A 34-year-old father of one who fell to his death had taken off his skis on a cliff in the French Alps because there was no route down the mountain, an inquest has learned.
Mike Rowell was crossing an off-piste stretch in the world-famous French resort of Chamonix, near Mont Blanc, when he died in the “desperately tragic accident” earlier this year.
The Winchester Coroner’s Court heard that Mr Rowell, a chartered accountant, was an accomplished skier who had been skiing with friend Niall Jones when they ran out of trails and quit on March 12 this year.
Mike Rowell, a chartered accountant, was an accomplished skier
Mike Rowell was crossing an off-piste stretch in the world-famous 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 went forward to inspect the route and disappeared moments later, leaving only a ski sticking out of the snow.
The married father of one child is believed to have fallen about 80 feet. His cracked helmet was uncovered on the slope 160 feet below where his body was found by rescuers near the exclusive resort of Chamonix.
The resort is located at the foot of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps and Western Europe at more than 4,800 m above sea level.
Chamonix Valley is considered one of the best ski resorts in the world for experienced skiers due to the extensive off-piste terrain.
Mr Rowell’s wife, Helen, told the inquest that her husband was an accomplished skier and took no chances.
“Mike was a very calm, kind, generous and smart man,” she said. “We had spent a lot of time skiing together.
“He hadn’t skied for four years prior to the trip… He was definitely capable of skiing off-piste.”
Mr Jones told the inquest that he and Mr Rowell had been skiing at 2,100 meters and that conditions were sunny and warm on the day Mr Rowell died.
Mr Rowell’s wife, Helen, told the inquest that her husband was an accomplished skier and took no chances
The Chamonix Valley Resort is located at the foot of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps and Western Europe at more than 4,800 m above sea level
They had spent the first day on red and black slopes. The slopes are color-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 exploring our feet on red and black runs on day one,” said Mr Jones. “That night we did some research on the Vallée Blanche area of Chamonix.
On the day Mr. Rowell died, the couple decided to go skiing between runs.
“We skied five descents before we reached the top of the Flégère,” Mr Jones told the inquest. “We decided to ski between a red and a black slope. There were many previous ski slopes so we knew they had been traversed by others.
“We skied only 10 to 20 meters apart.
“Around 10:50 a.m. we reached a point with no ski tracks. Mike went forward to see if there was a route to depart.
“He called back that there was no route, so I took off my skis and walked up the hill to where we last saw tracks.
“Because of the terrain, there was no direct line of sight between us, so I called him to see where he was.
“There was no reply so I called him but still no reply. My first thought was that he had skied down.’
Chamonix Valley is considered one of the best ski areas in the world for experienced skiers due to the extensive off-piste terrain (pictured the top of the Aiguille du Midi in the Chamonix Valley)
It wasn’t until Mr. Jones was walking down the hill that he saw a single ski sticking out of the snow.
“I had to carefully dig in each foot to get down,” he said. “I called him and called him again, but there was no answer…”
He called the French mountain rescue service at 11:05 am and a helicopter was dispatched to the scene.
They reached Mr Rowell of Farnborough, Hampshire, but he died instantly from multiple injuries.
Hampshire Coroner 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,” said Mr. Pegg.
“They stopped to re-evaluate it and Mike went up front to see if there was another run. They decided to turn back and Mr. Jones returned up the hill after taking off his skis.
“Mike slipped while taking off his skis and slid over an edge, falling from a considerable height.
“He suffered numerous fatal injuries in a most tragic accident. He just misjudged the area he was in.’