Almost 30 died in avalanches in Swiss Alps last winter

Archive shot from 2015 showing a blast-triggered avalanche for test purposes, in canton Valais. Keystone

The winter of 2017-2018 was characterised by “extraordinary” snowfall in the Swiss Alps and a greater number of avalanche deaths than usual, according to an annual study released on Thursday.

This content was published on May 3, 2018 - 14:07

Overall, some 250 “destructive avalanches causing property damage or personal injury” were reported the past winter, the Davos-based Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF) wrote in its winter reportExternal link covering the period up to and including April 30.

A total of 26 people – all involved in winter sports – died in 19 separate avalanche incidents throughout the year. The average annual figure is 21.

Eighteen of the victims (around two-thirds of the total) were engaged in backcountry ski tours; one person was caught in an avalanche while on an open winter hiking trail; while two larger avalanche accidents claimed the lives of three and four people, respectively.

The institute, which belongs to the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), also flagged the rare publication on January 22 of the highest possible avalanche danger level (level 5, or “very high”) over a wide area. It’s the first time the publication reached this level since 1999, and the predictions proved accurate with many resorts in the Valais and Graubünden regions cut off due to heavy snow.

As for the winter weather, the institute said that while it was one of the “most snowy of the past 30 years” above 1,500 metres in altitude, down below 1,000 metres only about half the normal amount of snow fell.

While this may not have been good news for some ski resorts, SLF said that the moist snow at mid-level altitudes “slowed down the powder avalanches triggered at higher altitudes and thus prevented them from reaching any settlements”.

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