Second Fatal Avalanche in Verbier
18th January 2021
Last modified on January 21st, 2021
A 29-year old man from Ireland has died. It follows the death of 38-year old Englishman. . Eight people have died in four days In Switzerland – all in different accidents. There have been fatal avalanches in France too.
The latest incident happened in the Gentianes area on a popular off piste run known locally as ‘Highway’.
Three skiers were on the slope when it broke away.
One man, reported as a local ski instructor, was carried away and buried.
He was dug out by one his fellow skiers and flown to Sion hospital by the rescue services where he died from his injuries.
“The victim is a 29 year old Irish national residing in Valais,” said the police.
Fellow instructors at the local ski school are said to be distraught.
The public prosecutor has opened an investigation.
The other accident on Monday happened just over two hours earlier at 10.20 off piste beneath the top station of the main Attelas lift.
It was on a south west facing slope at 2,700m and outside the marked ski area.
It is a well-known area for off piste skiing as it is easily accessible, though many chose to avoid it.
The surrounding terrain is often the first fresh snow that gets skied.
The avalanche risk at the time was 3 on a scale of 5, meaning there was “considerable” danger.
A skier entered the sector and a slab broke away carrying the person down the slope.
A second person beneath was caught in the slide.
The avalanche then hit eight other skiers lower down the mountain.
Several helicopters, rescuers and avalanche dog handlers were on the scene swiftly and all the people were dug out.
It is reported by police that they all had avalanche transceivers and the correct safety equipment.
One man was pronounced dead at the scene.
Another was taken by helicopter to Sion hospital and is said to be in a serious condition.
The person who died has been identified as a 38-year old English man who lived in the resort and worked as a chef.
Next-of-kin have been informed, but his identity has not been released.
A formal investigation is now under way.
The police are appealing for witnesses.
Ski resorts are closed across much of the Alps due to coronavirus restrictions, but they are allowed to open in Switzerland.
This avalanche was set off by the ski patrol in Tignes, France, and shows how loaded the slopes are in parts of the Alps and how unstable the snow is.
The latest snow is sitting on a very weak layer.
Some Swiss ski regions have reported a big rush as people headed to the slopes after heavy snow in large parts of the country.
There were so many people in Flumserberg in eastern Switzerland that the resort stopped selling tickets in the morning at 10:30 AM after it reached its quota.
Some ski areas have brought in extra staff or asked the police and fire service to help.
The crowds have put pressure on Covid-19 protection distancing rules in some places.
There have been eight fatal avalanche accidents in the past four days in Emmetten, Engelberg, Klosters, Morschach, Veytaux, the Bernese Oberland and now two in Verbier.
We reported on them all, plus ones in France, in this earlier article.
There has been significant amounts of snow in parts of the Alps in the last few days.
1m of snow fell in Verbier with up to 1.5m further east in Switzerland.
In Switzerland the danger level remains at Level 3, that means “considerable” on Tuesday.
“Both ski touring and cross-country skiing are possible in all Alpine countries though note that the risk of avalanche is currently very high across the northern half of the Alps,” said our resident snow and weather expert, Fraser Wilkin from Weathertoski.co.uk.
The local police in Verbier have renewed their call for caution: “Off-piste skiing is to be absolutely avoided these days if you are not accompanied by a mountain professional or holder of excellent knowledge and this is even close to the marked slopes,” said a spokesperson for the cantonal police, Stève Léger.
The death toll in separate incidents in Switzerland is highly disturbing.
On Saturday four people aged 19 -21 were skiing off piste in the Rochers de Naye region above the town of Veytaux.
At around 3:30 p.m. they triggered an avalanche.
Two of them were not buried and were able to dig out one of their companions.
They could not find the other person, a 19-year old friend.
They had no transceivers or safety equipment and they raised the alarm with passing skiers who alerted the rescue services.
The missing 19-year-old skier was eventually found by a search dog shortly before 7 p.m.
He was buried under several meters of snow.
He was taken to hospital by helicopter where he was pronounced dead.
The other youngster buried has also been treated in hospital, but is not said to be in a serious condition.
Police say the other two are “shocked but unharmed”.
The accident happened at an altitude of 1,770m on a NW facing slops.
The avalanche risk was 3 on a scale of 5, meaning there was “considerable” danger.
An investigation is underway.
The Cantonal Police recommends skiers and snowboarders not to go off-piste, to respect safety instructions, not to leave marked trails and fr people to equip themselves with safety equipment.
“Caution is required by this situation,” said the police.
Here at PlanetSKI we urge anyone in the Alps to be especially cautious as the conditions are highly dangerous off piste, obey all the rules, be correctly equipped and, if in doubt, then don’t ski it.