As winter draws to a close it is time for the Swiss avalanche experts to take stock. 24 deaths already this season, normally there are just 13 deaths at the same date. “It’s been a hard winter” according to Hans-Jürg Etter based at the SLF in Davos. The accident at Diemtigtal which killed seven people has had a big effect on the statistics.
A couple of factors have surprised Mr Etter, “It is the first time in ages that I’ve seen so many victims without avalanche beacons, I just can’t understand it”. Amongst the victims this year six were not equipped with a beacon. For Mr Etter a beacon, probe and shovel are a minimum for anyone going off piste and he notes that for young snowboarders, at least, having the right gear has become part of the standard accessories. The SLF says that at least 70% of people buried by a slide can be rescued alive if they have an avalanche beacon.
Head of training at the Swiss Alpine Club (CAS) Bruno Hasler thinks the trend is down to skiers and snowboarders being enticed off piste by powder. With the unstable conditions this season it has sometimes proved to be a fatal mistake. He notes in contrast that ski tourers are equipped with more and more sophisticated avalanche beacons. However Mr Etter has also noted increased risk taking by normally safety conscious Swiss ski tourers and is concerned that snow shoers (1 death so far this year compared to 6 in 2009) are not really aware that even the pre-alps can be dangerous.