Skiers urged to exercise caution

Off-piste skiers are being urged to exercise caution in the Alps after early-season weather that led to dangerously unstable snow-last week, four people died in Val d’Isère and, on Boxing Day, David Robinson, a former Olympic sailing coach, was killed in the same area.

These tragedies come in the wake of a high casualty rate in 2009-10, when 41 people were killed in France alone, compared with a 15-year average of 25. ‘This year, the risks seem even less predictable than usual,’ says guide Henry Schniewind (

‘We have seen slides in places where they don’t normally happen. There are weak layers under the snow pack, and these are unusually hard to spot.’ Some 90% of deaths are caused by ‘slab’ avalanches, and Jean-Pierre Aguillon, technical director of piste security in Val d’Isère, explains: ‘After early snowfall, we had high temperatures, then strong winds, then temperatures of -24˚.

The snow layers haven’t bonded well.’ Nigel Shepherd of the Ski Club of Great Britain advises: ‘Be cautious, get advice and never think you’re an expert. Even with the best equipment, nobody is invincible.’