Skier killed in Swiss avalanche

A 38-year-old Swiss skier was killed earlier this week in an avalanche as he descended Mount Pilatus. His companion managed to escape unharmed.


Just before five o’clock on Wednesday afternoon, an avalanche broke on Mount Pilatus, in the canton of Nidwalden. 

Two men on a ski tour were making their way down towards Klimsenhorn when a slab of compressed snow was released, sweeping one of the skiers 600 metres down the mountain, and burying him in snow.

Unharmed by the avalanche, the second man was able to contact REGA, the Swiss air-rescue service that provides emergency medical assistance across Switzerland.

Despite the diminishing light and foggy conditions, the REGA team managed to locate the man using avalanche rescue dogs, and pulled the young father from under the snow. The team transported the man by helicopter to Luzern Cantonal Hospital, where he later died from his injuries.

Police reported on Thursday that the accident occurred 1,900 metres above sea level, and that the avalanche was likely to have been triggered by the men’s movements.

According to the Swiss Avalanche Research Institute in Davos, danger of avalanches on Wednesday was judged to be moderate. Several helicopters had to be employed for the rescue mission because of the bad weather conditions.

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Weather warning: Part of Swiss Alps placed on high avalanche alert

Due to the heavy snowfall in recent days and more expected until the weekend, an avalanche warning is issued for Switzerland’s southern canton of Valais.

Weather warning: Part of Swiss Alps placed on high avalanche alert
Avalanche warnings should be taken very seriously. Photo by AFP

Valais authorities said the current avalanche risk level is between 4 and 5, meaning ‘high’ to ‘extreme’.

The population is urged to stay at home. When out, they should obey the signs and especially stay away from the avalanche corridors, officials warned.

Significant amounts of snow have fallen in the area in recent days, dumping 1 metre of snow above the altitude of 2,000 metres in the upper part of the canton. Between 30 and 40 centimetres are still expected. 

The highest risk of avalanches is in the Goms valley, the Zermatt valley, as well as the entire right bank of the Rhône. 

Some particularly threatened areas could even be evacuated, authorities said.

People planning to go skiing in Valais over the next few days should check snow conditions and avalanche warnings in place, especially as many roads, mainly in Upper Valais, are cut off, and a number of villages in the Goms Valley, Lötschental and the Zermatt region are no longer accessible by road or train. 

The Avalanche Bulletin is a good source of information not just for Valais, but for all of Switzerland’s mountain regions.

READ MORE: Is the pandemic to blame for Switzerland's spate of avalanche deaths? 

Avalanches have been particularly deadly in Switzerland this winter, having claimed 14 lives so far — well above the average yearly figure of eight people.

Avalanches have caused casualties in the mountains of Valais, Vaud, Graubünden, Obwalden and Schwyz. 

With many people concerned about the potential for contracting coronavirus on the slopes, the idea of skiing off piste has become more attractive. 

But this practice can trigger massive avalanches, so it is crucial to stay away from unsecured slopes.

READ MORE: Large crowds on Swiss ski slopes spark concern over coronavirus spread