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Third avalanche victim raises ski safety issues

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Third avalanche victim raises ski safety issues
Skiing the "deep and steep" at Verbier in the Valais Alps. Photo: verbier.ch
11:56 CET+01:00
A 48-year-old Geneva man became the third avalanche victim in the Valais Alps in three days on Thursday when he died in a Sion hospital, underscoring concerns about the dangers of offe-piste skiing.

The man, identified by Valais cantonal police as a manager for SIG, Geneva’s public utility company, was the second person to die from a snow slide above Nendaz on Wednesday.

Another man is being treated for life-threatening injuries after an avalanche swept away six skiers, aged 15 to 55,  who were walking with skis over their shoulders up a steep slope in the Bec des Etagnes area at the 3,100-metre level, according to police.

In a separate incident, a 20-year-old Swedish man died from another avalanche after being buried by snow while skiing off-piste in the Plan de Fou area of the sprawling Nendaz-Quatre Vallées ski resort.

The accidents followed the death of a 52-year-old Valais woman who was buried by an avalanche while skiing off-piste at Zinal, another ski area, on Tuesday.

Another skier remains missing following a snow slide at the Saint Luc resort, near Zinal, on February 4th.

The deaths underscore the dangers of skiing on steep, unpatrolled slopes, particularly after periods of heavy snow.

Despite the risks, enthusiasts in search of virgin powder snow are drawn to the thrills of what the Swiss call “freeriding”.

Skiing the “steep and deep” zones of Verbier’s sprawling mountain ski area is promoted by the town’s tourist office in a TV advert shown on RTS, the national broadcaster.

The commercial shows a lone freerider slaloming down a steep slope through untouched powder.

Daniel Menna, a spokesman for BPA, the accident prevention bureau, told 20 Minutes such advertising can be dangerous because it masks the dangers.

“We have safe itineraries for practising skiing off-piste,” Eric Balet, director of Téléverbier, the company that runs the Verbier-Quatre Vallées resort, told the newspaper.

“And we offer guides to accompany riders — it’s really one of our best attractions,” Balet said.
 
He said the accident prevention bureau is incensed about avalanches because they are an emotional phenomenon.

“I don’t get the impression that drownings get the same attention, yet they account for more victims every year.”

Every day, more than 5,000 people ski safely off-piste at Verbier “including my own daughter,” Balet told 20 Minutes.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, Swedish skier Sverre Liliequist  created quite a buzz when did a backflip ahead of an avalanche that he managed to ski away from at Zermatt.

The incident occurred during the Swatch Skiers Cup 2013.

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