WATCH: 700-metre wide avalanche swallows Swiss road

It should have been just another day on the job for pilots with Swiss Helicopter but even they couldn't contain their excitement as a massive controlled avalanche swept down over the Urseren Valley in the canton of Uri.

WATCH: 700-metre wide avalanche swallows Swiss road
Screen grab: Michael Zurfluh/Swiss Helicopter AG

“Wow. Wow!” crew member Michael Zurfluh can be heard saying in the video below which shows the avalanche devouring some 700 metres of the Furkastrasse road between Hospental and Realp – part of the approach to the Furka Pass which links the Swiss cantons of Uri and Valais.

Video: Michael Zurfluh/Swiss Helicopter AG

“We abandoned the landing and then stayed in a holding pattern so that we could watch the avalanche. That gave me time to film it,” Zurfluh told Swiss news site 20 Minuten.

The controlled avalanche was triggered at 4pm on Saturday for security reasons as there was still heavy snow cover on the mountains.

The man behind the operation, Fredi Gisler with the Uri cantonal road department, was also amazed by what he saw.

“A huge lot of stuff came down. The road was covered up to seven metres deep,” he told Swiss daily Blick.

Road clearing operations  immediately and drivers were able to use the road to Realp again from midday on Sunday. The 2,429-metre high Furka Pass itself is only open to traffic in summer.

Meteorologists warned recently that very warm temperatures and continued snow cover meant an increased risk of avalanches at the moment.



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