Investigation Underway as Three Die in Zermatt Avalanche

One is a US teenager. An avalanche came down off piste below the Riffelberg area of the Swiss resort. A fourth person was seriously injured. UPDATED

The accident happened on Monday afternoon and sparked a huge search and rescue operation.

The avalanche risk at the time was at Level 4 – ‘High’.

Level 4 means, “Very large, and in some cases extremely large, spontaneous avalanches are to be expected.”

The avalanche was outside the secured ski slopes in a wildlife area.

It did not reach the marked slopes, but is an area frequently used as people ski down from Riffleberg to Riffelalp.

Three bodies and one person have been recovered from the avalanche zone.

Zermatt avalanche. Image c/o Valais cantonal police.

Zermatt avalanche. Image c/o Valais cantonal police.

The deceased are a 15-year-old American, a man and a woman, whose identification has not yet been released by the authorities.

The injured person is a 20-year-old Swiss man.

Around 45 people with avalanche search dogs were involved in the operation.

“The people were flown with four Air Zermatt helicopters to  hospitals,” said the cantonal police in a statement.

The public prosecutor’s office has initiated an investigation in cooperation with the cantonal police.

The avalanche risk at the time was ‘High’.

Image c/o Swiss Avalanche Institute.

Image c/o Swiss Avalanche Institute.

Here at PlanetSKI we, and our regular readers, know the area well.

The bowl where the avalanche happened is very popular when there is good snow.

“Nice to drop off the terrace by the railway.. and then head left into separate gully… which is directly where the avalanche went,” said one of our Zermatt readers.

“The area immediately below Riffleberg hotel is protected for nature, so skiing not allowed.. and doesn’t have any avalanche protection or Gasex.

“But you can cut in lower down.

“The avalanche may have got as far as the corner just above ChämiHutte.”

Last month six ski tourers died near Zermatt:

This winter 17 people have died in avalanches in Switzerland, which is around the annual seasonal average for the time of year.

More to follow…