski due to avallanche risk, however we were not discussing guides and their groups but individual skiers or boarders, it is these individuals who whilst they might be good skiers or boarders don't have the local knowledge/off piste experience to know when and where it is or is not safe to go
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Quote:

You should also know never to follow other tracks unless you know where they are going and what is in store.


I absolutely concur with that.... but it's a long story and involves making the aquaintance of a French carpenter and his dog..... rolling eyes rolling eyes
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