A ski paradise has turned into a white hell. A 150meters wide and 300meters-long avalanche struck Monte Nevoso (the Snowy Mountain) in South Tyrol yesterday morning. It run over a group of excursionists who had climbed above 3000meters. The avalanche killed at least six backcountry skiers. Several people were injured and there might be still people under the snow. Rescuers have reported that some people have managed to re-emerge from the snow with their own forces. The Snowy Mountain (3,358 meters) is the second highest peak in the Rieserferner group, along the border between Italy and Austria.
“We had rarely managed rescue operation of such dimensions, says Rafael Kostner, Head of Aiut Alpin, engaged in the rescuing operations of the avalanche that struck the Snowy Mountain. “The rescue operation – Kostner said – are extremely difficult because of the he high altitude where the tragedy happened. It is difficult for the helicopters to go safely above 3000 meters. Hence, they fly with little amounts of fuel and leave all the superfluous equipment on the ground.”
Almost all of the victims are of Italian nationality, perhaps from South Tyrol. Among the retrieved bodies there is an Austrian citizen, according to the rescuers. One of the injured people who had been rescued, is currently at the Brunico Hospital and has only minor injuries, while an Austrian woman was pulled out alive from snow and a helicopter took her to the sports field of Riva di Tures, the base from where emergency vehicles fly to-and-fro between the place of the accident and the hospitals. The skier is under shock and was accompanied to a nearby hotel to receive psychological assistance from the operators of the South Tyrolean Civil Defense.
A tragedy that might have been foreseen, experts say. According to Giampietro Verza, Everest K2 CNR researcher and mountain guide, there are several factors that contributed to the avalanche: 2015 has been the warmest year ever and autumn had shown a strong thermal inversion with very high temperatures, i.e. close to zero and never negative on mountain peaks. “This resulted in a failure – Giampietro Verza said – in snow layering. Besides, during the past weekend – Cnr expert adds – was registered the most important winter precipitation and that snow has not yet stabilized.”
“At the beginning of March the ski mountaineering season will be opened – Verza continues – , but you have to evaluate the history of the snowpack, with all the necessary precautions for those who climb alone. Unfortunately, usually the groups, if not well guided, are less cautious. Besides, a worsening factor for local weather conditions may be also the Föhn wind with warm air mass coming from the North, which yesterday, according to testimonies, was blowing at high altitude, the area affected by the avalanche. There is also an avalanche bulletin, with risks levels that go from 0 to 5. We have to understand whether the tourists had taken into account all the things that have been reported locally”.