April 19th, 2002, Bella Coola, British Columbia, Canada. – It is with the deepest regret that O’Neill Europe announces that on the 18th April 2002, Gilles Voirol from Verbier (Switzerland) died in a freeriding accident during a snowboard video shoot in the mountains of Bella Coola.
Gilles, 27 years old and a Swiss citizen was a professional snowboarder who participated in the making of snowboard movies and was known as one of the best snowboarders in the world.
At the time of the accident he was participating in the shooting of professional footage for a snowboard film with O’Neill Europe. While completing his fifth run of the shoot, Gilles tragically lost control due to encountering dislodged snow created during the run. He struck an area of exposed boulders suffering injury to his head. The film crew and mountain guide were able to reach him immediately and fly him to a waiting ambulance for transport to the Bella Coola hospital within 26 minutes of the accident. At the Bella Coola hospital he was stabilized and later evacuated to Vancouver General Hospital. Unfortunately the head trauma he suffered was too severe and led to his death.
Gilles was not wearing protective headgear at the time of the accident. It is not a requirement that snowboarders wear protective headgear in British Columbia and many professional snowboarders and skiers choose not to use protective headgear. Present at the time of the accident was Jancsi Hadik both a personal friend of Gilles and a professional photographer. Jancsi reports that the film crew flew over the ski site three times observing the terrain and assessing the safety issues before commencing the run. Gilles spent ten minutes with binoculars looking at the snow conditions and his descent line and expressed confidence in his selection. Jancsi who has worked with Gilles for 6 years stated that he’d watched Gilles ride down difficult terrain “hundreds of times” and this run was “no different.”
“I’ve seen Gilles survive numerous falls in the past, this time he was unlucky that he went into a rocky area; three meters in either direction and he might have avoided the rocks.”
Rich Prohaska, the guide and stunt safety coordinator, indicated that over a five-day period he had had an opportunity to observe Gilles’ preparation for his runs. “Gilles was a very cautious rider; he considered all of the safety elements. He did multiple flyovers, took Polaroid pictures to study the terrain and snow and discussed slough (the term used in the industry to describe the snow dislodged by a skiers movements) to plan his route,” said Prohaska.
“In my opinion Gilles took all the precautions necessary for this run.” At the time of the accident Prohaska was in the helicopter on a ridge adjacent to the run and had a full view of Gilles’ descent. “Everything went according to the pre-run briefing,” notes Prohaska, “except at the bottom. Gilles appeared to slow down unexpectedly and the slough caught up to him.”
Jancsi Hadik describing his friend stated: “Gilles took his sport and made it an art. He was one of my closest friends and an amazing athlete. He was lucky enough to know what he wanted out of life, and to realize his dreams. We will never forget him.”
Gilles Voirol was born in Belgium, but at a young age, his parents moved to Switzerland. After a short alpine racing career, Gilles decided early to follow his dream of freeriding. He earned his reputation through his amazing big mountain performances, his unique style and his positive attitude towards life.
We’ll remember Gilles as a super talented rider, a true enthusiast and a close friend.
Our thoughts are with his parents and his sister.
More information will be released in accordance with the wishes of Gilles’ family.