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Fatal avalanche near Verbier
Saturday January 16, 2016 - Email this article to a friend

Two people died in an avalanche on Saturday. It follows another avalanche on Friday in Verbier and warnings of very dangerous conditions off piste across parts of the Alps. NEW

Two men died in the accident on Saturday afternoon that happened shortly after 2.30pm.

It occured in Tzoumaz which is part of the Verbier ski area.

A major search operation took place involving rescue teams, avalanche dogs and 5 helicopters.

Some of the helicopters flew over from Zermatt amid fears that more people were buried.

They were part of a group of 4 men skiing off piste in the trees and away from the marked runs at the time of the accident.

The avalanche was 200m wide and 300m long.

Start of the avalancheStart of the avalanche
















The local authorities say all members of the group were foreigners but neither their names, nor nationalities, have been released so far.

The avalanche risk at the time was 3 on a scale of 5.

An investigation is under way.

For video of the avalanche site and search operation then see here.

Search underwaySearch underway













We will bring you further details as we get them.

It brings the number of people that have died in avalanches this winter in Switzerland to 5.

Last weekend two others died as we reported in this article.

In Verbier on Friday a 29-year old man from Belgium was caught in this.

Verbier avalancheVerbier avalanche













The avalanche risk in the resort was also 3, but that is the level at which most deaths occur.

Off piste skiers believe it is safer but the larger numbers of people out raise the statistics.

The Verbier avalanche was in the Col de la Mouche area that is easily reached from the run known as Tortin.

It is just a short traverse away.

Other people had skied down it before the slide was triggered.

The man was partially buried and was quickly rescued by his friends, but it illustrates the fragility of the snowpack.

The area is a well known area for avalanches and there have been numerous fatalities in recent years.

The incidents follow heavy snow in the area and warnings from the authorities.

There are some of the most dangerous conditions of the winter at the moment. 

This is the stark warning from the Swiss Avalanche Institute this weekend:

"For those venturing off piste a critical avalanche situation will be encountered over a wide area."

It can't get much clearer than that.

Check out the video that we received of an avalanche that came across the road from Visp to Zermatt in Switzerland.

It shows the amount of snow that has fallen.

No-one was injured and all the motorists escaped unscathed.

As well as heavy snow across large parts of the Alps there have also been high winds that build up snowdrifts.

These are lying on top of a weakly bonded old snowpack on shady slopes.

Avalanches can be released, even by a single person and reach dangerously large size.

Natural avalanches should also be expected.

"Remote triggering is possible. Whumpfing sounds and the formation of shooting cracks when stepping on the snowpack can indicate the danger. Backcountry touring and other off-piste activities call for great caution and restraint," said a general statement from the Swiss Avalanche Institute.

This week an avalanche that hit a school party in Les2Alpes made headlines around the world; we reported on it here.

The school teacher involved may shoulder the blame as he apparently led the group onto a closed run, however it is perhaps not quite as simple as that as we reported in this article.

There were other avalanches across the Alps this week including this one in Tignes where a man had a lucky escape after being swept 200m down the slope and into a lake.

Tignes avalancheTignes avalanche




















He was lucky to escape with his life.

If you are in the Alps this week and plan to ski off piste then we urge you to not only have all the correct safety equipment, but know how to use it in an emergency.

And the best advice is to stay on slopes that are under 30 degrees and that do not have steep slopes above.

It should also be pointed out that tens of thousands of people have had some of the best skiing of the winter in recent days and there are many more to come.

Avalanches make the headlines and here at PlanetSKI we do not advise staying away from the powder or exclusively skiing with mountainguides and off piste instructors - rather educate yourself about the dangers off piste, learn some snowcraft skills and practice with the safety equipment should you ever have to use it.

Above all keep safe and if in any doubt then don't do it.

See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the world of snowsports.

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