The storm came after several weeks of above-average temperatures, meaning the zero-visibility fog and icy winds caused temperatures to plummet below freezing levels, catching many experienced alpinists in the mountains off guard. 14 people died during the storm, with victims reported in the Italian, French, and Swiss portions of the Alps.
The single-largest tragedy struck a group of 14 skiers making their way along a path that begins in Chamonix below Mont Blanc and ends just below the Matterhorn at about 10,000 feet. On Sunday, as they approached their destination, the Vignettes Hut, at the foot of the Pigne d’Arolla peak, the storm engulfed the skiers.
The group’s guide, Italian Mario Castiglioni, went for help but he lost his way in the storm, fell over a cliff, and died. The rest of the group huddled down and had to spend the night outside in the blowing wind.
“Hell can only be a night like that and cold like that,” one survivor, an Italian named Tommasi Piccioli told local media.
When daylight arrived and the storm passed, the group found that one person had died in the night. They also realized they were only a five-minute ski from the hut.
Elsewhere in the Alps, two French skiers died in separate incidents. Two climbers went missing for a day and were later found after a days-long rescue effort. A Russian climber, still missing, has been presumed dead in the Valais Alps, a connected range just to the west. Two Swiss hikers were also found dead. A French hiker died after being taken to the hospital. And two French skiers died in an avalanche at the foot of Mont Blanc.
The Local, a Swiss news website, reported that it’s the deadliest few days in the Alps since 1999 when 12 people died in an avalanche near the Swiss city of Evolène.