11 Dead in European Avalanches at the Weekend

Julia Schneemann | | AvalancheAvalanche
An avalanche at the Austrian ski area of Hintertux in the Zillertal | Picture: Xaver Kröll via Lawinenwarndienst Tirol Instagram Page

Eight people died last weekend in avalanches in Austria alone, seven of which while skiing off-piste in various areas across the country, including near ski resorts in St. Anton at the Arlberg and Obergurgl. Sunday alone saw five people perish. Among the dead were tourists from New Zealand, China, and Germany. Sunday’s fatalities, unfortunately, also included the driver of a snow plow, who was buried in his vehicle by an avalanche while clearing a road.

Two people perished in an avalanche in Switzerland on Saturday in the canton of Graubünden, in the easternmost part of the country, and one female touring skier died in an avalanche in South Tyrol, Italy. 

Intensive warnings have been in place in all three countries. The avalanche warning level in Austria was at 4 during the weekend, which is the second highest level, and authorities registered 30 avalanches on the weekend. “Spontaneous mid-sized to large-scale avalanches are to be expected,” the Tyrolian Avalanche Warning Service said in a statement.

In Switzerland, the avalanche danger level likewise was at 4 for certain regions close to the Austrian border where recent snowfalls were highest and 3 for other large parts of southeast Switzerland. The Swiss avalanche bulletin stated for Saturday, “The new snow and wind slabs are lying on top of a weakly bonded old snowpack in all aspects. Whumpfing sounds and the formation of shooting cracks when stepping on the snowpack indicate the danger. Remotely triggered and natural avalanches are possible. Single winter sport participants can release avalanches very easily, including large ones.
Backcountry touring and other off-piste activities call for caution and restraint.”

Unfortunately, many people have ignored warnings, and all accidents — except for the snow plow driver —  happened in unsecured areas in the backcountry. Experts have criticized people’s reckless behavior and are calling for more caution, as the situation remains dangerous and alert levels remain elevated.

Please carefully consider your activities and risk assessment when going backcountry in Austria’s Tyrol, Italy’s South Tyrol, and Switzerland’s Graubünden, as the old snow layer has received an abundance of fresh snow which has not settled and remains precariously lose and, therefore unstable.

The avalanche danger in Austria has been lowered to level 3 as of Monday, February 6, 2023, in Austria, but experts stress that 50% of avalanches occur during level 3, so it is crucial to remain vigilant.

Avalanche at Hintertux, Austria | Picture: Xaver Kröll Instagram Account

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