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Four skiers dead and five missing following avalanche in French Alps

The site of an avalanche at Lavachet Wall in Tignes, France, in which four snowboarders died
Neil Lancefield, Tom Ross and Thomas Hornall, Press Association

Four skiers have died and five others are missing after an avalanche in the French Alps.

The victims, all reportedly French nationals, were skiing off-piste at the resort of Tignes when they were hit by a massive wall of snow.

Images from the scene showed dozens of people with poles searching for survivors.

This week is one of the busiest of the season as it coincides with school holidays France and other parts of Europe.

Two of the victims were pulled alive from the snow but died later, according to local media reports.

The avalanche, said to have been triggered by a group of skiers higher on the slope, is the worst on French snow this season.

Fiona Best, PR manager at the Ski Club of Great Britain, described the area where the avalanche occurred, Lavachet Wall, as "notorious" and "quite a bit off piste".

"It's known to be a treacherous area to go to and with an avalanche warning of three out of five you would question whether or not you should really be heading over there," she said.

Around 10cms (4ins) of fresh snow fell on the slopes of the resort near the Italian border last week and more is forecast this week.

Experts said a strong wind and warmer temperatures had made an avalanche more likely.

The incident happened at around 2,100 metres (6,900 feet) at 9.35am Irish time.

Eight people had registered for the session with an instructor, according to reports.

Vicky Allen, a chalet rep, said: "There is a huge search effort still out - it's a very sad day for all of us working in the resort. It's devastating."

Richard Miller, an IT consultant from Cambridge, said: "I saw the piste patrol scrambling with dogs so suspected something was happening.

"Some of the lifts were closed this afternoon after staff were diverted to the search."

Three people had died in incidents in the French Alps and Pyrenees this year before Monday's avalanche.

An avalanche in the Apennines in central Italy last month left 29 dead after a hotel was crushed by tonnes of snow.

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