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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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TRAVEL NEWS

What to expect from strike action in France during the February school holidays

Several French unions have filed strike notices for February, with some aiming to target to busy February holiday period - here's what you can expect.

What to expect from strike action in France during the February school holidays

France is in the grip of a major confrontation between unions and the government over plans to reform the pension system.

So far, the main actions have been concentrated on one-day strikes that are supported by all eight of the union federations, however an increasing number of unions are filing notices for renewable or unlimited strikes, with some targeting the February holidays.

The French minister of tourism, Olivia Gregoire, called on unions to respect the “sacred period” of school holidays (which in France run from February 4th to March 6th, depending on which zone you are in).

Meanwhile, Philippe Martinez, the head of the hardline CGT union, told RTL that if the government remains stubborn then “there is a possibility of days of action during the school vacations”.

As a result, it is likely that further notices will be filed.  The Local will update this story with the latest – but here’s what we know so far.

January actions

Tuesday, January 31st – this is the next one-day mass strike, which will likely see severe disruption on many services, particularly public transport – full details here.

February actions

Trains – two rail unions – the hardline Sud-Rail and CGT-Cheminots – have filed a renewable strike notice for “mid-February” in addition to a two-day strike which is to take place on Tuesday, February 7th, and Wednesday, and 8th. 

READ MORE: Calendar: The French pension strike dates to remember

Ski resorts – two of the largest unions representing French ski lift operators and seasonal workers, FO (Force ouvrière) and the CGT, have filed “unlimited” strike notices starting on January 31st – the same day that unions across other sectors have called for another ‘mass strike’.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the strike will continue throughout February, but unions say they want to put pressure on the government to discuss both pensions and changes to benefits for seasonal workers, which particularly affect ski industry employees.

The CGT union in particular has threatened further actions during the Ski World Championships, held in Courchevel from February 6th to February 19th. Strikes in ski resorts usually primarily affect the operation of ski lifts. You can read more here.

Oil refinery workers – refinery workers have threatened to strike for a period of 72 hours beginning on February 6th. 

The national union coordinator for French oil giant, TotalEnergies, Eric Sellini, told AFP that these actions would result in “lower throughput” and “the stoppage of shipments.”

The most concrete effect of this is likely to be shortages of petrol and diesel at some filling stations if the blockades are successful in stopping supplies leaving the refineries.

Power cuts – the hardline CGT have also threatened more “direct action” with employees of the State electricity sector threatening to cut the power to certain towns. This isn’t a scheduled action (or indeed a legal one, the government has promised to prosecute workers who do this) but short targeted power cuts could continue into February.

UK border – finally, if you are travelling to or from the UK, be aware that a UK Border Force strike is planned for February 1st and 2nd, which is likely to increase waiting times at the border.

We will update this story as more details are released, and you can also find all the latest in our strike section HERE.

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