January 10, 2014 3:59 pm

Ford faces scrutiny for avalanche advert

Spanish skier Aymar Navarro managing to dramatically outrun the avalanche

Carmaker Ford has come under fire for a television commercial showing a skier triggering an avalanche.

The advert, set to rousing electronic music, shows Spanish skier Aymar Navarro managing to dramatically outrun the avalanche before skiing down to his waiting Ford and calmly driving off. In fact, during filming Navarro was buried up to his neck in an avalanche then rescued by helicopter, though this is not shown.

Mountain guides have criticised the advert not just for insensitive timing – it was screened over the Christmas holidays in the UK, as Europe suffered a spate of avalanche deaths and accidents such as that to Formula One veteran Michael Schumacher and German chancellor Angela Merkel – but because it glamorises risk-taking and implies strong skiers can simply outrun avalanches.

“It’s inexcusable,” says Nigel Shepherd, a mountain guide and safety adviser to the Ski Club of Great Britain. “I feel sad for anyone who has lost a friend or relative in an avalanche who might see this.”

A spokesman for Ford said it “appreciated the concern over the recent and tragic ski related accidents”. He said the advert was filmed in the “typical style of adventure ski videos” and that an onscreen caption notes it was performed by a professional skier.

Though not shown in the Ford commercial, footage of Navarro getting caught in the avalanche was circulated online last year. He later attributed his survival to the fact he was wearing an avalanche airbag – a rucksac which, when the wearer pulls an emergency handle, releases compressed gas to inflate one or more large bags, which can help to bring the wearer to rest near the top of the avalanche rather than buried beneath it.

ABS, the manufacturer of the airbag Navarro was wearing, used the footage for its own commercial, released on its website and YouTube. It too provoked controversy, including an angry editorial from US magazine Powder accusing it of encouraging a false sense of security and perpetuating the idea that wearing an airbag is enough to ensure safety off piste.

Conditions in the Alps continue to be treacherous, particularly in Switzerland, where 12 have died since Christmas, compared to 22 for the whole of last winter. The worst accident, on January 5, killed three skiers and their guide above the village of Mase, in the Val d’Hérens. They were taking part in a course on avalanche safety.

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