The official report detailing what happened in yesterday’s fatal avalanche in Tignes was released by authorities yesterday evening. Throughout the day there had been conflicting reports regarding where and when the avalanche had happened, how many people were caught in it, their nationalities, and even whether anyone had survived. Here is the report to clarify the details, with an outline in English underneath.
- An avalanche was set off at 10.35am on the Lavachet Wall in Tignes. It was 40-100metres wide and 400metres long.
- Given the size of the avalanche a considerable search and rescue operation was initiated, including 50 Pisteurs, 60 Ski Instructors, the PGHM (Police), and local volunteers, helped by 9 dogs and 3 helicopters.
- Initially the search was for 9 missing people, including the instructor who had been leading a group of snowboarders. The reason they were initially looking for 9 people was down to an error in registration which suggested that there were 8 clients in the ski school lesson group. In the end, it was 4 French nationals who were found, unfortunately none of them survived. The instructor, aged 59, a man aged 48, his son aged 15, and his half brother aged 19. The family were familiar with Tignes.
- This group of snowboarders had already been down this route earlier in the day. Many other people had also skied here in the preceding days, as was visible by the numerous track marks left in the snow. The avalanche risk for the day was 3/5.
- All involved were equipped with avalanche transceivers, which enabled the emergency services to locate and find them quickly.
- The search was called off shortly after 6pm.
- Thoughts go out to the victims and their loved ones.
“It’s a very sad day, our hearts go out to the victims. What happened was what happens in 99% of all avalanche accidents – it was triggered by a person. Whether that was the victims themselves or someone else. There’s a suggestion there might have been a group above (who triggered it to slide below them). That scenario’s becoming more and more common with the increasing popularity of off piste skiing… Here, the problem was that there was a big trough at the bottom of the slope, a man-made earth trough to protect the town from an avalanche coming down from above up there. And what that did is it exacerbated the problem, it made it even worse – even deeper so they were buried in about 2-3 metres of snow.”
The avalanche risk rating for the day was 3/5, which is considerable. There had been warnings on avalanche bulletins for the day regarding windslab and instability in the snowpack, especially for slopes facing this direction. I spoke to instructors from several local ski and snowboard schools to ask whether or not they would have considered taking clients to the Lavachet Wall yesterday morning. “If I’d had strong clients wanting to ski off-piste and i thought it was appropriate, and at that time in the morning…Well, I wouldn’t have ruled out skiing there.” Said one instructor.
I wouldn’t have ruled out skiing there – Local Ski Instructor
The fact remains that there is never a way to be 100% safe when skiing off-piste. The ski instructor involved was a very experienced professional. Ski Instructors in France are trained to the highest possible level, including extensive training in mountain safety. This training involves a great deal of studying and practice in recognising the potential dangers and how to avoid them. Unfortunately, the natural phenomenon of an avalanche isn’t one that can be avoided 100% of the time. The mayor of Tignes, Jean-Christophe Vitale, released this official statement referring to the ski instructor involved. “He was a very experienced professional who knew the area well. I’m sure he took every precaution while taking his clients to this place, but off-piste zero risk does not exist.”
The three members of the same family who lost their lives yesterday are reported to be from Aix-En-Provence.
The instructor involved has been named as Laurent Ruiz of the ESF. When talking to France3Alpes yesterday, a colleague described Laurent as a very strong skier and snowboarder, “He was a guy who skied, snowboarded, competed in slalom competitions…A friend.”. Local snowboard shop Snodroppe in Val Claret paid tribute to Laurent on Facebook with the following post yesterday evening.
“Thank-you Laurent for the passion that you had for snowboarding. Thank-you for every time that you came to the shop, and told us about your adventures off-piste. Thank-you for your bright character, thank-you for inspiring so many of our clients by taking them out riding. We truly loved knowing you. We’re going to hate your absence. Thoughts go to your family. Ride in peace my friend. We won’t forget you. The Snodroppe team.”
Laurent’s colleagues at ESF Tignes La Lac left this video and these words in a facebook tribute to “Lolo” earlier today.
“In hommage to Laurent, and instructor, a friend, a passionate person. All our thoughts go to the families of the victims on this day of mourning”
A vigil was held yesterday afternoon to pray for the victims of the avalanche at the Catholic church in Tignes. There will be a mass held there this afternoon at 5.30pm.
You can support the Pisteurs, who put themselves in dangerous situations to ensure our safety on the mountain, and who were integral to the huge search operation that took place yesterday, by donating here. Read more about the Tignes Pisteurs and the incredible work that they do by clicking here.