6 skiers dead after heavy snowfall hits Canton Valais

6 skiers dead after heavy snowfall hits Canton Valais

Authorities in Canton Valais have issued avalanche warnings after last weekend saw nearly half a metre of snowfall in 24 hours. This follows the news that five of the six ski tourers who went missing in the mountains on Saturday have been found dead, along with an off-piste skier who died after being enveloped by an avalanche.

Heavy snowfall leads to road closures in Switzerland

Over the past few days, the weather in Switzerland has seen a return to wintery conditions and freezing temperatures, especially in the mountains. The heaviest snowfall was recorded on Sunday in Canton Valais, with 50 centimetres of snow falling in just 24 hours.

The sudden arrival of so much snow has dramatically increased the likelihood of avalanches. On Sunday at 1.30pm, police confirmed that an avalanche had fallen over the road between Zenschmieden and Eisten, blocking traffic for the foreseeable future. At the time of writing, there is no road access to the Swiss ski resort of Saas-Fee or the entire Saas Valley.

The heavy snow also forced the closure of the road between Simplon and Gondo and between Täsch and Zermatt. Drivers are encouraged to use extreme caution when driving in the canton, and to plan journeys in advance using the latest information from Touring Club Switzerland

Five of six Swiss ski tourers found dead near Zermatt

The adverse weather conditions also coincided with six Swiss ski tourers going missing after departing Zermatt on Saturday - five of the six were from the same family. Christian Varone, head of the Canton Valais police force, confirmed that an emergency signal from the group was first detected at 8pm on Saturday, but a rescue operation could not be launched immediately due to the terrible weather.

On Sunday, with help from the Swiss Army and six rescue helicopters, authorities carried out an extensive sweep of the area. Unfortunately, rescuers announced late in the day that five of the six were found dead. The search for the sixth member of the group is currently ongoing.

Rescuers did all they could to find skiers alive, police say

“We did everything we could to find the missing people alive,” Varone noted, explaining that the freezing conditions on the mountain pushed rescuers to their limits. Authorities said that they could not yet confirm how they had died, and promised a full investigation into events.

This wasn't the only incident on the weekend where lives were lost: according to officials in the canton, an avalanche at Val Ferret caught an off-piste skier as he made his way down the mountain. He was found and dug out of the snow by the emergency services and rushed to hospital, but sadly passed away soon after. 

Skiers and snowboarders in Switzerland told to be cautious

For all skiers and snowboarders, the authorities in Valais advised extreme caution in areas considered to be at risk of avalanches. Currently, a level three “considerable danger” avalanche warning is in place for practically all of the Swiss Alps, while a level four “high danger” warning is in place for the Saas-Fee region.

Currently, the high-danger alert is expected to end at 6pm on March 11. All those considering skiing in the area are encouraged to consult the Swiss natural hazards portal.

Thumb image credit: Thierry Weber /

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Editor for Switzerland at IamExpat Media. Jan studied History at the University of York and Broadcast Journalism at the University of Sheffield. Though born in York, Jan has lived most...

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