At least four skiers were killed Friday in an avalanche in the French Alps, the deadliest of the winter so far, police said.
Another person was injured and has been hospitalised, while their guide escaped unharmed from the avalanche in the area around Entraunes in the southern Alps, local authorities in the Alpes-Maritimes department said.
They were swept away while skiing off-piste near the Mercantour National Park, not far from France’s border with Italy.
“These valleys are highly popular with off-piste skiers because it’s beautiful and wild,” said Christophe Ollivier, a local official in nearby Vesubie.
The skiers had been staying at a guesthouse in Estenc and had started out toward the Cayolle pass with their guide at around 10:00 am (0900 GMT).
The French Alps have experienced heavy snowfall since the start of the week, as a blast of icy weather from Siberia — dubbed “the Beast from the East” — engulfs Europe.
The avalanche risk for the region is high, currently at four on a scale of one to five, according to the Meteo France weather agency.
Deputy prefect Gwenaelle Chapuis told BFM television that a police inquiry would determine “if this was recklessness or not”.
A total of 20 people have now died since France’s ski season began in November, and 12 have been injured.
On February 15 an avalanche in the Pyrenees mountains killed three skiers.