France launches ski safety campaign after rising number of accidents

Injuries and even deaths while skiing in France have seen a sharp rise in recent years - leading the French government to create a new ski safety campaign.

France launches ski safety campaign after rising number of accidents
Skiers at La Mauselaine ski area in Gerardmer, eastern France, on January 26, 2023. (Photo by Jean-Christophe Verhaegen / AFP)

The early part of the ski season in France was dominated by headlines over the lack of snow in popular mountain resorts – but, now that climatic conditions have started to improve for skiers and there is at least some snow, the winter sports season is in gearing up to hit full swing.

READ ALSO Snow latest: Have France’s ski resorts reopened?

Heading into the winter holiday season – French schools in ‘Zone A’ break up for two weeks on February 4th, followed on February 11th by schools in ‘Zone B’, while schools in Zone C finish for the vacation on February 18th – the government has launched an awareness campaign highlighting skiing good practice and how to avoid accidents.

READ ALSO What can I do if I’ve booked a French skiing holiday and there’s no snow?

The Pratiquer l’hiver campaign has advice, posters and videos highlighting safety on the slopes, in an effort to reduce the number of accidents on France’s mountains – where, every year, between 42,000 and 51,000 people have to be rescued, according to the Système National d’Observation de la Sécurité en Montagne (SNOSM)

The campaign, with information in a number of languages including English, covers:

  • on-piste and off-piste safety advice (signalling, avalanche risks, freestyle areas, snowshoes, ski touring, etc.);
  • Help and instructions for children explained in a fun and educational way (educational games, games of the 7 families to be cut out, safety quizzes, advice sheets for sledding, skiing, prevention clips, etc.);
  • physical preparation (warm up before exercise, prepare your muscles and stretch well, also how to adapt the choice of pistes and the speed to your physical condition);
  • equipment and safety (helmet, goggles, sunscreen, etc.);
  • marking and signalling on the slopes (opening and marking of green, blue, red and black slopes, off-piste).

There are 220 ski resorts in France, the world’s second largest ski area, covering more than 26,500 hectares of land, across 30 departements.

In the 2021/22 ski season, totalling 53.9 million ‘ski days’, according to SNOSM, emergency services made 49,622 interventions in France’s ski areas, and 45,985 victims were treated for injuries.

The results show an increase in the number of interventions by ski safety services – a rise of 13 percent compared to the average of the five years prior to the pandemic – and the number of injured, up 8 percent. 

A few incidents on the slopes made the headlines at the time, including the five-year-old British girl who died after an adult skier crashed into her in the Alpine resort of Flaine, and the French actor Gaspard Ulliel, who died at the age of 37 after an accident while skiing in La Rosière, Savoie.

In total, 12 people died as a result of skiing incidents in France in the 2021/22 ski season. Three died following collisions between skiers, two after hitting an obstacle, and seven as a result of a fall or solo injuries. SNOSM also reported “a significant number of non-traumatic deaths, mostly due to cardiac problems” on France’s ski slopes.

The injuries due to solo falls – which represent 95 percent of all injuries –  on the ski slopes increased 2 percent compared to winter 2018/2019. Collisions between users fell, however (4.8 percent against . 5.6 percent) as did collisions between skiers and other people, and obstacles (0.7 percent compared to 0.85 percent).

The number of fatalities caused by avalanches, however, is at a historic low over the period 2011 to 2021, in part because of a relative lack of snow – leading to a drop in the number of avalanches and fewer people going off-piste, while awareness campaigns are hitting their mark, according to SNOSM.

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Long delays at UK port for travellers headed to France

Passengers going by coach from the UK to France on Saturday, the first day of the Easter holidays, experienced huge delays due to lengthy French border checks, Dover port authorities said.

Long delays at UK port for travellers headed to France

Long waits for travellers at the port at the start of school holidays have become more frequent since Brexit, which ended free movement from Britain to EU member states.

Rosie Pearson, who was heading to Val d’Isere in the French Alps on an overnight bus with her husband and two teenagers, said they had faced a 16-hour wait.

Pearson, 50, an environmental campaigner, described the situation at Dover as “carnage”.

They had been due to arrive at 2.15 pm on Saturday but they will now not make it until 6am on Sunday because of the Dover delays.

“The whole thing was a shambles… Not a single bit of communication,” she told the PA news agency. “The worst thing was that no one told us anything for the whole 16 hours, literally nothing.”

Ferry operator P&O on Saturday evening apologised for the delays. “Coaches at the cruise terminal are currently experiencing a wait time of up to 3.5 hours before they can proceed to the Port of Dover,” it said on Twitter.

“Once they are in the buffer zone at the entrance to the port the wait is approximately another 3-4 hours. We apologise for delays,” it said.

Ferry firm DFDS said earlier Saturday that waiting times for coaches to board ferries on Friday evening had been around seven hours.

Dover Port said coaches had been waiting “several hours but tourist cars are getting through OK”.

“The Port of Dover is deeply frustrated by last night’s and this morning’s situation,” a statement said, adding that freight traffic had not been unduly affected.

Last summer, the UK government blamed France for failing to adequately staff their border posts at the Dover port after two days of long delays for all travellers, allegations that Paris denied.

French lawmakers said checks now took longer because Britain has “third-country” status outside the EU, and urged that facilities be improved at Dover.