With the recent large snow fall over the Alps it has put a lot smiles on a lot of skiers, however with such a large amount of snow falling in such a sort time frame there is sadly a high risk of avalanches.
At the time of writing this (2nd February) there have been 49 deaths due to avalanches in the Alps this season. This might sound a lot, well that is because it is a lot!
It’s only the start of February and there have been 49 deaths, this is far more than recent years.
On the 31st January there were 8 fatalities in 4 separate avalanches.
So why are we seeing so many avalanches and more importantly why are we seeing so many deaths?
When the large amount of snow fell the snow it didn’t have a good anchor for it to join too. When nice fluffy snow crystals fall onto compressed snow or no snow at all they don’t tend to connect well. Imagine trying to tongue and groove a basketball with a hedgehog, it’s just not going to work!
Throw in a change of temperature and some wind and you have a very unstable layer.
From what we have read most of the avalanches were started by skiers or snowboarders themselves. I’m sure anyone reading this who skis off-piste has seen a stunning untracked slope which would be the best vertical you would have ever skied. But for safety have decided not to ski it. Sadly it looks like some of the deaths were due to just that, but the draw of the powder was just too much or they simply didn’t think it was dangerous.
Other avalanches look to have been started by a group of skiers, it is often the case that the first couple of the group down are OK but others in the group were just too much for the slab and set off the avalanche.
It’s quite dangerous off-piste at the moment all across the Alps.
In Meribel a 35 year old man is currently missing who was last seen near the top of the Olympic chair lift. The rescue team are still looking for him, we hope he doesn’t join the statistics and is found safe and sound.
We have spoken to local mountain guides and rescue services and they are strongly recommending not to go off piste.
Be safe out there!
PS: Sadly since starting this post we have heard of two further avalanches in Tignes close to the piste which were started by off piste skiers. We are not sure if anyone has been caught up in them.