Avalanches took the lives of 53 people in the Alps this winter

By meteomorris on 9 March 2017 · 0

Last week was a very bad week in the Alps. People have been killed by avalanches in Courmayeur, Risoul and Valfréjus. An avalanche even hit a slope in Tignes, fortunately nobody got hurt. Avalanches claimed the lifes of 11 people last week only...

All because of a huge storm cycle

All the avalanche activity was caused by a huge storm cycle that's already dominating the weather in the Alps for ten days. The wind came from all directions and was really strong from time to time, it snowed heavily and the temperature was going up and down. The combination of wind, lots of fresh snow (sometimes up to 120 cm in just a few days) and fluctuating temperatures caused a critical avalanche situation. It's been hard for the new layers to bond with the old snow cover and the pressure of a single skier or snowboarder may be enough to cause a massive avalanche as the images above from an avalanche in Valfréjus show you.

53 people killed by avalanches so far this winter

53 people were killed by avalanches so far this winter. It started very early with avalanches during autumn that mainly claimed the lives of alpinists. Last week, avalanches killed mainly skiers and snowboarders that triggered their own avalanche. Check out the map below where all the avalanches came down.

100 people are killed on average during the season

On average, around 100 people are killed by avalanches during the winter season. Of course it's a bit more or less every winter, but in general it is a number that's been pretty stable for the last 20 years. Which in itself is remarkable. People ride off-piste more than ever and the gear that allows you to enjoy deep powder is better than ever. So we ride more off-piste, but the number of fatal accidents caused by avalanches decreases. I have no idea why. Do you have an explanation?

No knowledge? Riding off-piste is like Russian Roulette.
No knowledge? Riding off-piste is like Russian Roulette.

Majority on north faces above 2000 meter

40 deadly avalanches came down so far. The vast majority of these avalanches came down on a face with a north aspect above 2000 meters. The facts emphasize the lethal sector marked by the experts. Slopes between NNW and NE above 2000 meters are dangerous, but often have the best quality of snow, because the sun hasn't got that much influence on it. What a pity.

The data show some pretty interesting things:

  • 8 victims were alpinist, 3 victims were snow shoers
  • At least 13 victims had professional guidance; 5 with a mountain guide and 8 with a ski guide or snowboard guide.
  • At least 13 victims didn't carry an avalanche beacon
  • and at least 6 victims were riding alone

A final saliency is the large number of freeriders in the figures. 24 victims, that's 46% of the victims not too far away from the slopes. That is quite a lot. Especially when you consider that winter only actually started in January and we only have about 10 weeks of snow in the Alps. That's an average of 2.4 freerider and 1.9 ski tourer loosing their life in the Alps every week.

Knowledge is key

Lots of people are still riding alone or without the right gear (avalanche beacon, shovel, probe). These are indications that those riders are short of knowledge. And knowledge is key. With applying the right knowlegde you can reduce the risk to the level of driving a car for one hour. If you don't have the right knowledge, than you're basically playing a game of Russian Roulette.

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