Thousands Stranded In Snowbound Ski Resort

Written by
Marcus Barnes

Thousands of people have been stranded in Zermatt after it was cut off by snow for the second time in two weeks. The situation has been compounded by Avalanche warnings which have forced the closure of roads and rail links in many parts of the surrounding regions in the Alps.

Around 9,000 people have been stranded there since Saturday, and are not expected to be allowed to travel until Monday evening. The news comes just two weeks after more than 13,000 people were stuck in the same resort for several days.

Residents were also evacuated in Davos, where world and business leaders are attending the World Economic Forum this week. According to reports, Austria's St Anton resort and Cervinia in Italy are also cut off by snow.

Two weeks ago helicopters were chartered by stranded holidaymakers to get them out of Zermatt after they were trapped in the mountain village for two days following a bout of heavy snowfall.

The huge amount of snow raised the avalanche risk to ‘exceptional’, so the decision was taken to send in rescue helicopters to whisk visitors off to safety. Around 100 people an hour were airlifted out of the Zermatt and taken to the nearby village of Täsch, a short three-minute flight, according to local police at the time. 

Janine Imesch, spokeswoman for the plush resort, said there was no immediate risk to 13,000 tourists who were staying there, and also assured people that the electricity had been restored after an earlier power cut.

The heavy snowfall caused power outages in some other areas of the southern Swiss canton of Valais, and a number of other villages were also cut off, with the Simplon region of Valais hit by two metres (6.6 feet) of snow over 24 hours, the ATS news agency reported.

“Everything is normal, everything is under control,” she told the UK’s Guardian newspaper. “People are enjoying the snow, going shopping, eating and drinking. The atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable. No one can go skiing or hiking, but it’s quiet, even a little bit romantic.”

The village has been cut off for almost two days after the main access road was closed and the local train station has been inaccessible due to the avalanche risk.

The resort has been blighted by heavy snowfall
Nikki Grimes

Local ex-pat Nikki Grimes, 50, who owns travel consultancy Consollusso Travel and has lived in the resort for seven years told Time Out Switzerland, "There is a sense of 'romance' and excitement with a little trepidation at the avalanche danger but the beauty of this thick blanket of snow over these majestic mountains really grounds you. We chose to be here - both residents and visitors.. so we shrug it off.

"As a resident it's about getting the snow shovels out and clearing what you can to get to work in the morning... and being thankful for sturdy snow boots! I live at the far end of town and the e-bus can no longer get to us so the hike to and from work is probably the most inconvenient thing and the fear of snow sliding off the roofs is ever present, but you just keep your wits about you."

Adding, "The power cut yesterday morning meant a romantic breakfast by candle light and cold coffee but EWZ had us back on power in just over an hour. Supermarket shelves have been a little bare, however supplies managed to reach the village today. I am preparing meals in advance and making sure we have wood for the fire..."

The resort has been cut off for two days
Nikki Grimes

Romy Biner-Hauser, the region’s president, said constant flurry of snowfall over the last few days meant the avalanche risk around Zermatt and several other resorts in the south-western Valais region, including Saas-Fee, was raised to its maximum level of five on Monday night.

The Swiss federal institute for forest, snow and landscape research, WSL, said there was potential for large avalanches could reach “an exceptionally long way” and that exposed buildings and transport routes were endangered.

Zermatt helicopter queue
Zermatt's roads have been completely buried in snow
Nikki Grimes

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