The death of an Irishman and a British national has brought the number of people killed in avalanches in Switzerland this winter to 14.
On Monday, a 38-year-old British man, Jamie Clark, died after being swept away in an avalanche near Verbier.
Clark was among ten people hit by the avalanche.
One other skier was transmitted to hospital with serious injuries, while the other eight were unharmed.
As reported in Swiss media on Wednesday, the man was a chef at the Chez Dany restaurant in Verbier and a budding chocolatier who had lived in Switzerland for over ten years.
Also on Monday, a 29-year-old Irishman who lived in Valais died after an avalanche at Col des Gentianes at Siviez near Nendaz.
The man was among three skiers who were swept away. He was rescued after the avalanche but later died at hospital in Sion from his injuries.
The Irish man was involved in an accident near Siviez and was later airlifted to Sion, where he succumbed to his injuries.
On Sunday, 19-year-old Swiss died after an accident near Rochers de Naye.
Three people died on Saturday in three separate avalanches in the cantons of Graubünden, Obwalden and Schwyz, although specific details of the victims are still coming light.
Higher than average deaths this winter
As of Tuesday afternoon, January 19th, 14 people have died as a result of avalanche accidents in Switzerland, including six over the past weekend alone.
This is well above the average yearly figure of eight people.
The number also is higher than the fatality count from any winter over the past two decades, other than 2014-15 where 18 people died as a result of avalanches.
Is coronavirus to blame?
The pandemic has cut mobility and brought tourism almost to a standstill, but some experts have argued that lockdowns and other coronavirus measures have contributed to the higher than usual death rate.
As reported in Switzerland’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the one commonality between all of the fatal accidents is that they happened ‘off piste’, i.e. not on the secured slopes where the vast majority of skiers ski.
With many concerned about the potential for contracting the virus – and with ski resorts experiencing record popularity – the idea of going off piste has become more attractive.
But with Switzerland experiencing significant snowfall in recent weeks, the risk of avalanches has grown.
On Saturday, January 16th, the SLF Avalanche Bulletin carried the warning of a “very dangerous avalanche situation away from secured slopes”.
The central and eastern Alps had an avalanche warning of four, which includes a caution that “individual winter sports enthusiasts could very easily trigger avalanches”, reports the NZZ.
“The particularly dangerous conditions of this winter, with relatively little snow at the beginning and now extreme amounts of precipitation in some areas within a short period of time partially explain the sad result.”