The 27th December was a chaotic day in the Tarentaise from Albertville via Bourg-St Maurice to Val d’Isere. This chaos was the combination of several factors: the volume of traffic; a heavy snowfall arriving overnight after a long snow “drought”; poorly equipped vehicles; poor driving and the management of the situation by the local services and police.
The volume of vehicles was nothing out of the ordinary for a peak ?change over day? in the Tarentaise valley with up to 30,000 vehicles using the dual-carriageway from Albertville to Moutiers. The peak weekends for Christmas week, the New Year and the February half-term periods are typically this busy.
Up until this weekend there was virtually no lying snow below about 1600m. The roads were all ?black?. The snow started to fall late of Friday night and continued all night and by the morning about 40 cm had accumulated at my home overlooking the valley at 600m. I was on the roads that day but going across the flow of traffic into the Beaufortain.? I experienced no difficulty in driving despite the snowfall; so the amount of snow, per se, was not the key factor.
Living here all year I change my wheels over some time in November for another set; all equipped with snow / winter tyres. I also put a set of chains in the boot, alongside a pair of work gloves and a proper metal shovel. Many tourists from elsewhere in France or further afield understandably didn’t factor in this sudden change in conditions. So, they came with normal summer tyres and no chains. Those with chains had almost certainly never practised putting them on and being faced with the task in deep snow and with cold and wet hands struggled to do so.
With a high volume of vehicles it only takes one or two vehicles to become stuck for a traffic jam to quickly develop. Anticipation was lacking and rather than stop and put on chains before becoming stuck motorists pushed on until unable to move further; blocking the road or if on the dual-carriageway reducing it to one lane. There are designated ?putting on chains areas? off the road in many places.
Finally the management of the situation could have been better. On occasions the police check vehicles are properly equipped (chains or winter tyres) before allowing them to proceed. This appeared to have happened but not far enough in advance. If this had happened at the level of Albertville the chaos further on could have been avoided. Clearly once the roads become blocked with vehicles snow ploughs and other emergency services are unable to do their job.
What could be done better? In Germany and some other countries winter tyres are obligatory. Should France do the same for at least the Alpine areas? Encouraging the use of the railway that runs up the Tarentaise as far as Bourg St Maurice rather than having a colossal volume of cars that drive up only to be left parked for the whole week. This could be combined with coach services to take people from the ?rail-head? to the resort. Food for thought?