I’m sure you have seen the news, but if you haven’t our friend Marc Sutton was accidentally killed last weekend by a hunter, while riding his bike in Morzine, France.
I can’t believe I just wrote that. It is still fresh and it has rocked our little community. Our community is based in and around Morzine, France. In the winter it is a huge ski area, and during the summer, a Mecca for mountain bikers. These are the reasons we moved here. Our circle of friends is our family, and Marc was deeply rooted in that family.
As he was a close friend, I thought I would put some words together to celebrate him and raise awareness of this needless tragedy.
First of all, WHAT A GUY! Marc loved everything about the mountains and what they had to offer. During the winter he spent as much time as possible snowboarding and splitboarding. A fearless snowboarder, that had a habit of throwing himself off jumps and cliffs in to fresh powder.
In the summer, a fearless mountain biker. I’d love to show you some GoPro footage of him, but he was always way faster than me, and always disappeared out of shot very quickly. However, he was always waiting for me with a big “stoked” grin on his face. I do have this video of Marc sending it in Les Gets though.
He knew his way round a kitchen too. Owning his own catering company with his girlfriend Jo, he would prepare amazing meals for his guests. We loved going round to Marc and Jo’s place for menu testing before the start of each season.
But, his dream was to own a restaurant, which came true. Marc and Jo opened Wild Beets Kitchen in Les Gets. This wasn’t easy for them, but they did it, and I couldn’t be more proud of them. How they managed this while living the mountain lifestyle is astonishing.
There has been some horrible things said in the press about Marc. I can’t possibly imagine them being true, and I am not going to give the accusers anymore press. They are only increasing the hurt his friends and family are already going through. This is not hurting Marc, so what is the point? These accusations also have nothing to do with the incident.
When the summer holiday season has finished in and around Morzine, hunting season starts. Hunters, go in to the mountains and hunt for wild boar and deer. One of the reasons is to control the population of these animals, the other reason is for sport.
Marc was riding his bike on a mountain bike trail, on the Super Morzine side of the valley. There were other mountain bikers up there too, as it is still popular, even when the lifts are not running. The trails are easily accessible from the road and the hiking trails. There are a few houses in the vicinity too.
Marc came out of the woods on his bike in to a clearing, the young hunter heard him and presumably fired without verifying his target. He was just 40 metres away from Marc, who was wearing his usual brightly coloured clothing.
Our only hope is that he was having the ride of his life when it happened, and he knew nothing about it.
The rescue helicopter was hovering above my apartment, this is reasonably common during the summer, as they pick up injured riders on the trail quite often. However, when I saw the amount of police cars and bikes heading up the road, I knew it wasn’t a “normal” rescue, and I had no idea that it was one of our friends.
We got the news the following morning. I was to go riding with Marc that afternoon to Samoëns.
It is permitted to hunt four days per week during the hunting season, including the weekends. Although holiday season is over, the mountains attract lots of people for weekend hikes and riding. The area allocated to hunters is huge and actually overlaps with populated areas. There is a mobile phone app that is supposed to tell you which areas are being hunted in called Chasseco. The app is currently showing a large pink area saying that there is no hunting allowed. This is due to a temporary hunting ban.
During hunting season the pink area is usually grey, meaning hunting is allowed and you can see that nowhere is safe! Hunters could be anywhere with powerful weapons. Some people suggest they may have had a few drinks too.
The guns used are seriously powerful and have a range of over a mile. Bullets, do not respect boundaries, this is why a woman was shot in her back garden last year. Marc was the 35th victim of hunting since 2016 in France.
If you are not in the mountain lifestyle, you may think that being in areas where hunters are, is a bit irresponsible. However, hunters are the ones with the guns, they need to manage the risk better. They need to create awareness too. The app and the signage is too ambiguous. They also say “share the mountains”. But, the proximity of the hunters to civilization means that it is actually dangerous for some people to leave their houses 4 days of the week. Recently, a French jogger was killed when a bullet went through a hedge.
I would also like to add that not all hunters are irresponsible. As with any activity, you have the human element. It is just that some activities have higher consequences when they go wrong or not carried out responsibly.
We accept that mountain sports and activities have an element of risk, and we do what we can to manage those risks. When we are snowboarding and skiing, we wear helmets. In the back country, we have avalanche kits and transceivers with the knowledge to use them. On bikes, we wear helmets and other protective gear. However, accidents still happen, and as tragic as they are, they are a part of mountain life. But, when we think of these accidents, we think of avalanches and falls, not bullets. This is a risk we can’t manage.
A Change in the Law
What is needed, is a change in the law. I think a total ban would be unrealistic, but the hunting needs to be controlled. The community has started a campaign to get it changed. We want better signage and a time limit for hunts at the weekends. Additionally, we want more accurate information on where the hunts are taking place. The hunts should take place miles from where people will be, on private or remote land. This is to ensure that no members of the public are within range.
With respect to controlling the animal population, there must be some statistics for how many animals need to be culled each season. Therefore, a sufficient timeframe can be proposed to do what is necessary, so the hunting season can be shortened.
We want to do it the right way, and have conversations with the hunting community to work out the best course of action. There is a large British community in the area, but we don’t want this to become an English v French thing. The campaigners are both English and French, bullets don’t care where you are from. We are doing this to save lives, not to break tradition. These changes need to be implemented all over France, as hunting is not limited to this corner of the alps.
Don’t be put off
I have seen a few comments on social media that people don’t want to come to Morzine to ride due to hunting. During the summer, when the lifts are open, hunting does not take place. So, please don’t let this tragedy and the stories put you off coming here. It is a fantastic place, with enough varied terrain for all mountain bikers and a great atmosphere.