Nearly 300 destructive avalanches during 'dramatic' Swiss winter

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Nearly 300 destructive avalanches during 'dramatic' Swiss winter
A 300-metre wide avalanche hit the restaurant of the Hotel Säntis in Schwägalp, eastern Switzerland on January 10th. Photo: Kantonspolizei Appenzell Ausserrhoden

A total of 299 avalanches causing property damage or injury were reported in Switzerland up to the end of April while 19 people lost their lives.


That is the balance provided by Switzerland’s WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF) in a report published on Tuesday.

All but one of the 19 people killed in avalanches during the winter were participating in outdoor sports in unsecured terrain, the SLF said. The only exception was a ski patroller who died on an open ski run in the canton of Valais.

In late April, in what was the deadliest single avalanche accident of the season, four Germans were killed – also in Valais.

A map showing avalanche fatalities for the period from October 2018 to the present.

The 20-year average for avalanche deaths in the six-month winter period is 21.

The SLF drew special attention to the six deaths in the western part of the northern flank of the Alps in the winter of 2018–19. It said these were “caused by snowpack that remained unfavourably bonded for a prolonged period”.

This was described as “an unusual occurrence for the region".

A dramatic winter

The SLF report paints a picture of a dramatic winter.

Very heavy snowfall followed by storm-force winds at the beginning of the year saw the institute predicting “very high” avalanche danger on January 14th.

There were a large number of avalanches at that time – many of them containing a large amount of “snow dust” and therefore travelling long distances, the SLF said.

However, thanks to structural defences, danger zone maps, and the work of the avalanche authorities, no lives were lost during this period.

Caution is still required

The SLF said people engaging in mountain sports should continue to pay heed to avalanche warnings in spring and summer. Daily reports are still being issued for now and will continue to be published as required in summer and autumn.


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