Skiers urged to stay on the piste
As the death toll among skiers in the Alps this season nudges two dozen, mountain safety officials are warning inexperienced winter sports enthusiasts not to stray off pisted runs.
Fresh snow in many resorts in the Alps and the Pyrenees means that the risk of avalanches will remain high over the half-term holiday.
Mountain rescue teams are concerned that unfit and inexperienced skiers will trigger avalanches by ducking under safety ropes and heading off-piste in the search for fresh powder.
As holidaymakers often stray off marked runs without adequate safety equipment, such as transceivers, shovels and air bags, their chances of surviving a major avalanche are slim, say officials.
Those who ignore avalanche warnings and head off-piste may also unwittingly risk invalidating their travel insurance, leaving them facing expensive rescue and medical bills if they are injured.
Travel insurance generally only provides cover for skiing off piste with a professional guide. It usually does not provide cover for skiers who ignore safety warnings.
To try to prevent irresponsible skiing, Italy is considering introducing fines of more than £4,000 for skiers who enter danger zones without proper equipment.
The Ski Club of Great Britain issued this statement on its website: The mountains should be treated with the highest respect at all times and the Ski Club always recommends that if you are skiing or thinking of skiing off-piste you should always do so with a qualified Rep or ski guide and carrying your avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel.