A mother and her 22-year-old son, both British nationals, have died in an avalanche that occurred in the French Alps near the Saint-Gervais ski resort on Thursday.
The pair had been skiing off-piste with a group of five others and an instructor when the avalanche struck around 3:30 pm local time. Rescue teams searched for hours before locating their buried bodies, but they were sadly already deceased.
The incident brings the dangers of backcountry skiing into focus once again. Despite favourable weather and snow conditions at ski resorts presently, venturing outside marked boundaries on the Mont Blanc massif brings ever-present risks.
Mayor Jean-Marc Peillex of Saint-Gervais emphasized that the weather had been unstable with rain, snow and warmer temperatures. He tragically likened the deaths to the decimation of an entire family.
Details remain limited currently as local authorities have opened an investigation. However, initial reports suggest the avalanche originated around 2,300 meters altitude and then travelled 400 meters down the mountainside.
An experienced guide was present with the group, but he had only worn an emergency transceiver.
Once alerted, two helicopters and about 20 rescuers were deployed to comb the area and locate victims. The search lasted five stressful hours, spanning the afternoon and early evening before concluding.
In addition to the two fatalities, one other skier sustained injuries from the cascading wall of snow.
Five others escaped physical harm and were evacuated safely. Prosecutor Karline Bouisset suggested the snowslide may have been triggered higher up by separate skiers above the group's location. The area is popular for off-piste adventures but also carries inherent hazards beyond the protection of ski patrol monitoring.
Mayor Peillex further clarified that conditions were decidedly poor for riskier backcountry excursions. Nonetheless, the investigation will look into all contributing factors.
The deceased mother and son leave behind grieving family members back in Britain, according to foreign office statements. Saint-Gervais and the entire Haute-Savoie region are also reeling from the tragedy involving foreign visitors.