Ski resorts forced to remain closed by a lack of snow in December have now been forced to close many runs because of too much snow.
Ski resorts across Austria and Switzerland say they are now struggling to cope after metres of snow combined with high winds and stormy conditions over the past 48 hours left runs blocked or in danger of avalanches.
Changeable temperatures combined with high winds and new snow has put many ski resorts across Tirol, Salzburg and Vorarlberg on high avalanche alert. Temperatures are expected to drop dramatically over the weekend and winds today (Friday) have already reached over 170 kph making conditions even more treacherous.
Avalanche experts are working around the clock to assess the risks and where necessary and possible are carrying out controlled detonations. Rudi Mair, manager of the avalanche action team in Tirol said: “With winds peaking at 170 kph we can safely talk about a hurricane. Heavy new snow, freezing temperatures and the hurricane we are talking about high risk. The avalanche risk across Tirol is high and it will rise.
The high winds in particular are a threat to ski lifts which have been forced to close as the winds from “Hurricane Andrea” are too high – making conditions highly dangerous. The high winds also risk dislodging snow from high peaks.
Herbert Kaufmann form Dornbirn Seilbahn AG – the lift company in Dornbirn, Voarlberg said: “We have around twenty people stuck in the restaurant at the top of the mountain still as we are unable to put the lifts back into action. But at least the chef is stuck too and he can make food.”
Winter safety expert Erich Schwarzler from the Austrian province of Vorarlberg said: “We are on high alert, we have army helicopters and avalanche teams on 24 hour standby.
The avalanche risk in Tirol is already on the second highest risk level 4 and is expected to rise over the next 24 hours possibly to the highest risk level 5.
There has been a high number of avalanche deaths over the past few days in Austria and many others injured. Earlier this week a group of four ski guides from Vorarlberg, Austria, were buried beneath a mound of snow whilst skiing in Graubunden, Switzerland and two of them died as a result.
Meanwhile Tirol rescuers reported yesterday (Thurs) they were attending an emergency call out nearly once a minute between 17.00 and 18.00 in the Austrian Alps due to the severe weather conditions. Police in Tirol confirmed thousands of households have been left without power as a result of the weather conditions.
Many roads have been blocked and passes are completely impassable in popular ski areas such as Lech, Zurs and Warth. Poeple have had to be rescued form cars including four people who were rescued from their snow covered car in Upper Austria last night (Thurs).
Rescuers expect a busy weekend. Anton Mattle, mayor of Galtuer and Paznaun in the Tirol has assures the region “is ready to cope with the conditions”
“In the worst case scenario we are ready to evacuate people living in affected areas. We have rescuers and helicopters on standby if the conditions deteriorate to dangerous levels in affected areas.”