Five skiers found dead and one missing in Swiss Alps

Skiers were traversing from Zermatt to Arolla and got stuck in a storm.

Sadly, their bodies were found after the storm abated.


Two things immediately struck me:

  • Why did they set off on this high altitude crossing when storms were forecast?

  • When they got stuck in the storm, why didn’t they did a snow hole and shelter there until the storm had past? There were six of them so digging a hole wouldn’t have been too arduous.

Perhaps they were insufficiently experienced?

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Maybe. I have no idea what a snow hole is or what I’m supposed do if caught in a snow storm.

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Do you undertake high ski-touring routes?

There were six of them. Why didn’t at least one of them know what they were doing and take charge?

I guess we’ll find out more in due course.

If helicopters could not fly due to weather, that means conditions on the ground were already challenging. But, unless people left notes or messages in paper or their phones, it will be hard to know the decision process that contributed to this outcome. If there’s an investigation, they won’t have much material to work with. Chalk down as “weather”.

The lesson here is that Saturday afternoon was cabrio weather down here in the Swiss plateau: sunny, 14°C, no wind. At the same time, only a few dozen km south…people was trapped by a storm up in the mountains. That’s the variability of weather.

The only thing that makes me curious is what other people told them. It’s almost a rule that you’re never alone in Switzerland. I hiked once to the Cabane Bertol with a friend during the spring, sunny, lovely 5+°C. I assume they had to pass by there, in the route from Zermatt to Arolla. At the time I was wearing shorts and keeping heavier clothing in my backpack. Anyway…someone at the cabane called me an “idiot tourist” or something like that. At the time I did not understand enough French. My friend translated, and I just went outside to eat what we bought there. Had a little exchange with my friend about having all the clothes for the cold in the backpack, he just said people in charge of SAC huts are “just like that”, since they have to deal with TRUE idiot tourists. So, I’m wondering about the opinion of people in SAC huts or other people doing that route the same day. Did others bail out? Did people say “do not go”?

Apparently, there were signs that attempts had been made to build a snow hole. It seems that six were not huddled together. The conditions were treacherous, with very high winds, very low temperatures and fog, plus it was getting dark and so visibility would have been terrible. Also, building a snow hole with your bare hands in those conditions is challenging. It seems 5 of the 6 were experienced locals, with two training with the rescue service. One local guide said that there’s a bit on the descent where it’s very easy to take a wrong turn and you end up on a very dangerous glacier. But it’s early days. I’m sure things will get clearer as time goes on.

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It will be possible to draw some conclusions based on the equipment they have with them, as well as testimony from people who knew them how experienced they were.

As to the decisions they made, perhaps one or more of the party became ill or injured or both. Unconscious people are difficult to move around, people become exhausted more quickly both physically and emotionally when they have to support others. Judgement is clouded, fear takes over. Obviously there’s no way to know for sure what happened and how but a skilled investigation should be able to piece together the scenario with any evidence left behind.


There was an SRF Dok about a similar incident.


Extremely poor decision to even start the tour.

Apparently they tried to dig in, but did not manage. I checked temps this morning after I had first read about this last night and it was -16 at Jungfraujoch which is a similar altitude.

If it was around -16 °C and reported 80Km/r winds then the wind chill would mean that it would feel like around -33 °C which would give frost bite in less than 30 minutes. Shelter would have been their only hope.

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Short interview with the head of Zermatt Air Rescue


And I guess at 80 kmh wind it is not trivial to build a snow cave.

On your own maybe but easier with five or six people.

Why weren’t they using their avalanche shovels which would have been part of their essential kit?

Make your mind up.

You cannot shovel snow at this wind. Period.

Apparently, the group wasn’t huddled together at this point, visibility was virtually zero. They may not have been able to communicate with each other or one more may have been injured. There could be any number of reasons why digging a snow cave individually or for the group was not successful. They may also have lost (or put down their equipment while trying to help somebody else in the group) and then become disorientated. But this is all speculation at this point.

I don’t understand your comment about “making up my mind”.

And this is were people is too kind when talking to the media, respect to surviving family or whatever. But, this is the reason there are no 20 or 30 deaths. It’s a popular route, but other people decided not to go that day. Even guides who lose income and let customers down.

Blick: The weather forecast when the group set out was very bad. Other mountain guides Blick spoke to described the plan as suicide. Can you understand that?

Air Zermatt guy: I wouldn’t call that absolutely wrong. In principle, however, it is certainly negligent to undertake such tours in this weather forecast.
Blick: A similar disaster occurred on the Haute Route in 2018. Can the conditions back then be compared with the current disaster?
Air Zermatt guy: I remember it. Back then, people knew days in advance that a big foehn storm was coming, with strong winds and massive rainfall. This time the situation was very similar.


Because you mentioned that they were experienced with training with the local services and then said it was difficult to dig with your bare hands.

If you are experienced then you’d be carrying snow shovels and wouldn’t be digging with bare hands.

Most incidents are a culmination of a series of events and decisions which lead up to it.

In this case, the first incorrect decision seems to be to have decided to set off in the first place.

The Mountain Guide interviewed in the Blick article even said to consider it “suicidal” would not be out of place.

This can be safely said without knowing most of the facts.

What’s that supposed to show?

I’ve made my point. What point are you trying to make?

Ah yes, i understand. The details of exactly what happened are understandibly scant. We’ll have to wait until more comes to light. But, as five of the six were local and had experience as well as training with alpine rescue (well 2 of them, it’s been reported), i imagine there were other reasons why they couldn’t make a shelter. I speculated on what these, off the top of my head, might be iny earlier post.

They were certainly foolish to set off in the first place. Apparently, the weather was good when they set off, but the weather forecast was bad. They may well have overestimated their own abilities and felt they could outrun the bad weather. Fresh snow would also have slowed them down.

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Sorry Tom. I attempted to quote and got it round my neck. I can only put it down to low blood sugar. I haven’t had lunch yet.

Anyways, no point to make and nothing to show.

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Or the opposite, and their experience made them think they can handle this. Le Nouvelliste reports that among the family were experienced mountaineers from Val d’Herens, so basically locals.