SHARE
COPY LINK

SKIING

Four killed in Austrian avalanches

Four people have been killed in avalanches in the Austrian state of Tyrol over the weekend.

Four killed in Austrian avalanches
Is the pandemic to blame for Austria's avalanche deaths? Photo: ALEXANDER KLEIN / AFP

Avalanches killed four people in western Austria's Tyrol region over the weekend, police said Monday.

Austria's ski resorts have remained open despite the country's third coronavirus lockdown as the government says outdoor sports pose little infection risk.

But authorities in the Tyrol region had warned on Thursday of an increased risk of avalanches due to rain and snowfall combined with strong winds and changes in temperature.

A 37-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman, both from the region, “set off an avalanche at an altitude of 2,100 metres (6,890 feet)” in the Sellrain district on Saturday, the Tyrol police department said in a statement.

“They were both totally buried by the avalanche and their bodies could only be recovered on the evening of January 31,” the statement said. On Saturday the police had announced the death of a 16-year-old German boy in the Kuehtai area.

He did not have any detection equipment and was skiing off piste with two friends at an altitude of more than 2,600 metres when he was struck by loose snow.

A 48-year-old Austrian was also killed by an avalanche on Saturday while cross-country skiing in the resort of Axamer Lizum. Four further avalanches were also reported in Tyrol on Saturday but did not cause any deaths.

In recent years an average of around 20 people have been killed annually by avalanches in Austria.

For the winter of 2019/20 the number was lower, at 13, in part due to the season being cut short by the first coronavirus lockdown.

Is the pandemic to blame for avalanche deaths?

In neighbouring Switzerland, where higher than average number of avalanche deaths have occurred this winter, experts have blamed the coronavirus pandemic along with harsher than usual weather conditions. 

The pandemic has cut mobility and brought tourism almost to a standstill, but some experts have argued that lockdowns and other coronavirus measures have contributed to the higher than usual death rate. 

READ: Is the pandemic to blame for Switzerland's spate of avalanche deaths? 

As reported in Switzerland’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the one commonality between all of the fatal accidents is that they happened ‘off piste’, i.e. not on the secured slopes where the vast majority of skiers ski. 

With many concerned about the potential for contracting the virus – and with ski resorts experiencing record popularity – the idea of going off piste has become more attractive. 

READ MORE: Large crowds on Swiss ski slopes spark concern over coronavirus spread 

But with Switzerland experiencing significant snowfall in recent weeks, the risk of avalanches has grown. 

 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

CLIMATE CRISIS

Austria’s famous Dachstein glacier to be closed off for skiing this winter

Heat, rain and even Sahara sand have affected the ice in the famous Austrian Dachstein glacier, forcing authorities to close off the ski lifts this winter.

Austria's famous Dachstein glacier to be closed off for skiing this winter

Austrian authorities have decided to cancel winter skiing in the Dachstein glacier, located on the highest mountain in Styria, Austrian media reported.

“There will be no autumn or winter skiing on the Dachstein this year,” Georg Bliem, the director of Planai-Hochwurzen-Bahnen told Kleine Zeitung on Wednesday.

For years now, the glacier has been steadily melting in summer. The year 2022 has been no exception, as heat and extreme rain (and even Sahara sand) have hurt the ice structures, causing the region to become dangerous for non-experienced hikers.

READ ALSO: From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria’s winter season

The melting ice has been particularly affecting the structures for lift operations. To operate safely, the supports of the lifts would have to be moved.

“That’s a huge effort, and we have no guarantee that it won’t need to be done again next year,” Bliem said.

On the slopes, the rock is coming through in some places and even the lift line now runs over rock, he added.

For this reason, the decision to forgo winter skiing, at least this year, has been made. But further checks will take place next year.

READ ALSO: How will climate change impact Austria?

“In the spring we will evaluate the situation,” Bliem said. 

The peak season on the Dachstein glacier is autumn when snow cannons cannot yet be fired up at lower altitudes. In Styria, the Dachstein was the only ski destination to offer skiing as early as September and October. Many professional athletes in particular had used the slopes for training runs.

Other attractions will remain open

The area has many other attractions that will remain open, the authorities highlighted. The ice palace, the famous stairs leading up to the panoramic viewpoint, and the hilltop restaurant, for example.

The area for cross-country ski trains will be larger, and ski touring crossings will continue to be possible. The park is also looking to develop a new concept for future winters, offering more hiking trails.

SHOW COMMENTS