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A winter of record highs and lows reported

Despite the large amount of snow that fell last winter, fewer people were killed by avalanches than the average for many years past.

The Institute of Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF) in Davos said on Tuesday that by the middle of April 15 people had been killed in avalanches. Last year it was 26, and the average is 25.

However, on the very day in which the figures were announced, two more people died. One, a man from the canton of Basel Country, was in a party of five backcountry skiers in the Lower Engadine, when he was swept away. One of the others was slightly injured.

In the other incident, a Dutchman, also backcountry skiing, was killed in canton Valais. A friend who was also caught in the avalanche was able to free himself and raise the alarm.

The SLF said the winter had been full of contrasts. At the beginning of December there had been less snow than at any similar period since 1953. But between December and the end of January, more than half the SLF’s measuring stations had had two or three times as much fresh snow as the annual average. In Ulrichen in canton Valais, and Samedan in canton Graubünden, records had been broken.

In some places the snow was deeper than it had been since measurements were first taken 60 years ago. At the Weissfluhjoch above Davos it measured 270 centimetres, 20 more than the previous record in 1951.

Meanwhile it was also announced on Tuesday that many of the major passes will remain closed until late May or early June, much later than in 2011. The St Gotthard is expected to reopen on May 23, about a month later than last year. The Susten, between cantons Bern and Uri, will probably not reopen until June 22, whereas in 2011 it opened at the end of May.

Among the earliest passes to reopen will be the Oberalp, linking Andermatt in canton Uri and Sedrun in canton Graubünden, at the end of April, and the Flüela, Splügen and San Bernadino, all of them in Graubünden, in early May.

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