Tignes ski resort
The avalanche took place near the alpine ski resort in Tignes, France (File photo) REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

In the first major accident of France's ski season, an avalanche at the Tignes ski resort in the French Alps killed four snowboarders on Monday, 13 February. According to officials, the victims included a 49-year-old instructor, 48-year-old father, his 15-year-old son and a 19-year-old half-brother, all of whom were of French nationality.

Authorities from the nearby town of Albertville initially reported that five others were missing but later clarified that the victims' names had accidentally been entered into the skiing database twice.

"We lament the four deceased victims and we think there will be only four... the search continues. It was an avalanche of a huge scale," Albertville Deputy Prefect Nicolas Martrenchard said in a statement, explaining that the group were walking off-piste when they were hit by the wall of snow. Search teams were able to retrieve their bodies by Monday afternoon since the snowboarders were equipped with locator devices.

"A search party was set up of 50 ski patrollers,
60 rescue workers, the Peloton de Gendarmerie de Haute Montagne (PGHM) mountain rescue along with volunteers, nine dogs and three helicopters," an official Tignes press release stated.

The 100m-wide "slab" avalanche — which is caused when dense packed snow breaks off — may have been triggered by skiers higher up the mountain. It is being considered the worst accident of this year's Alpine ski season, which has already witnessed 13 accidents and led to the deaths of three people.

A smaller avalanche took place the same afternoon in La Clusaz in the Haute-Savoie area. A 30-year-old tourist died in the hospital after succumbing to his injuries.

Last season saw a total of 45 accidents and 21 fatalities in France.