Saturday, March 23, 2013

France: British Skier, 26, Dies, Alcohol Consumption in Cold Temperatures Can Contribute to Hypothermia

According to The Independent, Louis Robertson, 26, a British skier from Glasgow, reportedly died earlier today (March 23) while on a skiing holiday in the French Alps after having a number of beers in the cold weather and then walking back to his hotel, an apparent victim of hypothermia.

Mr. Robertson had been staying at the La Plagne resort in the Tarentaise valley in the Alps. Mr Robertson is said to have arrived at the resort on Sunday last with two friends. The victim went missing after leaving one bar and setting out for another, apparently trying to find a quicker route back to his hotel. 

COMMENT: Many skiers and snowboarders have died in drinking-related accidents in recent years, the most recent cited in my February 13, 2012 posting entitled, "Australian, 45, Succumbs, Dies While Walking to Hokkaidō Ski Resort."

An inquest last month (February) heard how a young British holiday rep had died after skiing into a snow cannon in Val D’Isere. He had drunk four beers beforehand.

In January, a British teenager drowned in an outdoor swimming pool after a night out with friends in Alpe d’Huez, another French ski resort. 

A campaign about the dangers of underestimating the risk of drinking at high altitude was launched four years ago by the then British Ambassador to France, Sir Peter Westmacott.

What has been well-established is that drinking in colder temperatures can increase the risk of hypothermia as alcohol increases the flow of adrenalin, causing blood vessels to dilate and increasing the flow of blood to the skin. It creates an illusion of feeling warmer while actually decreasing body temperature.

In April 2009, the body of a missing Brisbane skier, Scott McKay, was found two months after he left a bar in sub-zero temperatures.

Although an autopsy will hopefully disclose Robertson's cause of death, according to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinic's website, it is possible that the sub-zero temperature coupled with too much alcohol may be the culprit in sudden death.

While alcohol may make us feel warmer, it actually aids in decreasing core body temperature. Normally when we feel cold, it is because blood has flowed from our skin into the organs to keep our core body temperature warm.

After alcohol consumption, though, blood flows into the skin, giving us that warm feeling and making our faces flush, but leaving our body temperature to decrease rapidly.

The absence of this blood flow reflex during intoxication makes it quite possible for a person's body temperature to take a major dip without them even realizing it.

Hence, the decreased core body temperature brought about by intoxication can lead to fatal hypothermia in the case of an alcohol-induced coma in freezing temperatures.