The father of a boy of seven who was severely injured when he was run over by a skier in France is calling for stricter rules on pistes and sanctions for skiers who ski dangerously.
Nicolas Roussel’s son Antoine was admitted to intensive care after being violently run over by another skier while on the slopes in Bonneval-sur-Arc (Savoie) on February 8.
Antoine was with his father and eight-year-old brother Jules in an area reserved for the ski school when the younger boy was hit at 50km/h by a skier, aged 16.
The accident happened despite the family having been safely stopped behind Ecole de Ski Français (ESF) nets. Investigators also say that the 16-year-old did not appear to have “lost control” of his skis.
Mr Roussel, who is from Var, said: “It was very violent. His brother was present, and he thought [Antoine] was dead. My son suffered several fractures to the face, and damage to his skull with brain lesions. He spent four days in intensive care.”
Antoine is now out of hospital, but is still recovering and suffering from the after-effects of the incident.
Mr Roussel said: “Physically, he has escaped the worst, but he is psychologically traumatised. He jumps at the smallest sound and is always hypervigilant.”
Mr Roussel and his wife have sought out a psychologist to help their son.
Calls for stricter safety measures and ski pass rules
Now, the father is calling for stricter measures on ski slopes in a bid to improve safety.
He has said that skiers who ski dangerously should have their passes taken away. The 16-year-old who hit Antoine had already been warned about his dangerous behaviour twice by ski school instructors, but was still allowed to ski.
Mr Roussel said: “The day before, [the teenager] almost hit a young girl. If the piste managers [and ski school instructors] had had the power to take away his ski pass, my son would not have been in intensive care the next day.
“We have to change things. There have to be tougher constraints for reckless skiers. Today, you can do whatever you want on the slopes, and that is not OK. We can't go to the mountains and risk seeing our children being killed or traumatised.”
The father has written to Savoie MP, Émilie Bonnivard, who has herself worked as a ski instructor.
In a statement, she appeared to agree that many skiers are now skiing faster on the slopes, largely because new ski technology means it is easier, and usually safer, to go fast. However, she agreed that safety should be prioritised.
She told Le Figaro: “Without proper techniques, you didn’t used to be able to ski [as opposed to with new technology now]. As on the roads, there is bad behaviour on the pistes, and too many beginners do not understand the safety rules.”
The MP added: “Taking away people’s ski pass could act as a deterrent, but it’s not a long-term solution. We are thinking in terms of legislation, especially for questions such as: Who keeps track of the infractions? This requires work and extra resources.”
Manslaughter charge and calls for helmets
Mr Roussel highlighted another bad accident that ended even more tragically, just last month, when a British five-year-old girl was accidentally killed by another skier.
He said: “In January, a little five-year-old girl had even less chance than my son. In Haute-Savoie, she was fatally run over during a skiing lesson.”
The skier who hit her, a local man in his 40s, was later charged with manslaughter.
President Emmanuel Macron has responded to Mr Roussel, saying that he will discuss the issue with the Sports Ministry and ask local officials to consider the problem.
It comes after a series of severe accidents on the slopes this year, including a crash that caused the death of César-winning French actor Gaspard Ulliel, aged 37.
Mr Ulliel’s tragic death has sparked calls for helmets to be made compulsory, and for certain slopes to be reclassified by colour on a case-by-case basis, depending on their perceived danger.
There are around 130,000-160,000 winter sports accidents in France every year, and around 20 deaths.