Four killed in Austrian avalanches

Four killed in Austrian avalanches
Is the pandemic to blame for Austria's avalanche deaths? Photo: ALEXANDER KLEIN / AFP
Four people have been killed in avalanches in the Austrian state of Tyrol over the weekend.

Avalanches killed four people in western Austria's Tyrol region over the weekend, police said Monday.

Austria's ski resorts have remained open despite the country's third coronavirus lockdown as the government says outdoor sports pose little infection risk.

But authorities in the Tyrol region had warned on Thursday of an increased risk of avalanches due to rain and snowfall combined with strong winds and changes in temperature.

A 37-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman, both from the region, “set off an avalanche at an altitude of 2,100 metres (6,890 feet)” in the Sellrain district on Saturday, the Tyrol police department said in a statement.

“They were both totally buried by the avalanche and their bodies could only be recovered on the evening of January 31,” the statement said. On Saturday the police had announced the death of a 16-year-old German boy in the Kuehtai area.

He did not have any detection equipment and was skiing off piste with two friends at an altitude of more than 2,600 metres when he was struck by loose snow.

A 48-year-old Austrian was also killed by an avalanche on Saturday while cross-country skiing in the resort of Axamer Lizum. Four further avalanches were also reported in Tyrol on Saturday but did not cause any deaths.

In recent years an average of around 20 people have been killed annually by avalanches in Austria.

For the winter of 2019/20 the number was lower, at 13, in part due to the season being cut short by the first coronavirus lockdown.

Is the pandemic to blame for avalanche deaths?

In neighbouring Switzerland, where higher than average number of avalanche deaths have occurred this winter, experts have blamed the coronavirus pandemic along with harsher than usual weather conditions. 

The pandemic has cut mobility and brought tourism almost to a standstill, but some experts have argued that lockdowns and other coronavirus measures have contributed to the higher than usual death rate. 

READ: Is the pandemic to blame for Switzerland's spate of avalanche deaths? 

As reported in Switzerland’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the one commonality between all of the fatal accidents is that they happened ‘off piste’, i.e. not on the secured slopes where the vast majority of skiers ski. 

With many concerned about the potential for contracting the virus – and with ski resorts experiencing record popularity – the idea of going off piste has become more attractive. 

READ MORE: Large crowds on Swiss ski slopes spark concern over coronavirus spread 

But with Switzerland experiencing significant snowfall in recent weeks, the risk of avalanches has grown. 

 

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