French investigators say Michael Schumacher was not skiing at excessive speed when he fell and smashed his head on a rock, leaving him critically ill in hospital.
In their first full account of the accident at the resort of Méribel in the French Alps, officials said they could not determine the exact speed the former Formula One star was going, but it appeared "normal for the terrain".
Patrick Quincy, the lead prosecutor in the inquiry, said Schumacher was a "very good skier" who knew the Méribel resort well.
"At one point his ski touched a rock, he lost his balance and fell forward. His head hit a rock three metres downslope," Quincy said.
Investigators said the rocks Schumacher hit, just eight metres from the nearest slope, appeared to be hidden by a light covering of recent snowfall.
Quincy said two teams of police and gendarmes were working on the inquiry and had spoken to many witnesses and experts. He added that speed "did not appear to be an important factor" in the accident on 29 December.
"We have examined the film in the camera fixed to Mr Schumacher's helmet and are transcribing it image by image to establish the place of the fall, the distance from the piste and the speed," he told a press conference in the Alpine town of Albertville.
Schumacher, 45, was skiing between a red piste, Les Chamois, and a blue piste, La Biche, at an altitude of 2,700 metres when he entered a small off-piste area between the two slopes heading back to Méribel.
He had left his chalet in the chic Alpine resort that morning with his 14-year-old son Mick and was wearing a back protector and using rented skis and a helmet on which he had fixed a camera.
After about four minutes, the pair were descending the red slope when Schumacher skied into the off-piste area.
Investigators suggested he was attempting to slow down but that it was not easy to make turns in the area. After falling and hitting his head, smashing his helmet, they said the German racing star was "inanimate".
Quincy said the film in the helmet camera – a GoPro model – was only two minutes long, gave a "very limited scope of vision", and was being re-analysed to establish "the circumstances and the cause" of the accident.
"The film doesn't appear to represent the whole descent. We don't see images of the accident in the field of vision. All you can hear is the gliding of skis on fresh snow. It is difficult to draw any conclusions from this," Quincy added.
Commander Stéphane Bozon said Schumacher was "a good skier and went off to the left of the marked piste. We cannot give an exact figure for the speed he was going, but this area is not one that allows you to turn very much to reduce speed," Bozon said.
Both prosecutors and police insisted the markings on the piste conformed to safety norms.
"But he was skiing outside of the marked zone … this carries a risk in itself on a mountain.
"The markings on the slope conform to the regulations. Unfortunately, it's a season where going off-piste is risky, where the rocks are hidden just below the snow."
The skis were almost new and not the cause of the accident, Bozon added.
Asked directly if Schumacher was at fault, Quincy refused to answer and said it was "too early" to attribute any responsibility for the accident.
Asked why he thought the racing driver had left the slope, he answered: "We don't know. If there are witnesses who do know, we have not heard from them. Mr Michael Schumacher is a good skier who knew Méribel well and who skied there often.
"Speed is not a particularly important element of the inquiry for us nor for the decisions we will make at the conclusion of the inquiry."
Colonel Benoït Vinnermann, of the local gendarme investigation team, said Schumacher was "going at a normal speed for this type of terrain".
Schumacher remains in a medically induced coma in hospital at Grenoble, where his condition is described as critical, but stable.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk