The Swiss Federal Institute for the Study of Snow and Avalanches (SLF) has issued a press release concerning avalanche deaths in Switzerland the 2007-2008 winter. In total eleven people died in avalanches over the winter, well below the long term average.
The Weather Situation
Winter started early and well. By mid November the majority of ski areas in the Northern Alps, Bas-Valais, north of the Grisons and the Basse-Engadine had the highest or second highest snow-depths since records began. After further snowfall in December depths were above average everywhere except the southern Alps. Unusual weather conditions brought snow to the southern Alps during January with heavy snow to low altitudes. By mid January the south of the Valais and Grisons snow cover was slightly above average with average depths elsewhere. In short snow conditions were good for winter sports enthusiasts.
From the 8-19th February there was no snow fall anywhere in Switzerland and by the end of the month snow conditions were below average due to a long period of sunny weather. The first two weeks of March saw a series of weather fronts with rain to 2000 meters. From 21st of March there was fresh snow down to the valley floor with winter temperatures to the end of the month. April also saw a number of weather systems with good snow depths at altitude at the end of the month, especially to the north. Snow depths were well above 2 meters in places at this altitude.
In the north the snowpack was generally well formed and stable. The snowpack was less stable in inter-alpine regions between the Valais and Grisons particularly around the end of December 2007. In general deeper snow-packs are more stable and as a result the north of the Swiss Alps and Bas Valais had a good snow-pack. In the main avalanche activity was full depth slides due to the early snow which fell on warm and wet ground.
The SLF recorded 104 avalanches to the start of May involving 171 people. 11 people died in 11 incidents, 38 people were injured and 32 avalanches caused damage to equipment or buildings. The number of deaths was significantly less than the long term average of 25 victims per year. Seven of the avalanche fatalitiesoccurred in inter-alpine regions. There is still significant snow at altitude and there is a strong risk of summer avalanches this year.
According to the report this year’s good figures depend on a number of factors
i. favourable snow-pack due to the large early season snowfalls
ii. favourable conditions during the main holiday periods
iii. well organized companion rescues
The SLF also believe that the prevention message is getting through to ski tourers and off piste skiers.
More Information: http://www.slf.ch/media/Medienmitteilung_winter0708lang_de.pdf