Skiers crushed by Alps avalanche after slopes were deemed safe to reopen

Two lawyers who were crushed while skiing in the Italian Alps died on a marked run which was closed the previous day due to avalanche fears, an inquest heard.

Barclays Bank employees Matthew – known as Matt – Ziegler, 43, and New Zealand national Katherine Clarke, 39, died in Veny valley near the ski resort town of Courmayeur on February 3.

The colleagues, both from London, were on a ski trip with 16 other Barclays employees when they separated from the group on the morning they were due to fly home.

Described as “highly experienced” skiers, they told others they were returning to Canale degli Spagnoli Val Veny for a final run.

St Pancras Coroner’s Court heard how a fellow employee said the group “did not worry too much” that they had not arrived for the shuttle bus, but raised the alarm at Geneva Airport.

Coroner Mary Hassell read a statement from lawyer Sarah Barker which said the group contacted Alpine rescue teams after messages sent to Mr Zeigler and Ms Clarke appeared to be unread.

The ski resort found neither Mr Ziegler nor Ms Clarke had used their cable car passes since 11am.

Ms Barker said: “We asked Barclays if they were able to reach them using their work phones, and we were able to get the coordinates, which were passed on.

“(Rescue teams) told us that they would not send out the helicopter.”

Rescue teams, who were also searching for two French snowboarders, suspended their efforts overnight and resumed at daybreak the following morning.

In a statement read by the coroner, an Italian police officer said the gully was “flooded” and their bodies were found under three metres of compact heavy snow between 9am and 10am on February 4.

They said: “Three (bodies) were found at the bottom of the snow mass and dug out.”

The officer said the day before the skiers died saw 80cm of snow fall on frozen terrain and an avalanche warning had been reduced on the morning of the accident.

A statement was read to the court from Mr Ziegler’s wife Victoria and Ms Clarke’s husband Jim Clarke-Sullivan, who both attended the inquest on Wednesday.

It read: “The risk level in the ski resort had been lowered from a high four to a considerable three on the morning of February 3.

“The cable car accessing the itinerary run had been closed on the (February) 2nd and reopened on (February) 3rd despite heavy snow.”

The statement also said no ski or snowboard tracks were found in the area, meaning rescuers did not believe the avalanche was triggered by anyone on the slope.

Families of Mr Ziegler and Ms Clarke were originally told the pair had been skiing off piste, but were later advised it had been an itinerary run – a run which is marked on the piste map but not groomed.

The coroner said: “I can see that there was a conflict of evidence between the description I was given by authorised officials and the description that was given by the two spouses of this being a marked ski run.”

She concluded the pair died accidentally.

Mr Ziegler, a skiing instructor, from east London, died of polytrauma brought on by an avalanche.

Ms Clarke, from Islington, north London, died of mechanical asphyxiation and deep freeze.

Ms Hassell concluded: “Having heard all the evidence it seems to me that there is only one possible determination, and that is an accident.”

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