Nine killed in Austrian avalanches in deadly weekend as danger remains

Nine people died in three days of more than 100 avalanches rolling across Austria as warmer temperatures followed heavy snowfall, creating particularly dangerous conditions, authorities said on Sunday.

Snow-covered mountain in Austria.
After a deadly weekend in Tyrol, experts say the risk of avalanches remains considerable. Photo by Datingscout on Unsplash

Most of the avalanches hit the western Tyrol region and Friday alone saw five fatalities, rescue services said.

That day, four Swedish skiers and their Austrian tour guide – all in their 40s – were killed when a 400-metre-wide avalanche, near the town of Spiss on the Swiss border, buried them, Austrian broadcaster Orf said.

A sixth member of their group was only partially buried by the snow and was able to phone for help. He was airlifted to hospital with injuries.

Also Friday, a man aged 60 and his wife of 61 were engulfed while cross-country skiing near the village of Auffach, Tyrol police said.

Saturday then saw a 58-year-old Austrian killed at Schmirn near Innsbruck in an avalanche which injured four others, Austrian broadcaster Orf reported.

Further west, an experienced skier of 43 was killed in the popular Vorarlberg region as Austria saw exceptional quantities of snow fall going into and across the weekend.

Five winter sports enthusiasts were buried by snowfall in the major resort of Soelden but were all rescued.

“The past three days have seen some 100 avalanche-type incidents requiring 70 interventions,” Tyrol regional authorities said Sunday, dubbing the situation “unprecedented” and warning of more to come.

“Considerable” risk
The region’s avalanche warning service (Lavinenwarndienst), which closely examines avalanche cones (the mass deposited where an avalanche has fallen) and where they break off, said that there was still “considerable avalanche danger” on Sunday, with further snow forecast for Monday.

The risk level for the region – in orange in the above map from the service – stood at three on a five-point scale on Sunday.

Artificially triggered avalanches and stability tests on the structure of the snow cover confirmed the delicate avalanche situation in the region.

Fresh snow and snowdrifts had fallen on weak old snow, making the structure particularly unfavourable, the service explained, adding that weak layers in old snow can be difficult to recognise.

Booming noises and cracks when stepping on a snowpack are clear signs of a weak structure.

Anyone who skis off the secured pistes needs to be an expert at avalanche assessment, Rudi Mair, head of the avalanche warning service, told Orf.

Recent years have seen avalanches claim around 20 lives a year in Austria, fewer over the past two years after the pandemic vastly reduced skier numbers.


Member comments

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


Austria hit by storms as Graz records Europe’s warmest temperature

The Styrian capital of Graz was the warmest place in Europe on Thursday as stormy weather swept across Austria.

Austria hit by storms as Graz records Europe's warmest temperature

It might still be winter but it felt more like spring across much of Austria on Thursday as a storm system moved across the country bringing gale force winds and unseasonably warm temperatures.

Graz was Europe’s warmest location on Thursdaywhen the mercury hit 22.1 degrees on Thursday afternoon followed by wind gusts of over 100km per hour on the Styrian mountains.

The temperature also pushed past 20 degrees in Deutschlandsberg (21.8 degrees), Köflach (21.2 degrees) and Frohnleiten (20.6 degrees) – all in Styria.

The average temperature in Austria for February is roughly 3 degrees.

Overnight on Thursday, strong winds are set to continue in the Alps but are expected to settle down on Friday.

The mild weather in Styria will continue on Friday with a forecasted high of 16 degrees.

Elsewhere in Europe, Germany has been hit by wild stormy weather leading to disruptions to rail and air networks and a state of emergency has been declared for Berlin. the Czech Republic has also been impacted by the storm and 300,000 homes are without power.