Two skiers carried off-piste among 10 killed in avalanches
Two skiers were carried off-piste and killed as a string of deadly avalanches struck the Alps ahead of the half-term winter break.
Ten people died in total during avalanches, 30 of which hit the Tyrol region of Austria alone on Saturday, claiming the lives of eight.
Among the dead are two skiers aged 29 and 33, one of whom was a guide, who were caught in the snowslide and carried off the slopes. Their bodies were found in Sankt Anton am Arlberg.
Other victims include a 17-year-old New Zealander and a 32-year-old Chinese man who were both skiing off-piste, a German man in his 50s, and a 62-year-old man who was reported missing when he did not return after cross-country skiing. His body was later discovered by rescuers.
The avalanches also buried a 59-year-old man who had not been skiing, but was swept away while clearing the snow on his snow plough.
Heavy snowfall and high winds are blamed for triggering dozens of avalanches in Austria’s western ski area over the weekend.
Authorities raised the alert level to four on the five-point scale, which denotes that very large avalanches are likely, but say that many holidaymakers continue to flout warnings. All skiers, particularly novices, have been advised to stay on designated ski runs and trails.
In the eastern canton of Grisons, Switzerland, an avalanche also buried a 56-year-old woman and a 52-year-old man over the weekend, both of whom were skiing off-piste, bringing the overall death toll to 10. A third member of the group was also swept away but he survived.
Poor visibility and bad weather conditions hampered rescue efforts in both countries.
News of the deaths comes as ski resorts get ready to welcome half-term holidaymakers and winter sports enthusiasts hoping to make up for a poor start to the ski season, due to warm weather and lack of snow.
In Austria, avalanches have claimed an average of 20 lives in recent years. It is a similar statistic in Switzerland, where an average of 24 people die in avalanches a year.
In the last 20 years, the overwhelming majority, 90 per cent, of fatalities in Switzerland occurred off-piste.
Last month, a British woman hiking the Chamonix valley in the Mont Blanc massif died after being caught in an avalanche. The 45-year-old was hiking with her partner and a guide, who survived, when the avalanche struck.
According to the European Avalanche Warning Services, avalanches across Europe kill an average of 100 people a year.
The heavy snow and high death toll comes after much of the ski season was ruined by warm weather.