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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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STRIKES

UPDATE: French air traffic controllers cancel strike action in September

The main union representing French air traffic controllers has cancelled calls for a strike from September 28th to 30th, after "reaching an agreement with their supervisory ministry."

UPDATE: French air traffic controllers cancel strike action in September

SNCTA, the main union for air traffic controllers said this week that they had lifted their calls for a three-day strike at the end of September after coming to an agreement with France Ministry of Transport. 

In a statement on its website, the SNCTA said “In view of the concrete progress made on the demands, the SNCTA is lifting its [strike] notice for September 28th, 29th and 30th. The strong mobilisation of September 16th was necessary and instrumental for reaching this conciliation in a very constrained calendar. Thank you to all of you!” 

The French ministry of transport has not yet commented on the above agreement or lifting of the strike.

The International Air Transport Association tweeted their support for the SNCTA’s decision to cancel further industrial action, calling Friday’s strike “unnecessary.”

The association also urged the European Union to implement a “Single European Sky.” This reform, which was put forward almost 20 years ago, has not yet reached fruition. It intends to shift the current system of air traffic organisation away from national borders and toward a “coherent zone” in order to reduce emissions and save both time and money.

The strike on September 16th left over 1,000 flights in France grounded, as well as widespread delays and over 2,400 flight cancellations across Europe. 

The SNCTA mobilised for wage increases due to the rising cost of living, in addition to an acceleration of recruitment in order to anticipate a wave of retirements. After Friday’s action, the union had called for further strikes from September 28th to 30th before reaching an agreement with their supervisory ministry. 

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