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Zermatt


Avalanche detection in the digital age


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A pioneering project in Zermatt is using radar to detect the start of an avalanche, enabling the authorities to close the main, exposed road to the alpine resort within seconds. (SRF/swissinfo.ch)

At the foot of the Matterhorn, Zermatt is one of Europe’s most popular mountain resorts. 

There are two ways to reach Zermatt: either by rail or the road that snakes up from the Rhone valley. This road however is in the direct path of two avalanche gullies. 

For the past three decades avalanche prevention measures such as controlled explosions – charges thrown out of a helicopter – have kept the threat in check.

Canton Valais has now gone one step further by installing a radar system that allows for much shorter response times. Once an avalanche is detected, barriers and traffic lights are activated to close the road.

The pilot project is being financed mostly by canton Valais. The department responsible for natural hazards is open to new technology that improves safety, subsidising new research projects every year.