French snowboarding champion Julie Pomagalski has tragically died at the age of 40 after being buried by an avalanche on the 10,000ft-high Gemsstock mountain in the Swiss Alps, where she was submerged by a huge sheet of snow.
The celebrated athlete, who represented her country at the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympic Games, had been snowboarding as part of a group of four people when an avalanche swept them away, killing two people including the French champion.
The group were set to freeride down the slope of the mountain course when they were caught under a huge sheet of snow.
“The Uri canton police received the report of an avalanche in the Steintaler area in the Unteralpta,” police in the Swiss canton of Uri said in a statement.
Former snowboard champion Julie Pomagalski dies in an avalanche in Switzerland, the avalanche caught three freeriders in the Steintäler area, in the Unteralptal, descending the Gemsstock, and also caused the death of a guide from the Alps. pic.twitter.com/2Beuq2bVqN— Moises Lopez (@chapoisat) March 24, 2021
“A group of four freeriders from France was on the descent from the Gemsstock. Suddenly, a slab came loose for reasons that are still unexplained.
"As a result, three people slid down the slope with the slab. One person was slightly injured and was flown to Uri Cantonal Hospital by Rega.”
The French Olympic team confirmed the death of their colleague, expressing condolences to Pomagalski’s family.
“The tragic death of Julie... leaves the French Olympic team in mourning," they said.
Toutes les pensées de l'équipe de France Olympique et du CNOSF vont à la famille de Julie Pomagalski, à ses proches, à @FedFranceSki. La disparition tragique de Julie, championne du monde de snowboard et Olympienne, laisse l'équipe de France OLY en deuil de l'une des siennes. pic.twitter.com/BtXqH398io— France Olympique (@FranceOlympique) March 23, 2021
In 1999, Pomagalski won the world championships in snowboard cross, adding a silver in the parallel giant slalom event at the 2003 World Championships.
Police said the avalanche struck on Tuesday as the group was descending from the Gemsstock mountain. The 2,961m (10,000ft) summit is popular with off-piste skiers because of its steep slopes and powder snow.
"For reasons still unknown, a sheet of snow broke away, sweeping three of the skiers away," officials said, who added that the pair who died were "completely buried". The third person caught by the slab escaped with minor injuries.
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