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SKI

How safe are France’s ski resorts?

Two deaths on the ski slopes in the space of a week have lead to questions about the safety of France's ski resorts. But in fact, fatal accidents remain rare.

Ski slopes in the French Alps
Ski slopes in the French Alps. Photo: Jeff Pachoud/AFP

The question of ski safety has been raised after two tragic and high-profile incidents that occurred within a week – a five-year-old British girl died after an adult male skier crashed into her in the Alpine resort of Flaine and the French actor Gaspard Ulliel died at the age of 37 after an accident while skiing in La Rosière, Savoie.

Investigations are ongoing into both deaths.

But how unusual are fatal skiing accidents in France?

The past two years have been unusual ones for the ski industry – the 2019/20 season was cut short by the pandemic in March and the 2020/21 season was largely wiped out by lockdowns – but going back to the 2018/19 season, eight people died while skiing in France.

Between 2009 and 2020, deaths per season ranged from eight to 14.

By contrast, hundreds of people die on the roads every month. In 2018, which was a low year for road deaths, 3,259 people died.

Every month, around 20 cyclists die on French roads.

There are; however, quite a lot of people injured while skiing – on average 100,000 injuries are counted in ski resorts, ranging from sprains and bruises to broken bones and fatal head injuries.

Only 5 percent of ski accidents require an immediate transfer to hospital and in just 0.1 percent of cases are people helicoptered off the slopes to hospital.

But it seems that skiing in France is becoming more dangerous, and that’s due to the increase in avalanches.

While deaths relating to crashes on the slopes seem roughly stable, the number of avalanches in French ski resorts is increasing, due to rising temperatures and climate change.

During the 2020/21 ski season all ski lifts were closed, which means that people opted mostly for cross-country skiing rather than using maintained ski runs – and were therefore a lot more vulnerable to avalanches.

Between the beginning of December 2020 and the end of April 2021, 27 fatal avalanches resulted in 37 deaths of cross-country skiiers.

Now that slopes and lifts have reopened and most people have returned to skiing on maintained slopes, the industry hopes that deaths due to avalanches will fall.

If you are skiing in a resort you will get warnings for avalanches and instructors will tell you which areas to ski in, but the increasing frequency of avalanches means that risks remain.

Collisions between skiers account for just five percent of all accidents. The vast majority of injuries are caused in single-person accidents – when skiers fall, crash into objects like trees or get caught in an accident. The most common places for collisions are blue runs – where the beginners normally ski.

The investigations into the latest two deaths may lead to extra safety recommendations around issues like speed on the slopes and helmets wearing rules, depending on the findings.

In hopefully temporary safety measures, there are also currently a number of Covid-related health restrictions in French ski resorts.

LATEST: The Covid rules in French ski resorts

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TOURISM

What to know when visiting France’s lavender fields this summer

Known affectionately as 'blue gold,' France’s lavender fields are a popular tourist attraction every year. Here is what you need to know about visiting them:

What to know when visiting France's lavender fields this summer

Lavender is the “soul of Provence,” the French region where the fields can be found. Like wine, lavender was brought to France around 2,000 years ago by the Romans. The flower is the emblem of ‘Haute Provence’ regional identity, though the fields stretch from just outside of Nice almost all the way up to Valence, and they are not fully exclusive to France.

Even the washerwomen, those whose job it was to clean clothes and linen, were referred to as les lavandières in France. 

The flowers, which can be found mainly in two species in Provence, have several uses – as oils for cooking and bathing, as a perfume for soaps, and even as an antiseptic for healing wounds and scars.

The lavender essential oil that comes from Provence is even an AOP (L’Appellation d’origine protégée) in France. 

When is the best time to see the fields?

Typically, the lavender flowers from around mid-June to early-to-mid August. However, depending on the weather, especially if there is a drought or hotter temperatures, the lavender might flower sooner than normal, which is likely the case for this year.

This is unfortunately also a side effect of climate change, which might be pushing up the lavender flowering season.

Where should I go?

The Valensole plateau is perhaps the most famous place to go for lavender fields. Speckled with several small Provencal towns, the area is beautiful, with a mountainous backdrop in the distance. If you go here, you might also be able to see the sunflower fields too.

Sault is perhaps a bit less known, partially because due to its altitude, the lavender typically flowers a bit later.

It is still a great place to go see the fields, and every year the town hosts a Lavender Festival in August. Walking (or cycling) between the villages (Aurel, Saint-Trinit and Saint-Christol) is very manageable.

This is not too far from the Sénanque Abbey, a medieval 12th century abbey which is surrounded by lavender fields. You might notice some small stone houses called bories in the fields, which were historically used for field workers.

Luberon Valley is another location that comes highly recommended. In the area, there is a regional national park, home to rosé wines, castles (chateaux) and charming villages, like Gordes, a stunning hilltop village.

Here you can also find the Musée de la Lavande, if you are looking to learn more about harvesting, producing and distilling lavender, its industry, and some interesting regional history.

How to get there?

You can take a TGV train to Aix-en-Provence or Avignon, or rent a car. With a car, you can also enjoy the several scenic routes that allow you to see the fields from the roads.

What else is there to do while in the region?

The area is also known for its rosé wine, so you could take the opportunity to go visit some vineyards or spend some time wine-tasting. 

In the summer months, the south of France can get quite warm. If you are looking to go swimming or enjoy the water, the Gorges du Verdon are not too far away. Though a bit of a tourist hotspot, the canyon is a beautiful and a wonderful place for paddling along in a canoe.

If you’re a fan of hiking, you can always go for a (light) hike along the Ochre Trail near Roussillon. Here, there are two marked paths that will take you through sunset-colored red and yellow cliffs in an old quarry.

Words of Wisdom

Unless you have been given express permission, do not pick the lavender, as this is the farmer’s livelihood. You can always buy a bouquet from nearby souvenir shops for your photo shoots! 

Also, stick to the paths that exist to avoid trampling any crops, and of course do not litter in the fields. 

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