Snowfalls bring more instability in the Alps

23rd February 2015, by Abi Butcher

Five skiers have died in two separate avalanches in Switzerland and France this weekend

Five skiers have died in two separate avalanches in Switzerland and France this weekend

Heavy snowfalls over the weekend across the Alps have brought yet more treacherous conditions, with two more fatal avalanches in France and Switzerland as more than half a metre of snow fell in some places.

On Saturday, three Italian skiers died in an avalanche in Switzerland. They were in a group of five people in their fifties, ski touring near the Grand Saint-Bernard Pass on the Swiss-Italian border when they were caught in a slide at 2,300m in an area known as “The Valley of Death”. A fourth person died in hospital on Sunday.

On Sunday lunchtime, one man was killed and two women injured when a group of four French skiers were hit by an avalanche in the Tabor area just south of Grenoble at 1,700m. In both avalanches, all the skiers were wearing transceivers — and the avalanche danger level in the Grand Saint-Bernard Pass in Switzerland on Saturday was only two, with no recent snowfalls.

The heaviest snow fell on Saturday across the northern Aosta and Piedmont regions, with more conservative amounts falling across the rest of France and Switzerland.

Our snow guru Fraser Wilkin reports a dry start this morning on but says: “The next set of weather fronts are already knocking on the door of the north-western Alps this morning. These will bring further snow (and for a time some rain at low altitude) later today, mostly to the northern French and western Swiss Alps.”

Avalanche expert Henry Schniewind says in his latest blog: “This new snow is, and will be, coming down on an unstable snowpack this week on North’ish (W to N to E) sides of the mountain in most of the Alps above 2300 m. 

“South’ish facing slopes have a much more stable snowpack underneath the current and future fresh snow (until they are hit and warmed by the sun.”

The British Foreign Office has recently issued advice to UK skiers urging them not to head off-piste without being fully prepared. “Make sure you take and are able to use competently the appropriate equipment — an avalanche transceiver, a probe pole and a shovel”, says the advice, released in conjunction with the Ski Club of GB.

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