Will climate change send more skiers to their deaths?

Written by By Philippe Anselmo, CNN

Expanding ski areas, new product lines and greater access to the slopes are all the rage in the industry.

But even in a year filled with new product, the deaths of two French skiers at nearby Tignes-Mont-Blanc ski area, on the first day of this season, has stirred questions about safety in the snow world.

At the 2017 “Visions of Perigord” exhibition, presented by the Association of the Alps , in Villiers-sur-Belge, a report predicted a rise in accidents due to climate change.

The number of fatalities on the French Alps slopes should rise by 50% by 2060, while accidents are expected to rise by 20%.

“[They are] largely due to general exposure to risk and wider access to the slopes, which will give rise to more accidents,” it said in a statement.

In 2017, 41 of 63 fatal accidents — or 85% — were listed as beginner-related.

According to a report published by four ski resorts in 2017, nr. Tignes-Mont-Blanc, Schussükon, Tignes-Téles and Saint Paul de Vence, major snowstorms threaten to undermine the safety of this year’s winter season.

Tignes-Mont-Blanc and Schussükon, two of the locations mentioned in the report, have been identified as “severe risk zones.”

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“In winter with its tendency to displace high-altitude air, clouds can temporarily block the visibility and make it very difficult to see white slopes,” it says.

The risk will be particularly high in the top eight ski areas in the French Alps, with Tignes-Mont-Blanc most at risk, at 92% of the population exposed.

This winter forecast does not stop there, however.

“From 2030-2050, figures show that there will be an average increase of 5 cm in height per year in this high-altitude zone,” says the report.

Snow level determines slope conditions, with the steepest slopes traditionally lower than the next highest. The highest setting therefore typically does not have the same stability as the lowest.

Professor of environmental and adventure sports at the University of Udine, Pierluigi Frattini, says more vertical height, as people get higher up, has always posed a problem for skiing, especially since artificial lighting makes it easier to see on the slopes.

“The temptation is there, but it’s not in their best interest, and it’s not in our best interest,” he says, referring to skiers.

The danger of avalanches is another challenge, he adds.

In an already densely-forested area, avalanches can have an especially significant impact.

The French government has also made the fight against bad weather a priority, particularly when it comes to black-diamond courses.

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