The Swiss prealps were the scene of a number of avalanche accidents last weekend including two fatal incidents on Saturday that killed two ski tourers. A 55-year-old local man, with the Moléson Alpine Club, was killed on the north side of the Noires Joux at Charmey and a 39-year-old Frenchman on the south side of the Vanil Carré near Châteaud'Œx. In the second accident it was so dangerous the helicopter couldn't land. In both cases the avalanche risk was 3 out of 5. This risk level is where half of fatal avalanches occur in Switzerland.
"It really is the most problematic degree of risk, because it is the most dangerous in the sense that it is seems safer," according to Robert Bolognesi, director of Meteorisk, in Sion. "You can go out, unlike degree 5." If the weather is nice, there is fresh snow - the two key elements that encourage people to go ski touring. Like last weekend.
The conditions will hardly change over the next few days. For this reason specialists strongly encourage people not familiar with the risks not to go out alone, but to be accompanied by a professional or experienced person. It is a question of understanding and interpreting the type of danger. Level 3 means a "critical avalanche situation". "It is essential to consider meteorological, topological and human elements," emphasizes Robert Bolognesi. The capacity of the group as much as the state of the snow, the degree or the orientation of the slopes. You need to study the avalanche bulletin. Is there a risk of some big or many small slides? Is the problem coming from the rain or the amount of snow? Was the wind strong? What is the place and time of the day when the danger is greatest? Did the snowpack have time to transform?
"At the moment, it's a question of avoiding steep slopes on the north side," says the avalanche expert. At 1500 meters, the snow is still light and powdery. It takes time to settle because it has been cold and the days are still short. "It's a question of adapting your itinerary accordingly". And even then groups should keep a safe distance of at least thirty meters between each person or one by one in the most dangerous areas.
"If we respect all these points and we are properly equipped, we greatly reduce the risk of accidents, It's important to have a local hazard forecast and to know when to turn back."