December 28, 2021

The snow groomer that passed to the other side

  • Sierra Nevada exhibits on the roundabout at the access to Pradollano one of the only two snow groomer that has crossed the Carihuela of the Veleta in the direction of Mulhacén. It did so in order to take part in the rescue work after the tragic avalanche of 1989 on the slopes of the emblematic summit.

Since that fateful Sunday, 12 February 1989, the path parallel to the Mulhacén River, not far from the summit, has been known as the "Paso de los Franceses (French Pass)", where a huge avalanche swept down and took the lives of 6 French mountaineers. A seventh member of the expedition, who left Bubión at dawn, saved her life and saw her companions swallowed up by the avalanche.

It was one of the greatest tragedies the Sierra Nevada has ever known. In the hours and days following the avalanche, a large number of people were mobilised to try to recover the mountaineers: the Army, the Civil Guard, Civil Protection, the Spanish Ski School, volunteer mountaineers....

And also a team of rescuers from the ski resort with Dean Platt and Pedro Pertíñez. Such was the volume of snow that the avalanche moved (the newspaper El País spoke of "tons of snow, mud and stone (...) The avalanche reached a width of some 200 metres") that the rescue teams considered that the Cetursa snow grooming machines would be of great help in moving the mass in search of the bodies.

So, Sierra Nevada machinists Pepe Morillas, Pepe Villén and Rafael Sánchez set off from Borreguiles with two machines: Rolba-Ratrac LMC 3700 and Rolba Ratracc TT 260. Following the old Veleta road (coinciding with the El Águila track), the two ratracs crossed the Carihuela del Veleta to the other side, something that had never happened before or since.

Four of the six bodies were recovered the day after the avalanche.

During the following days, the Rolba-Ratrac machines were at the orders of the rescue services, moving snow in search of the two still missing mountaineers until they managed to locate them.

One of those Rolba-Ratrac LMC 3700 snow groomer has been restored and placed at the Pradollano access roundabout, at kilometre 31, next to the old Veleta gondola lift.