Experienced British skier died in off-piste fall in France, inquest told

<span>Photograph: Denis Balibouse/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Denis Balibouse/Reuters

An experienced British skier fell to his death while attempting to traverse an off-piste slope with a friend in the French Alps, an inquest heard.

Michael Rowell, 34, from Farnborough, Hampshire, who had skied since he was five, is thought to have slipped and fallen 24 metres (80ft) from an edge on to rocks.

Rowell, a chartered accountant, had been enjoying his first full day skiing in the Chamonix area with his friend Niall Jones in March.

The pair decided to ski off-piste between a black and a red run but realised it was not safe and stopped, intending to retrace their route and find a better approach.

Jones told the inquest in Winchester they had spent part of the day before finding their feet on marked ski runs. On the day of the tragedy they were skiing in warm and sunny conditions.

“We decided to ski between a red and black run,” said Jones. “There were lots of previous ski tracks so we knew it had been traversed by others.

“We were skiing along with only 10-20 metres between us. At about 10.50am we reached a point without any ski tracks. Mike went forwards to see if there was a route to ski down.

“He shouted back to me that there was no route so I took off my skis and started walking back up the hill to where we had last seen tracks.

“There was no direct line of sight between us because of the terrain, so I shouted down to him to see where he was. There was no response so I phoned him but there was still no response. My initial thought was that he had skied down.”

When Jones carefully walked back down the hill he could see a single ski sticking in the snow, the inquest heard. “I had to carefully dig in each foot to get down. I called out to him and phoned him again but there was no response.”

Jones called mountain rescue at 11.05am and they sent a helicopter. A French mountain rescue team reached Rowell but he had suffered multiple fatal injuries. They found his cracked helmet 50 metres (164ft) below where his body was discovered.

Rowell’s wife, Helen, said her husband did not take risks. “Mike was very calm, kind, generous, clever man. We had spent a lot of time skiing together,” she said. It was his first skiing trip for four years but she added: “They would have had their map out the night before, worked out where they were going to go, he was perfectly capable of skiing off-piste.”

Recording a verdict of accidental death, the coroner Jason Pegg said: “It seems Mike needed to remove his skis to make his way up the mountain ... and sadly he slipped down that area over an edge and tumbled on to the snow-covered rocks below.

“It seems to me this was a desperately tragic accident, he simply misjudged the area where he was and slipped leading to the fall. Those injuries were such that he passed away instantly.”