DAVOS With varying weather, skiers still need to remain vigilant about the avalanche risk over the next few weeks.
By the end of January at least 25 people had died in avalanche-related deaths in the Swiss and French Alps since Christmas. A fatality in Nandaz this week brought the seasonal total for Switzerland alone stood at 14, including seven in Valais and one in Vaud. The national average, however, has remained a constant 22 over the past 20 years, despite rising numbers of people engaged in outdoor sports such as skiing and trekking. Thomas Stucki, avalanche forecaster for the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research, attributes the linearity of this trend to “people having access to an array of information regarding avalanches and the attributed risks of mountain activities”.
Nevertheless, with school holidays underway, more skiers, especially children, are hitting the slopes. While the majority will stick to clearly defined areas, some will inevitably venture off-piste. Stucki emphasizes the importance of information: weather patterns and snow conditions, as well as snow-savvy behaviour. This includes “avoiding fresh wind-swept snow, going down steep slopes one-by-one and being aware of the dangers rising temperatures may have on unstable snowpacks”. Statistics show that a person completely buried by snow has slightly more than a 50% chance of survival. “This is why everyone partaking in these activities should carry a beacon, probe and shovel, to be used in that order to recover an avalanche victim,” added Stucki.