Villages that were left defenceless

THE CHAMONIX valley is no stranger to death in the winter, but the tragedy at the mountain villages of Le Tour and Mont- roc shocked even the most hardened residents.

The harshness of the landscape and its close proximity to Geneva has made Chamonix a burial ground for the adventurous. The cemetery is filled with climbers who died young, following their sport. Every year brings fresh tragedies.

Owning a small mountain cabin in the valley, I have become used to seeing helicopters going to the rescue of climbers and skiers.

An avalanche brushed aside a large wood above the small community of Taconnaz, where I live, a few years ago. Now the French have built an enormous wall as an avalanche defence for the village.

A second defensive wall was built to stop the Taconnaz glacier avalanching on to the motorway that runs into the mouth of the Mont Blanc tunnel.

But Montroc and Le Tour had no such avalanche defences. Lying at the head of the Chamonix valley, and the pass, which is closed when it becomes impassable, they had learnt to live with the deepest snows each year but even the locals had never seen anything like the quantity of snow which fell in recent weeks.

A week ago I dug a path a metre deep to get into my ski chalet and since then more than 1.5 metres of snow have fallen on Montroc and Le Tour.

The Savoyard village of Le Tour was the sort of high-mountain hamlet that photographers for the glossy ski brochures drooled over until the avalanche struck.

Le Tour and Mont Roc are the home for some of the serious expatriate British skiers who spend the season in the Chamonix valley, skiing in the rugged resort of Argentiere on the largely off-piste slopes of the Grands Montets.