Avalanches in Switzerland?!!?

Old Nov 1st, 2002, 06:09 AM
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Avalanches in Switzerland?!!?

Does anyone know what the government of Switzerland is doing to help prevent avalanches and improve safety on the slopes?
Old Nov 1st, 2002, 06:13 AM
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Yes, and does anyone know what the government of the United States is doing to help prevent tornadoes and improve safety on the plains?
Old Nov 1st, 2002, 06:19 AM
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I realize that at least the second post was meant to be funny, but actually while neither avalanches or tornados can be prevented, their devastation can be reduced and both governments are doing something about them.

More and more avalanche fences are being built in Switzerland to slow them down when they happen. There are also "cannons" being used to artificially set off potentially dangerous ones before they become too dangerous. Switzerland continues to build "snow tunnels" along some roads or highways to prevent their being blocked or swept away by snows and avalanches.

In the US, while nothing can be done to stop tornados, the government spends an increasing budget trying to track them, study them, and allow more accurate predictions to provide "safety on the plains".
Old Nov 1st, 2002, 06:55 AM
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Thank you, Patrick, for taking the time to answer my question. I have been doing some research and found that avalanches are real concerns and have been greatly effecting the tourisim there (in the last 20 years 2301 people were caught be avalances & at least 523 people were killed).
I have been saving money up for a ski trip to Switzerland and my friend asked me if I was concerned about the avalanches there so that is why I've been doing this research, and I was curious what steps the government of Switzerland has been taking to make the slopes safer.
Old Nov 1st, 2002, 07:23 AM
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The Swiss take avalanches (and almost everything else very seriously.

Millions are spent each year on construction of protective barriers and several research institutes (the most famous one being in Davos) are active in the field of avalanche protection.

As long as you stay on the groomed ski slopes, you run almost no risk of getting swept away by an avalanche! Only venture off the slopes with a licensed guide however.

Hope this helps,
Old Nov 1st, 2002, 08:02 AM
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According to an official statistic about avalanche accidents in Switzerland 85% of the lethal accidents happened in "free area" (meaning off-pist skiers,snowboarders,alpinists etc.) http://www.slf.ch/info/unfallstatistik-de.pdf
So - please just stay on the marked pists. Often also the rescuers get killed... Take care+enjoy.
Old Nov 1st, 2002, 08:23 AM
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They take it very seriously and do a lot of research/building to try (<-operative word) to mitigate avalanche effects.
Old Nov 1st, 2002, 08:25 AM
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I think the Swiss are doing about everything they can in this area - avalanche fences and barriers on mountain sides, constant avalanche bulletins, excellently marked ski pistes, recommended gear for all those who want to take the risks and venture off-piste, etc. Even towns are taking initiatives, probably with more central government support, to protect their "borders" - look at Pontresina, where they're literally building a concrete barrier along the upper edge of the town to prevent any avalanche from sweeping it away.

There are the few natural disasters that probably no one can predict, not even the Swiss, that will wreak destruction every so often. But would venture a guess that most or nearly all problems of safety during an avalanche occurs off the established, beaten path...

Old Nov 1st, 2002, 08:34 AM
Bob Brown
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Yes, there are extensive avalanche controls in place in many areas of Switzerland, but one must realize that there are limits to what man made obstacles can do to prevent an avalanche. I know of no other place in Switzerland that has more snow fences than on the Mannlichen Ridge that towers over the Lauterbrunnen Valley.
You can see them quite clearly from the floor of the valley, and if you ride the cable car up to the crest of the ridge, you pass over quite a few extensive fence complexes.

Despite the engineering skill of the Swiss, their best efforts were not enough about 3 years ago when an avalanche damaged severely one of the cable towers for the cable line that leads from Wengen up to the crest of the ridge.

As a result the cable line was out of operation for a long time while the tower was being rebuilt.

The various ski patrol organizations do their utmost to mark danger zones, but unless these areas are massively patrolled 24 hours a day there is no way to keep people out of the danger zones. There are many documented cases where people have ignored the warnings and literally skied to their demise.

Also, if the snow fall is heavy enough, and other conditions are right (or wrong as the case may be), avalanches can occur even in areas that have no history of avalanches.

Despite warnings, and realization that conditions are right for avalances, there is often nothing that can be done except get the heck out of the way. For example about 3 years ago, Grindelwald was cut off from the outside world by rail and road connections for several days as the result of huge, uncontrollable avalanches that buried both the highway and the rail line under tons of snow.
The Swiss authorities knew the snow was piling up, but there was not a darn thing they could do to prevent it.

I don't know what more they could be doing, to be honest about it. The snow was piled up on the sides of the mountains overlooking the valley, which is quite narrow in places. There was nothing that could be done to make it not start sliding when the conditions were came into being. Some of the inherent risk of being in heavy snow country simply cannot be avoided.

It is almost like asking what the people in California are doing to prevent earthquakes.
Old Nov 1st, 2002, 09:08 AM
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I think there's a major difference between avalanches and earthquakes: thanks to the enormous progress made in predicting avalanches, you can dramatically reduce your risk of getting caught in one by taking a few simple steps: staying on open groomed runs and not driving on roads that have been closed off. There is always the possibility of some freak incidents (such as during the 98/99 winter season), but the vast majority of avalanches claim no victims and those who die are almost always in a restricted area.

On the other hand, earthquakes are impossible to avoid, simply because they cannot be predicted.

Old Nov 1st, 2002, 09:22 AM
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Elizabeth, do you drive in the US? Do you realize that year after year approximately 40,000 people die in the US in automobile accidents? And you’re worried about 523 people being killed over 20 years? Come on, you’re much more likely to die in your car on the way to the airport. If you’re going to obsess, obsess over something that’s much more likely to happen.
Old Nov 1st, 2002, 11:15 AM
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You might be interested in the following website:


It is the English version of the Swiss snow and avalanche research centre's site from Davos. It publishes frequent updates on the risks of avalanches in the Swiss alps and offers general advice about avoiding them.

As was noted before, the vast majority of avalanche victims in Switzerland have disobeyed official recommendations and were skiing or snowboarding on slopes officially closed.

If you follow the slf's recommendations, you will be *very* safe in the alps.

Enjoy your trip

Old Nov 1st, 2002, 12:36 PM
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Thank you all very much for your input on this. I really enjoy Fodor's forums.

And to "y" - I don't think I ever said *I* was worried about being caught or scared of dying in an avalanche. My friend just sparked my curiousity from his question (I never realized how much of a concern this was until I started researching it) and I was wondering how it affected their tourisim industry & what the government was doing about it. Simple as that.
Old Nov 3rd, 2002, 05:33 AM
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This is a timely subject with winter fast approaching. Anyone else out there with information regarding avalanches?
Old Nov 3rd, 2002, 04:58 PM
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let it snow,
I'm no expert but I've taken an avalanche rescue course and the truth is survival rates are pretty damn grim. IMHO, the only valid tip to someone already buried in an avalanche is, make peace with your Maker.

As far as your idea to make an air pocket, the other poster was right, "it's like telling an earthquake victim..." and it only takes ~ 3 minutes to sufficate.

The best tips - and there are plenty of them - are those that teach you how to avoid getting caught in the first place.
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