Swiss winter of 2017-18 brought an exceptional amount of snow – but only in the mountains. Following three years with little snow, record snowfall, avalanches, and severe storms were all part of the picture from December 2017 to the end of April 2018. In the course of the winter, avalanches claimed the lives of 26 winter sports participants.
The Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF/WSL said on their May 3 winter 2017-2018 review that overall it had been one of the longest and whitest winters for 30 years at elevations above 1500 meters (4921 feet).
In November, December and January, snowfall were intense. From the end of December until the end of January between 2.5 and 5 meters (8.2 - 16.4 feet) of snow fell at locations above 2 000 meters (6 562 feet).
Most snow fell in the canton of Valais with the ski resorts of Saas-Fee and Zermatt. Both recorded their highest January snowfall values since measurements began more than 70 years ago. (204 and 210 cm / 6.7 - 6.89 feet).
The extreme weather also resulted in several villages being cut off from the outside world for days on end.
According to SLF/WSL, it was a different story in the plains, with half the usual amount of snowfall below 1 000 meters (3 281 feet).
January was the warmest since recordings began in 1864 – and any precipitation fell as rain at lower levels.
The risk of avalanches reached its peak in January with the avalanche research center issuing its highest risk warning (5: very high) for an extended area on January 22nd – the first time it had done so since 1999.
Valais and Graubünden, in particular, experienced major avalanches during this month.
By the end of April over 250 avalanches had been recorded that resulted in damage, the institute said, bringing 26 casualties in 19 avalanches. The long-term average is 21 avalanche deaths in a winter.
All those who died were engaged in winter sports.
Featured image: Avalanche hit Vallon d'Arbi in March / Credit: Valais cantonal police