Nine ski hikers narrowly escaped death after a major avalanche swept them away high in the Swiss Alps on Saturday. Despite the ferocity of the disaster, the fortunate group of adventurers emerged from the harrowing accident with only minor to moderate injuries.
Swift action by rescue teams made all the difference, as all nine ski hikers were successfully located and airlifted to medical facilities for treatment, according to police reports.
The avalanche was triggered near the summit of the Alphubel mountain in the Saas-Fee area of the southwestern Wallis canton, close to the Italian border.
The site is near Switzerland’s iconic Matterhorn mountain and the plush ski resort of Zermatt.
“While groups of varying sizes were on the Alphubel at an altitude of 4,000 metres, an avalanche was triggered. Several were swept away by the mass of snow,” a Wallis police statement said.
Emergency services quickly scrambled to the scene in several helicopters.
A Wallis police spokesman told AFP that there were 16 people ski touring in the area, all of whom were taken off the mountain.
Nine were airlifted to hospitals in the nearby towns of Visp and Sion. Of those, three were able to leave after outpatient treatment and the others were being kept in overnight under observation.
“We’re talking about very light injuries so it’s looking positive,” the police spokesman said.
“They were very lucky, we can say that.”
The other seven people on the mountain were unaffected by the avalanche or were able to extricate themselves uninjured. They too were airlifted off.
The police are not aware of any other people unaccounted for.
Emergency rescue services were on alert in the Wallis Alps due to the high numbers of winter sports enthusiasts taking advantage of the favourable weather over the Easter holiday long weekend.
Switzerland’s Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF) said the avalanche risk for Saturday was 2+ (moderate) in southern Wallis, on the scale of 1 (low) to 5 (very high).
Fifteen people have died in avalanches in Switzerland between October 1, 2022 and March 31 this year, while one person remains missing, the SLF said. The figure is close to the 20-year average of 17 deaths.