At around 10:20am on Monday 18 January 2021, ten people were caught in an avalanche below Les Attelas in Verbier – pictured below. All ten, who were wearing avalanche detectors, were found, however, a 38 year old British citizen and resident of Verbier died and another was rushed to hospital in a helicopter, according to a police report. The avalanche occurred in a chute known as the “Rock n Roll couloir”.
Later on the same day at around 12:20, a 29 year old man from Ireland living in Valais died in an avalanche near Verbier in an area known as stairway to heaven. The man was recovered and airlifted to hospital where he died from his injuries, according to another police report.
Both of these avalanches were triggered when skiers skied across wind slabs, sheets of snow hardened by the wind.
The day before on Sunday, 17 January 2021, a 46 year old Swedish citizen living in Vaud fell and died while skiing in the Lac des Vaux area at Verbier. The man was skiing with his wife and two children who alerted the authorities when he failed to turn up at the bottom of a run. It appears the man fell from a 6-metre high rock due to poor visibility and died in hospital from his injuries.
On the same day, a 19 year old local man lost his life in an avalanche at Rocher de Naye near Montreux, said a police report.
Over the weekend another skier died near Gstaad and three others in the Canton of Graubunden, bringing the three-day skiing death toll to seven and the season total to 15.
One reason for the high number of lethal accidents recently is a dangerous confluence of events. A deep layer of powder has fallen on top of a hard snow base and the bond between these two layers is weak. This combined with excellent weather and fears that lifts might close due the the pandemic seems to have prompted some off piste skiing enthusiasts to throw caution into the wind.
In a social media post freeride legend Xavier De La Rue, who was skiing nearby when the avalanche occurred at Les Attelas, described the harrowing experience of trying to save the life of his friend. De La Rue warned of the perils of dropping into an enticing line and described the pain of losing a friend. “I want you to know this so that you think about this before you drop into a line, you take all the precautions, you know your equipment, you turn back or even stay home”, he said.