Avalanche in French Alps Kills 4 Snowboarders

Photo
Rescue crews searching for victims of an avalanche near the French ski resort of Tignes on Monday.

Credit
Sylvain Muscio/Le Dauphine, via European Pressphoto Agency

PARIS — An avalanche in the French Alps killed four snowboarders, including an instructor, on Monday morning.

The four snowboarders — a 48-year-old man, his son, 15, and son-in-law, 19, and their 59-year-old instructor, all French citizens — were off-piste and were preparing to descend a steep slope at the Tignes ski resort in the Vanoise range when the avalanche hit, officials said.

The accident occurred around 10 a.m., Nicolas Martrenchard, a representative of the national government in the nearby city of Albertville, said at a news conference.

Emmanuel Dubost, a National Police rescue worker in the nearby town of Courchevel, said in a phone interview that ski patrollers had first been alerted around 10:20 a.m. and reached the area of the accident shortly after. Other rescue workers, using a helicopter, landed at the site less than an hour later. Over 40 rescue workers, along with search dogs, were involved.

The snowslide came tumbling down from 7,900 feet above sea level, to an area about 7,000 feet above sea level, where the snowboarders were killed.

The four victims, who were not identified by name, had been equipped with beacons that can send and receive radio signals in case of danger; it was unclear whether they were killed upon impact. Their bodies were found buried under more than six feet of snow near ski runs at Tignes Le Lavachet, a small resort in the Claret Valley. The resort itself was not threatened by the avalanche.

The avalanche most likely was caused by shock waves across a thick slab of snow packed by strong winds, Mr. Dubost said. The Tignes tourism office said in a statement the avalanche was up to 100 feet wide and spread across an area of nearly 1,300 feet.

The snowboarders were known to the instructor and were experienced in the sport, Mayor Jean-Christophe Vitale of Tignes said at the news conference. “There’s always a risk,” the mayor said.

Mr. Martrenchard, the government representative, said that avalanches had occurred before in that zone, which is known to experienced skiers as an off-piste path.

The four had been off-piste in that zone earlier in the day, the tourist office said in a statement, but they had not met any danger.

A fifth snowboarder, identified only as a teenager, was with the group moments before the avalanche struck. He had apparently made it farther down the slope and was waiting for the group. Investigators were interviewing him, Mr. Martrenchard said, as part of an inquiry into the precise details of the accident.

The risk of avalanche on Monday was at three on a scale of one to five, according to MeteoFrance’s website.

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