Avalanche Risk at Highest Level, Top Ski Resorts in Europe Cut Off

By Dylan Griffiths and Boris Groendahl | January 23, 2018

Some of Europe’s top ski resorts, including Zermatt in Switzerland and St. Anton in Austria, are cut off as the avalanche danger was raised to the highest level across large swathes of the Alps.

“The last time the risk was over such a widespread area was the “avalanche winter” of 1999,” said Julia Wessels of the Davos-based Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research.

In February 1999, an avalanche hit the village of Evolene in the Swiss canton of Valais, killing 12 people. Just two days later, more than 30 people died when an even bigger avalanche engulfed Galtuer in Austria. The difference now is that warmer temperatures mean there has been a lot less snow at lower altitudes, while safety measures have also improved, according to Frank Techel, an avalanche forecaster at the institute.

“It’s important to listen if authorities impose restrictions on ski and walking areas,” said Techel, adding that snowfall has been close to a record around Davos, where the World Economic Forum starts on Tuesday. “Some buildings have been evacuated in high hazard zones.”

The avalanche danger will diminish during Tuesday as the snow stops falling in the early hours of the morning, according to the institute.

Rail Disruption

Zermatt was cut off for a second time this year on Saturday evening as road and rail links were closed due to avalanche risk. While 300 people arrived and 500 left by helicopter on Sunday, poor visibility prevented the service from operating on Monday, Zermatt Tourism said.

“The road and rail links are definitely closed until tomorrow morning, and maybe longer,” said Simona Altwegg of Zermatt Tourism. The pistes are currently shut to the 9,000 tourists in the village.

About 30 roads and passes were closed in the Austrian Alps after about a meter of fresh snow fell in the western parts of the Tyrol, partially cutting off the ski resorts of St. Anton and Ischgl. In the Arlberg, Silvretta, and Stubai areas, the avalanche risk level was raised to the highest level of 5 for the first time since 1999, Rudi Mair, head of the Tyrol avalanche warning system, told Austrian public radio Oe1.

While tourists have the option of leaving St. Anton by road, there were no further arrivals and the Zurich-Vienna railway line was also halted between Landeck and Bludenz. Some lifts were still operating in St. Anton, but the resorts of Stuben and Ischgl are currently shut.

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