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AVALANCHE

Avalanche: Teacher probed for ‘multiple manslaughter’

The teacher who apparently led a group of French school children down a closed, black level ski slope before they were hit by a fatal avalanche is to be placed in police custody on suspicion of causing “multiple manslaughter”.

Avalanche: Teacher probed for 'multiple manslaughter'
Skiiers at the Deux Alpes resort where the tragedy took place. Photo: AFP

On Thursday the local prosecutor in Grenoble Jean-Yves Coquillat briefed the media about the fatal avalanche, that left two pupils dead as well as a Ukrainian man.

The prosecutor confirmed that the teacher had been formally placed in custody although he remains in hospital after being knocked unconscious in the avalanche at the Deux Alpes resort.

Without giving many details of the reason to place the teacher in custody, Coquillat said “it was difficult to question him unless they forced it”.

Since news of Wednesday’s tragedy broke questions have been raised about the actions of the teacher and why the pupils were skiing on a black level slope – the most difficult level – when it was not open to the public.

But despite being questioned for possible multiple manslaughter the prosecutor warned against passing judgement on the teacher.

“I remind you that this teacher benefits from the presumption of innocence,” he said. “This type of disaster is a result of chain of events that needs to be defined.

“It needs to be remembered that skiing off-piste is not a crime and it’s not forbidden,” he added.

The prosecutor also confirmed that the ski run had been closed to the public since the start of the season because of a lack of snow. The presence of rocks on the slope had made it too dangerous to open.

Netting had been placed across the ski run and as well as signs to say it was closed, but this was ignored by the school party.

A Romanian national also admitted to police that they were among a separate group of 15 skiers who were skiing above the school party on the same slope when the avalanche was triggered.

It is unclear whether this group may have triggered the avalanche that swept away the school party.

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TOURISM

Tourism minister: Book your French ski holiday now

France’s ski resorts will be open for business this winter, tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne has promised - but no decision has yet been taken on whether a health pass will be required to use ski lifts.

Skiers at a French Alpine resort
Photo: Philippe Desmazes / AFP

“This winter, it’s open, the resorts are open,” Lemoyne told France 2’s 4 Vérités programme.

“Compared to last year, we have the vaccine,” he said, adding that he would “invite those who have not yet done so to [book], because … there will soon be no more room.”

And he promised an answer ‘in the next few days’ to the question of whether health passes would be required for winter holidaymakers to use ski lifts. “Discussions are underway with the professionals,” he said.

The stakes are high: the closure of ski lifts last winter cost manufacturers and ski shops nearly a billion euros. 

This year ski lifts will remain open, but a health pass may be necessary to access them. The health pass is already compulsory for après ski activities such as visits to bars, cafés and restaurants.

COMPARE The Covid rules in place at ski resorts around Europe

Many town halls and communities which depend on winter sports have found it difficult or impossible to make ends meet.

“It’s time for the French mountains to revive,” Lemoyne said, pointing to the fact that the government has provided “more than €6 billion” in aid to the sector.

Winter tourism professionals, however, have said that they are struggling to recruit for the winter season.

“Restaurant and bars are very affected,” by the recruitment crisis, one expert told Franceinfo, blaming a lack of urgency from authorities towards the winter holiday industry.

“We are all asking ourselves what we should do tomorrow to find full employment in the resort,” the expert added.

Post-Brexit visa and work permit rules mean that ski businesses have found it difficult to recruit Brits for short-term, seasonal positions.

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