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Mountain guide died leading avalanche course

Malcolm Curtis · 7 Jan 2014, 12:01

Published: 07 Jan 2014 12:01 GMT+01:00

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Samuel Matthey-Doret, 28, was considered an extremely cautious professional climber, local newspaper Le Nouvelliste reported on Tuesday.

He was leading a group of six mountaineering skiers near the peak of the Pointe de Masserey at an altitude of 2,400 metres in the Mase-Val d’Hérens region when an avalanche swept four of them away.

Rescue workers were able to transport the victims to hospital, where three of them, including Matthey-Doret, died from their injuries, while a fourth man remains in critical condition.

The deaths brought to at least 11 the toll of avalanche victims in the Swiss Alps over the past two weeks.

Experts warned last week that unstable snow conditions remained treacherous in many parts of the Swiss Alps, with some experts saying that skiing off-piste should be avoided until conditions improve.

But mountain guides defended Matthey-Doret’s decision to lead an avalanche course over the weekend.

Pierre Mathey, head of the Swiss association of mountain guides, said up to half of such courses are conducted in areas where there is a level three risk of avalanches, 20 Minutes reported online.

A total of 300 guides were accompanying skiing groups in the Valais mountains on Sunday, Mathey said.

Cyrille Berthod, a mountain guide colleague of Matthey-Doret, insisted that he had done nothing wrong.

“I knew him for nearly eight years and we have often worked together,” Berthod told Le Nouvelliste.

“He always acted prudently.”

On the first day of a two-day course, Matthey-Doret instructed his clients on the equipment necessary for ski touring.

Then they learned how to plan routes and to recognize dangerous situations.

Berthod described the avalanche as a “natural disaster” that was difficult to understand.

“It could have happened to any one of us.”

Story continues below…

Other professional extreme skiing professionals, however, are shunning the off-piste slopes because of the danger.

Dominique Perret, one well-known “free rider”, said at Verbier, where he frequently skis in Valais, he would not leave the groomed runs.

“To ski out there (off-piste) would be an unnecessary risk,” Perret told Le Matin.

Other extreme skiers are simply heading to other mountain regions, such as Spain’s Pyrenees, until conditions in the Swiss Alps stabilize.  

UPDATE: The fourth man seriously injured in the avalanche at Pointe de Masserey died of his injuries on Tuesday, Valais cantonal police said.

In addition to the guide, originally from Neuchâtel, police identified the victims as a 35-year-old Belgian man, a 26-year-old man from Valais and a 28-year-old man from the canton of Vaud.  

Malcolm Curtis (news@thelocal.ch)

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