The death toll from avalanches in the French Alps this winter is the highest since records began, 35 years ago. So far, 53 people, mostly skiers and snowboarders, have been killed—and the spring thaw, which often triggers snowslides, hasn’t even started. Meteorologists say blame rests with the unusual weather in the mountains last December. An early snowfall was followed by a long freeze with no additional precipitation. That created a grainy, unstable layer of snow. Subsequent heavy snowfalls piled on top of that layer, setting the conditions for deadly avalanches. “The dangers were in place from the start of the season,” said Pierre Vray of France’s national weather service. Alpine rescuers recommend that skiers carry avalanche transceiver beacons at all times, so they can be located should they be buried under the snow.
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