Four skiers die in French Alps avalanche

At least four skiers died in an avalanche in the southern French Alps on Friday, authorities have said.

Four skiers die in French Alps avalanche
Archive Photo: AFP

The avalanche occurred at the ski resort of Entraunes, on the edge of the Mercantour National Park in the Alpes-Maritimes department.

The local gendarmes said that as well as the four fatalities there was also another person missing and one person injured.

According to reports the avalanche was triggered just before 1pm. 

Georges-Francois Leclerc, chief of the Alpes-Maritimes region, said the avalanche had struck people who were ski touring with their guide in an off-piste area near the Mercantour national park.

A rescue operation was under way. The warning level for the risk of avalanches in the area was at level 4 out of 5 on Friday, meaning snowslides were highly likely.

The south east of France has been hit by heavy snow in recent days that even saw the resort of Nice covered in a white blanket.

However temperatures have warned up in the last 24 hours which can increase the risk of avalanches in the mountains.

There have been several deadly avalanches in France this winter. Only last week a father and daughter were swept to the deaths whilst skiing on a closed piste near Val d'Isere.

That tragedy came just days after three skiers were killed by an avalanche in the Pyrenees.

A total of 16 people have died since France's ski season began in November, and 11 others have been injured.



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.

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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.