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Avalanche Death Toll Continues to Climb

In Italy two skiers have died in separate accidents. There has been another fatal avalanche in Switzerland taking the death toll to 17 this season. Overall in the Alps it is now more than 50 – already half the annual average. The latest incidents follow four deaths in the Tirol over the weekend. 

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It is one of the most dangerous periods in recent years across the Alps.

There have been more than 50 deaths so far this winter and it comes as many resorts are closed.

Extreme caution is urged across many parts of the Alps.

A 23-year Italian was hit by an avalanche in the Cunean Alps in Italy on Sunday.

The area lies to the south west of Turin near the French border.

He died in hospital on Monday from his injuries.

He has been names as Filippo Calandri.

He was skiing with a friend who escaped unharmed and raised the alarm.

In the same area on Saturday a 46-year-old skier was hit by an avalanche in on Saturday.

Maurizio Orlandin was vice president of a local mountaineering group.

There has also been avalanche deaths in Norway.

Two civilian employees of the Norwegian military were killed on the remote Arctic Ocean island of Jan Mayen.

Another person was injured.

“Three employees based at the Armed Forces station on Jan Mayen were on a leisure trip when they were hit by an avalanche, some distance from the station,” said the Norwegian military in a statement.

They have been named as 57-year old Bjoerk Batalden who was on a six-month assignment on the island, and civil engineer Robin Karlsen, 31.

The only inhabitants on the island are the Norwegian military and the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.

The island is partly covered by glaciers and is inhabited by polar bears.

In Switzerland a 31-year old snowboarder has died and it was feared others may still be buried under avalanche debris in the La Fouly ski area that is above Orsieres near Verbier in the Valais Canton.

It happened at 2.30 on Sunday afternoon outside the marked ski area.

Two skiers saw the avalanche and when they went over found a snowboard sticking out of the snow.

They dug the person out and alerted the rescue services.

The snowboarder was pronounced dead at the scene.

The avalanche broke off in the ‘Torrent de la Fouly’ area at an altitude of around 2,000m on a north facing slope.

The avalanche risk at the time was Level 4 meaning there was a “high risk” of avalanche.

The authorities continued to search for other victims and the police said “it cannot currently be ruled out that there are other people under the snow.”

No-one else has been located so far.

The victim is a 31-year-old Italian national who was living in the Swiss canton of Friborg.

An investigation is underway.

The ski area has 3 lifts with 20 km of marked slopes and goes to an altitude of 2,200m.

It is near the border with France and Italy.

La Fouly ski area

La Fouly ski area

Switzerland normally sees around 20 avalanche deaths per ski season.

This winter there has been 17 across the country up to January 31st.

Two people, including a mountain guide, have also died off piste when snow ledges have collapsed.

Location of Swiss avalanche fatalities, 2020/21

Location of Swiss avalanche fatalities, 2020/21. Image c/o Swiss Avalanche Institute.

In Austria four people died at the weekend in the western province of the Tirol.

In Austria ski resorts resorts are open, but for locals only with restrictions in place.

A 16-year-old German boy died in the Kuhtai ski areaarea.

The teenager was skiing off piste with two friends at an altitude 2,600m when he was struck by an avalanche.

He was not wearing a transceiver.

A 37-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman, both from the Tirol were caught in an avalanche at an altitude of 2,100m in the Sellrain district.

“They were both totally buried by the avalanche and their bodies could only be recovered on the evening of January 31st,” said a statement from the police.

In the fourth fatality a 48-year-old Austrian was caught by an avalanche on Saturday while cross-country skiing in the resort of Axamer Lizum, near Innsbruck.

Four further avalanches were also reported in Tirol on Saturday but did not cause any fatalities.

The avalanche risk on Monday 1st February in most of the Tirol remains ‘Considerable’ at Level 3.

“The extensive snowdrift accumulations of the last few days can already be triggered by individual winter sports enthusiasts,” said the authorities.

“Be careful, especially on very steep slopes and at transitions from little to much snow, especially in high altitudes and in high mountains.

“Avalanches can tear through into deep layers and become dangerously large.

“Experience and restraint are required.”

It has been a dreadful winter so far for avalanche deaths and a surprisingly high number, considering that ski lifts are closed in France and Italy, with restrictions and smaller numbers of skiers in Austria and Switzerland.

There have been 17 deaths in Switzerland, 15 in France 8 in Italy and a total of more than 50 across the whole of the Alps.

The annual total averages about 100.

There have been some extremely lucky escapes too.

A 35-year old man was found in Tignes after being buried for well over 4 hours after his face was left protruding from the snow so he was able to breathe.

In Switzerland two walkers near St Moritz were caught and buried.

Their dogs raised the alarm by barking an attracted the attention of some snow shoers who were a 20- minute walk away.

We have reported on both incidents:

The main reason for the deaths is that high levels of snow are falling on a very unstable snowpack, which has weak layers at its base.

We examined the issue in this earlier article on PlanetSKI:

With more snow falling in places conditions remain very unstable across large parts of the Alps.

See the latest snow news here:

Verbier avalanche

Verbier avalanche. Image c/o Cantonal Police

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