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How safe are France’s ski resorts?

Two deaths on the ski slopes in the space of a week have lead to questions about the safety of France's ski resorts. But in fact, fatal accidents remain rare.

Ski slopes in the French Alps
Ski slopes in the French Alps. Photo: Jeff Pachoud/AFP

The question of ski safety has been raised after two tragic and high-profile incidents that occurred within a week – a five-year-old British girl died after an adult male skier crashed into her in the Alpine resort of Flaine and the French actor Gaspard Ulliel died at the age of 37 after an accident while skiing in La Rosière, Savoie.

Investigations are ongoing into both deaths.

But how unusual are fatal skiing accidents in France?

The past two years have been unusual ones for the ski industry – the 2019/20 season was cut short by the pandemic in March and the 2020/21 season was largely wiped out by lockdowns – but going back to the 2018/19 season, eight people died while skiing in France.

Between 2009 and 2020, deaths per season ranged from eight to 14.

By contrast, hundreds of people die on the roads every month. In 2018, which was a low year for road deaths, 3,259 people died.

Every month, around 20 cyclists die on French roads.

There are; however, quite a lot of people injured while skiing – on average 100,000 injuries are counted in ski resorts, ranging from sprains and bruises to broken bones and fatal head injuries.

Only 5 percent of ski accidents require an immediate transfer to hospital and in just 0.1 percent of cases are people helicoptered off the slopes to hospital.

But it seems that skiing in France is becoming more dangerous, and that’s due to the increase in avalanches.

While deaths relating to crashes on the slopes seem roughly stable, the number of avalanches in French ski resorts is increasing, due to rising temperatures and climate change.

During the 2020/21 ski season all ski lifts were closed, which means that people opted mostly for cross-country skiing rather than using maintained ski runs – and were therefore a lot more vulnerable to avalanches.

Between the beginning of December 2020 and the end of April 2021, 27 fatal avalanches resulted in 37 deaths of cross-country skiiers.

Now that slopes and lifts have reopened and most people have returned to skiing on maintained slopes, the industry hopes that deaths due to avalanches will fall.

If you are skiing in a resort you will get warnings for avalanches and instructors will tell you which areas to ski in, but the increasing frequency of avalanches means that risks remain.

Collisions between skiers account for just five percent of all accidents. The vast majority of injuries are caused in single-person accidents – when skiers fall, crash into objects like trees or get caught in an accident. The most common places for collisions are blue runs – where the beginners normally ski.

The investigations into the latest two deaths may lead to extra safety recommendations around issues like speed on the slopes and helmets wearing rules, depending on the findings.

In hopefully temporary safety measures, there are also currently a number of Covid-related health restrictions in French ski resorts.

LATEST: The Covid rules in French ski resorts

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TRAVEL NEWS

Everything you need to know about travel to France from within the EU

After two years of limited travel many people are planning a holiday this year and France is a popular destination - but it's easy to lose track of the latest travel rules. Here's what you need to know if you are coming to France from a country that is within the EU or Schengen zone.

Everything you need to know about travel to France from within the EU

Restrictions

France operates a ‘traffic light’ system that has been in place since summer 2020, assigning countries a colour based on their Covid infection rates.

These days most of the world is green – the lightest level of restriction – including all the countries in the EU and Schengen zone. Find full details on the government website here.

Map: French interior ministry

Vaccinated – if you are fully vaccinated according to the French definition (see below) and travelling from a green zone country all you need to show at the border is proof of vaccination. There is no requirement for extra paperwork such as passenger locator forms or health declarations and no Covid tests needed. Once in France you are not required to quarantine.

Unvaccinated – if you are not fully vaccinated according to the French definition (see below) you will need to show a negative Covid test at the border. The test can be either a PCR test taken within the previous 72 hours or an antigen test taken within the previous 48 hours. Once in France you are not required to quarantine.

Fully vaccinated – in order to qualify as ‘fully vaccinated’ you must be vaccinated with an EMA approved vaccine (Pfizer, Moderna, Astra-Zeneca or Janssen) and must be at least 7 days after your final dose (or 28 days after in the case of Janssen). If you had your vaccine more than nine months ago, you will need a booster shot in order to still be classificed as ‘fully vaccinated’ if you are aged 18 and over.

Anyone vaccinated within the EU/Schengen zone will have the EU digital vaccine pass, but vaccination certificates issued outside the EU are also accepted at the French border. 

Children – The rules on vaccination apply to all children aged 12 and over. Under 12s do not need to supply proof of vaccination at the border. Children aged between 12 and 18 do not need a booster shot, even if their vaccine took place more than nine months ago.

The above rules apply to all EU and Schengen zone countries – if you are travelling from the UK click HERE, click HERE for travel from the USA and HERE for travel from other non-EU countries.

In France

So you’ve made it into France, but what are the rules once you are here?

On May 16th, France ended the mask requirement for public transport, representing one of the last Covid restrictions still in place.

Masks – masks are now only compulsory in health establishments, although they remain recommended on public transport. They are not required in other indoor spaces such as shops, bars, restaurants and tourist sites, although private businesses retain the legal right to make mask-wearing a condition of entry.

Health pass – the health pass was suspended in March and is no longer required to enter venues such as bars, restaurants and tourist sites. It is still required to enter establishements with vulnerable residents such as nursing homes. In this case it is a health pass not a vaccine pass – so unvaccinated people can present a recent negative Covid test.

Hygiene gestures – the government still recommends the practice of hygiene gestures such as hand-washing/gel and social distancing although this is a recommendation and not a rule.

Self-isolation – if you test positive for Covid while in France you are legally required to self isolate – full details HERE.

READ ALSO How tourists and visitors to France can get a Covid test

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