Avalanche rattles skiers at French Alps resort of Tignes

UPDATED: An avalanche struck the French Alps ski resort of Tignes on Tuesday morning slamming into a piste. There were reports several people were swept away, but authorities have since confirmed there were no victims.

Avalanche rattles skiers at French Alps resort of Tignes
Photo: Sky News

Twenty-five “more or less shocked” people sought help from rescue workers, Nicolas Martrenchard told a news conference.

“Four skiers were buffeted by the impact” of the rush of snow and had to abandon their equipment on the slope, added Martrenchard, deputy prefect of nearby Albertville.

An initial report that several skiers were engulfed by the avalanche sent alarm bells ringing through the sprawling resort just three weeks after an avalanche claimed four lives nearby.

“According to witnesses, there are many people under the avalanche,” a regional spokesman for the French Gendarmerie told the local Dauphiné newspaper earlier before the ski station later confirmed that there were no victims.

Specialist French mountain police were called out to Tignes on Tuesday the same resort where four people were killed in an avalanche last month.

Tuesday's avalanche struck just after 10am on the medium level blue ski slope called “La Carline” (see map below) in the Tignes Val Claret area.

A major rescue operation including sniffer dogs was launched and the ski station was closed while all staff have been sent to the affected area to search for survivors.

“Several skiers were affected who were cared for by resort staff,” it said in a statement, adding: “Rescue workers were immediately deployed. After search operations, no victims were found.

However it was clearly a terrifying experience for those hit by the wall of snow.

One person Violette Vérité took to Twitter to tell of the frightening moment she was engulfed in snow.

The rescue operation wasmade very difficult by the lack of visibility which has prevented rescue teams from sending helicopters to the affected area.

Specialist search and rescue teams had to travel to Tignes from Courchevel by road.


The avalanche warning level for Tignes on Tuesday was at level four out of five, meaning there was a “strong” (fort) likelihood of avalanches because the snow is considered unstable on several mountain slopes (not the pistes).

In theory the warning levels refer to off-piste areas and slopes that are closed due to an avalanche risk. 

At warning level four avalanches could be triggered by just a small number of skiers.

At level five all pistes are closed.

“All the lifts have been closed all day for us so we can't go anywhere,” Caroine Dear, a British skier at Tignes told The Local.

The area had 50 centimetres (nearly 20 inches) of snow overnight following regular snowfalls since Saturday, avalanche risk expert Cecile Coleou told AFP.

“That meant an accumulation of a metre over three days, which represents a thick layer of unstable snow,” she said, adding however that it was “extremely rare” for an avalanche to reach an active ski slope.

Coleou said the avalanche risk would remain high at least until Wednesday.




An avalanche killed four people who were exploring an off-piste section in the same area on February 13th.

In recent years avalanches have caused the deaths of many skiers in the French Alps, but they mostly occurred in off-piste areas, where the risk is much higher.

Most avalanches are the result of a combination of weather and geological factors. In general, an avalanche results from fresh heavy snowfall that fails to stick to snow already on the ground.

Ski patrols ('Securité des Pistes') typically set off deliberate avalanches with explosives to ensure skiers are safe when they hit the pistes. However reports suggest avalanche risk area above the slopes of Tignes could not be cleared because of high winds in recent days.

In January last year, a group of school children were swept away by an avalanche on a closed slope at Les Deux Alpes, in Isère.

The avalanche claimed the lives of two teenage pupils and a Ukrainian man, who is understood to have been skiing separate from the school group.

READ ALSO: What makes the French Alps so risky for avalanches?

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Dad’s ‘miracle escape’ after being buried by avalanche in French Alps

A man out walking with his family in the French Alps has made a miraculous escape from an avalanche after spending more than two and a half hours trapped under snow, rescuers said.

Dad's 'miracle escape' after being buried by avalanche in French Alps
Ski lifts in France are closed, but visitors and locals are free to enjoy other outdoor sports. Photo: AFP

The 50-year-old father was snowshoeing near the high-altitude Val d'Isere ski resort with his wife and two children on Thursday without anti-avalanche safety equipment.

“Thank to the mobilisation of nearly 100 people… the man was found alive after two hours and 40 minutes of searching,” the police for the local Savoie département announced on Twitter.

Because of the depth of the snow, rescue dogs were unable to detect a trace, but the man was eventually dug out by a specialised mountain police team which used a Wolfhound device to locate his mobile phone under the ice.

“I think it's a miracle,” Alexandre Grether from the PGHM rescue team told the France 3 local news channel, adding that the man was found 2.5 metres (eight feet) below the surface.

The chances of survival after more than 20 minutes in an avalanche are usually slim.

“He was protected by a tree, that's what prevented him from being crushed by all the ice that slid down. The snow had surrounded him, but he had a pocket of air,” he explained.

The victim is expected to make a full recovery after suffering a fracture to his hip.

The avalanche risk on Thursday was at its maximum – five on a scale of five – and rescuers urge people to always check the snow conditions before venturing out.

READ ALSO 'Whole season a write-off' – what next for France's ski resorts?

Ski lifts in the Alps, which have seen some of their heaviest snowfalls in years in January, are currently closed because of restrictions imposed by the government to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Visitors and locals are free to enjoy hiking, cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing, but occupancy levels in hotels and chalets are way down and business owners and seasonal staff face serious hardships.

The government has promised an economic support package for the sector.