Avalanche takes out French chairlift

4th March 2012, by Chris Gill

The aftermath in Saint Francois Longchamp

The aftermath in Saint Francois Longchamp

Over 70 skiers and boarders were rescued from a chairlift in a French resort on Friday, when a huge avalanche broke off on a closed black run and took out one of the nearby lift towers.

The event was captured on the video, included below, and shows the dramatic results of the slide.

The 8m high slide happened at 3.30pm at Saint François Longchamp. It was thought to be triggered by the high temperatures. Skiers and boarders on nearby slopes watched in horror as the avalanche gathered momentum and engulfed the chairlift bottom station. The force bent one of the towers to the ground, buried in snow debris that one woman described as like ‘cement’.

The wet snow avalanche began slowly, noticed by ski area staff who were quick to evacuate visitors away from the lift. As it broke off the lift was stopped, but trapping around 70 or so people in their chairs. Rescue workers took a couple of hours to free them all, but there were no injuries.

Director of the ski area Daniel Darves said, “The avalanche risk was 3-4 locally. The black run that passes under the line of the chairlift is closed and in a part of the resort that is very exposed. It will not reopen this season, nor will the chairlift – which is old thirty years. It is, as of yesterday, probably the most photographed lift in the world.”

On Thursday Meteo France had warned of the danger of “wet snow” avalanches, which “may occur in the northern Alps, and particularly in the Savoie region on Friday and Saturday due to a sharp rise in temperatures.”

Saint François Longchamp (1650m) is in France’s Maurienne region and shares fairly extensive slopes with Valmorel in the next valley. The part of the ski area affected by Friday’s slide was the resort’s local Lauzière sector, where the chairlift serves about five runs; all are now closed.

Take a look at this …

and this …

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