British skier missing in French Alps as avalanche warnings extended

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The Independent Online

The highest avalanche warning was in force in the French Alps last night as gendarmes suspended their search for a 24-year-old British skier who disappeared after going off piste near Chamonix.

The highest avalanche warning was in force in the French Alps last night as gendarmes suspended their search for a 24-year-old British skier who disappeared after going off piste near Chamonix.

As tens of thousands of British skiers prepared to leave for the French slopes in the coming weeks, one of the most popular resorts, Val d'Isère, last night denied a British news agency report that it had "shut down" because of the avalanche danger.

"The pistes were closed this morning to clear a heavy fall of overnight snow but Val d'Isère is not closed, and has never, ever been closed, because of a risk of avalanches," said Jane Jacquemod, a spokeswoman for the resort.

Seven people have died, including one Briton, in a series of small avalanches in the French Alps in recent weeks. All the accidents were caused by skiers and snow-boarders ignoring official warnings and abandoning the approved slopes to find fresh snow.

The French met office yesterday extended its avalanche warning to level 5 - the highest possible - to almost all of the northern and central French Alps. Although this level is reached once or twice in every ski season, experts said the conditions this year were more threatening than at any time since 1999 when 12 people were killed in their chalets by an avalanche near Chamonix.

Over one and a half metres - about 60 inches - of snow have fallen in some areas in the past week. This has been followed by warmer weather, rain and high winds, compounding the avalanche danger. A special gendarmerie mountain search unit last night suspended its search for a British man, Chris Kedy-Cady, who disappeared after he separated from his female companion and left the authorised pistes at 8,000 feet in the Brevent area, near Chamonix on Sunday.

Mr Kedy-Cady, 24, who lives in Boston, Massachusetts, failed to return to his hotel. His companion, who has not been named, said that he had insisted on going off-piste but she had refused to follow him. The avalanche danger in the area was at level 4 at the time and skiers had been warned not to leave the main trails.

"At present there are too many risks for the rescue team, but as soon as there is a brighter spell, we will continue the search," said Lieutenant Stephane Bozon of the mountain search team. A helicopter joined in the hunt during a brief break in the weather yesterday, but found nothing.

On Saturday, three French snow-boarders died after small avalanches carried them away when they strayed off-piste in two separate incidents on Tignes and the Val d'Isère. There had been four similar deaths in the French Alps in the previous ten days.

Officials at Météo-France said yesterday that there was "a high risk" of avalanches at above 2,500 metres (8,000 feet) and "some risk" at lower altitudes, as the rain softened the recently fallen snow.

In the Chamonix valley, gendarmes visited the residents of 50 chalets, which it is feared could be in the path of possible avalanches, and advised them to take precautions.

In another incident, two French army officer cadets died of the cold as they bivouacked at 2,700 metres in a survival exercise at the Col de Bonette in the Alpes de Hautes-Provence.

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