Review of differences between accidents

This is an update to the Vallonets accident review and was posted by Henry on 17th January.

After my post where I compared some common elements about the 3 tragic avalanches that have occurred so far this season in Val d’Isère, see the post here

I have explored some contrasting elements as well as comparisons.  There are some elements especially in the accident of the 26th December that stand in stark contrast to the two other accidents, especially in group management and choice of slope. I hope also that the following contrasts will answer some of the questions that came up on the blog today like, “It's quite hard to know what lessons are to be learned?” from Ross.

Most importantly I want to make it clear that these avalanches were not, “just bad luck” as some in the media have portrayed. Here are some of the elements that lead us to believe this

In the December 26th accident the group was instructed to keep distances of 50 metres apart and finish in an area protected from avalanches.  The victims ended up 3 metres apart on the slope and that extra weight may have triggered the avalanche.  But if the skiers had kept 50m apart and still the slope had avalanched, probably only one victim would have been buried.  As it happened, two people ended up being taken in the avalanche (due to the fact that they ended up closer together on the slope).

On January 11th all 7 people in the group were taken in the avalanche - due to all being exposed to danger at the same time.  There was also an issue of choice of slope that set the December 26th accident in stark contrast to the January 11th accident.

The slope on 26th December was in a lightly skied part of the Coombe du Signal but the slope was not exposed to a big slope and cliffs below.  As a result the victims were taken 75 metres.  In the Vallonets Jan 11th incident slope was also not skied much before but the victims were taken 800+ metres.  

So the consequences of the two avalanches were very different.  On 11th January in the Vallonets, 7 people were caught on the slope that was triggered.  7 skiers were taken in the avalanche but 5 went over the cliffs, 4 died.  The guide got out after about 150m , and another skiied out as it broke under feet.  

There are a few more contrasts that set these avalanches accidents apart, but the main ones are above. Please comment below if you have any other insights or questions.

Finally, experienced off-piste skiers know that avalanches happen in certain places at certain times for certain reasons – they don’t just happen by chance and we can’t put any of these avalanches just down to bad luck.  I invite everyone to look at the facts and present them in an objective transparent manner for the benefit of all involved and most importantly for the benefit of the off-piste skiing public, so we can at least try and learn from these tragic events.

On this subject, I have a concern about a Telegraph article covering the accidents in the press:  this portrays the incidents  as purely bad luck.  Please see my comments on the post, "Problems with Peter Hardy article published January 12th" under former discussion "Sharing Information" where you can see the article in question. My specific concerns are expressed on this link: