Three German skiers latest casualties of extreme weather in central Europe

Austrian Alps avalanche claims lives of men as region is hit by worst snow in 20 years

Mountain officials prepare a controlled explosion  in Val Thorens ski resort in the French Alps. Photograph:  Getty Images

Mountain officials prepare a controlled explosion in Val Thorens ski resort in the French Alps. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Three German friends were killed in an avalanche in the Austrian alps on Saturday, the latest victims of record snowfall in the region.

After the hottest summer on record, Austria and Bavaria are in the grip of the worst snow in at least 20 years.

After days of heavy snowfall, and a temporary break at the weekend, a further two metres of snow are predicted across the northern side of the alps, as authorities fly in supplies to cut-off mountain towns.

Austrian authorities are likely to announce the highest avalanche warning level on Monday.

Three German men, aged between 32 and 57, were discovered dead in the snow in the Vorarlberg region on Saturday, with a fourth person missing. The wife of one of the skiers sounded the alarm on Saturday evening when they failed to return from a day out. Rescue teams located them using their mobile phone signals but discovered three lifeless bodies with various injuries, including indications of suffocation.

According to authorities they had left signposted ski paths and were most likely trapped in an avalanche. Their emergency airbags, designed to keep them on the surface of an avalanche, appear to have been of little use. Police on Sunday said they were unsure whether to continue the search for the fourth skier.

Danger

“It’s questionable whether the search can be justified given the huge avalanche danger,” said a police spokesman for the town of Lech in Vorarlberg.

About 1,000 members of Austria’s catastrophe rescue squads have been deployed at the weekend. Helicopter teams used a break in the snowy weather and the weekend to carry out controlled explosions to trigger avalanches in the Steiermark region.

Attempts to set off controlled explosions in the French ski resort of Morillon ended fatally for two men, when they triggered their charges by accident.

The accident took place at an altitude of 1,800m as they were preparing the pistes, mountain rescuers said.

Bavaria remains in the grip of heavy snow with 66 students airlifted to safety after being stranded at a ski station. A nine-year-old boy was killed near Munich when a tree collapsed under the weight of snow.

Soldiers and emergency workers were deployed at the weekend to remove huge quantities of snow from large halls likely to be used as emergency accommodation. In the Berchtesgaden region in particular the weight of wet snow poses a structural danger for many buildings.