Avalanches Kill 12 in One Week in French Alps

Tragic losses in the French Alps have shaken the European mountain community. On Saturday May 8, two avalanches killed a total of seven people in the Savoie region, near Col du Galibier and Mont Pourri. A few days earlier, on May 3, two avalanches killed five people in Isère and Hautes-Alpes. 

Col du Galibier, France in early summer, 2019. Photo: Yuri Turkov/Shutterstock


The first May 8 avalanche took place in the morning near the village of Valloire, gateway to the Col du Galibier, the highest pass on the Tour de France. Four hikers between 42 to 76 years old perished in the slide. Remarkably, one survived without any injuries. The second avalanche killed three more people later in the day near Mont Pourri. 

According to mountain guide Michel Pele, a southerly wind known as the foehn may have triggered the slides. The foehn is a dry, warm wind that sometimes carries sand from the Sahara to the Alps. It is possible, he says, that the grit prevented proper cohesion and made the snow generally unstable. Since last week, officials have warned against crossing slopes because of their instability and the 50 to 70cm of heavy new snow. 

Thirty-five people have died since the beginning of the 2020-2021 ski season.

Mont Pourri, in the French Alps. Photo: Noho/Shutterstock