A 34-year-old father-of-one who plummeted 80ft to his death had been taking his skis off on top of a cliff in the French Alps because there was no route down the mountain, an inquest has heard.
Mike Rowell was traversing an off-piste section at the world-renowned French resort of Chamonix near Mont Blanc when he died in the ‘desperately tragic accident’ earlier this year.
Winchester Coroner’s Court heard that Mr Rowell, a chartered accountant, was an accomplished skier who had been skiing with his friend Niall Jones when they ran out of ski tracks and stopped on March 12 this year.
Mike Rowell was traversing an off-piste section at the world-renowned French resort of Chamonix near Mont Blanc when he died in the ‘desperately tragic accident’ in March
Mr Jones told the court that Mr Rowell had gone forward to inspect the route and that he vanished moments later, leaving only one ski sticking out of the snow.
According to reports, the married father of one fell around 80ft. His cracked helmet was uncovered on the slope 160ft below where his body was found by rescuers near the exclusive resort of Chamonix.
The resort is nestled at the foot of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps and western Europe at more than 4,800m above sea level.
Chamonix Valley is considered one of the best resorts in the world for expert skiers due to the area’s extensive off-piste terrain.
Mr Rowell’s wife, Helen, told the inquest that her husband was an accomplished skier and that he didn’t take risks.
‘Mike was very calm, kind, generous, clever man,’ she said. ‘We had spent a lot of time skiing together.
‘He hadn’t been skiing for four years before the trip… He was definitely capable of skiing off-piste.’
Mr Jones told the inquest he and Mr Rowell had been skiing at 2,100 metres and that conditions were sunny and warm on the day Mr Rowell died.
Chamonix Valley resort is nestled at the foot of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps and western Europe at more than 4,800m above sea level
They had spent the first day on red and black ski runs. The runs are colour coordinated to indicate difficulty, with red for those who can control their speed on steep or uneven terrain and black for expert skiers.
‘We both spent some time of the first day finding out feet on red and black runs to begin with,’ Mr Jones said. ‘That night we did some research on the Vallée Blanche area of Chamonix.
On the day on Mr Rowell’s death, the pair decided to ski between two runs.
‘We skied five runs before we reached the top of the Flégère,’ Mr Jones told the inquest. ‘We decided to ski between a red and black run. There were lots of previous ski tracks so we knew it had been traversed by others.
‘We were skiing along with only 10 to 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.’
Chamonix Valley is considered one of the best resorts in the world for expert skiers due to the area’s extensive off-piste terrain (Pictured – the top of Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix Valley)
It was only when Mr Jones walked back down the hill that he could see a single ski sticking out of the snow.
‘I had to carefully dig in each foot to get down,’ he said. ‘I called out to him and phoned him again but there was no response..’
He called French Mountain Rescue at 11:05am and a helicopter was dispatched to the scene.
They reached Mr Rowell, from Farnborough, Hampshire, but he had died instantly of multiple injuries.
Coroner for Hampshire, Jason Pegg, recorded a verdict of accidental death.
‘Mr Rowell and Mr Jones lost the ski tracks they were following on an off-piste section,’ Mr Pegg said.
‘They stopped to re-assess and Mike moved forward to see if there was another run. They decided to turn back and Mr Jones back up the hill having removed his skis.
‘Mike slipped in the process of removing his skis and slipped down over an edge, falling from a significant height.
‘He suffered numerous fatal injuries in what was a desperately tragic accident. He simply misjudged the area where he was.’