For the second time this month, the swanky Swiss ski village of Zermatt has been cut off from the rest of the country after days of heavy snowfall and avalanches blocked land routes into town. Thousands of tourists who flock there for world-class skiing were trapped in the alpine valley and being instructed to stay indoors Monday, as the avalanche danger was cranked up to the maximum Level 5, the highest since 1999.
Up to 10 feet of snow has fallen in Zermatt in just the past seven days, and there is a settled snow-pack of almost 200 inches on the surrounding mountains, including the vaunted Matterhorn. There is so much snow and the avalanche conditions are so dangerous, most lifts and slopes are closed while crews perform controlled blasting in areas prone to slides.
It has been snowing almost continuously since early December across parts of the Alps; Tignes, in the French Alps, has gotten almost 17 feet of snow in the past six weeks. Snow has clogged the slopes at Chamonix where the lifts were not even spinning Monday before reopening Tuesday. In Austria’s famous Tyrol region, snow-slides have cut off road and rail service to the resorts of St. Anton and Ischgl, stranding more than 10,000 people. Cervinia, in the Italian Alps, is also snowed in.
In Zermatt, an air-bridge had been temporarily set up to ferry desperate tourists back to civilization. People stood in line for hours for only about 300 available seats on a fleet of helicopters. The cost of the five minute flight over a ridge to a cleared and passable road: around $75. Service was suspended Tuesday morning, however, so the choppers could be used for avalanche control.
The snow has also disrupted the arrival of delegates from around the globe to the World Economic Forum in Davos, where President Trump is expected to arrive Friday. “High in the Swiss Alps on Monday, on the eve of the opening sessions, many of the roughly 3,000 delegates struggled to reach the ski resort,” reported Reuters. “Part of the main train line into Davos had been buried in snow over the weekend, forcing people onto buses, and helicopters were disrupted by poor visibility.”
Some pre-meetings have been canceled, but the main event is still on, Reuters said.
So far, calm has prevailed and there has only been one related death reported throughout the Alps. Officials say the towns are well-stocked with food and water and electricity outages are not a concern. The fatality occurred when a 30-year-old man was caught in an avalanche while skiing in the Bavarian Alps.
No snow is forecast for the next several days which will allow crews to clear transportation links and shovel out the ski lifts. Authorities say it will be several more days before things are back to normal.
Snow photos from the Alps
Switzerland, most recently
Switzerland, earlier in January