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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

European ski resorts in 'lockdown' after freak snowfalls cut road, rail and air links

-1,000 British skiers trapped in Alps after severe snowfalls
-Falling trees and rocks blocking many routes
-Avalanche warning raised to stage three, or 'considerable risk'
-Holidaymakers advised to stay indoors

By Allan Hall

Ski resorts across Europe are in 'lockdown' after a series of freak snowfalls severed road, rail and air links amid serious fears of avalanches.

Tourists in areas across Austria, southern Germany, France and Switzerland have been advised to stay indoors after several feet of snow fell in just a few days.

Some business owners are so worried they have taken to shutting up shops and restaurants by 9pm - with many runs also closed.

Deluge: A man shovels snow from a roof in Hochfilzen in the western Austrian province of Tyrol

Helping hand: An injured skier is rescued from the Axam, Tyrol region of Austria, following the heavy snowfall

In the Alps more than 1,000 British holidaymakers have been left trapped in the Austrian town of Ischgl after 10ft of powder fell in 48 hours alone. More are said to be stranded in the resorts of Galtur, St Anton and Arlberg.

It is a remarkable turnaround for the resorts who were left fretting at the start of the season after a lack of snow forced them to delay opening.

And it follows the stranding of thousands in the upmarket Swiss ski resort of Zermatt on January 5 when a major avalanche cut it off to all traffic and even helicopters.

Worst affected is western Austria and southeastern Switzerland, in the heart of the Alps, which has been virtually paralysed by the 'once-in-a-decade' snowstorms.

Heavy snowfall in the past days caused major traffic problems and a high danger of avalanches

White out: Mountain rescue search for a missing teenager in the Austrian Tyrol area of Axamer Lizum (left) as a pedestrian walks past snow piled up on a street of Mittenwald, southern Germany

Ploughs try to clear the streets in Fiss, eastern Austria

The most heavily hit areas in Austria’s western Tirol and Vorarlberg regions, which received 3 to 6ft of snow in just four days.

Local authorities have elevated the avalanche risk warning to 'high' as they continue searching for a missing 15-year-old skier near the Austrian city of Innsbruck.

Snow was already on the ground before a storm dumped several more feet over the weekend.

Austrian weather service ZAMG said some places had not seen snow 'so deep' in more than 30 years, adding that the village of Nauders last saw a similar depth of 47in in 1951.

And in Germany the 9,718ft summit of the Zugspitze, which only had 7.5in of snow six weeks ago, now has 150in.

Few ski lifts were operating in the Alps yesterday and many pistes were closed down as darkness fell.

One of the few lifts still working shut down in the sub-zero temperatures, stranding 150 skiers on the slopes in the popular resort of Mayrhofen.

Two Austrian Army helicopters were scrambled to airlift a number of inexperienced skiers – including children – down the difficult slopes above the Ahornbahn lift.

High Alpine winds continue to create the potential for fearsome snowslides according to the local Avalanche Commission, which is monitoring the situation.

Some 76,000 households, hotels, pensions and guest houses in the Alps have been hit by power cuts over the past few days as a result of the storms.

‘It is a winter that went from zero to 100’, said Andreas Steibl, tourism director for the Paznaun-Ischgl resort, yesterday.

The main access road, along the Paznaun Valley from the town of Landeck to Ischgl, was open for a while on Saturday – allowing holidaymakers in and out of the resort.

But since then the road has been closed because of the high risk of avalanches.

Traffic chaos: Cars getting out of a tunnel on a snowy street near Fiss

Soldiers of the Austrian armed force, pictured search for a missing 15-year-old on Sunday in the ski area of Axamer Lizum. A number of inexperienced skiers including children have had to be airlifted from the snow

Digging out: A man struggles to clear snow in Axam, Tyrol region of Austria

‘Although the roads have been closed, the resort itself has been operating as normal with skiers and boarders experiencing amazingly good conditions,’ Mr Steibl said.

‘Our safety committee is meeting daily to assess the situation and decide when the road can be opened.’

Before Christmas the area enjoyed high temperatures and many in the Tirol region now fear an economic wipeout. Dutch tourist Romke Loopke and his family were buried in their car by an avalanche.

He said; ‘It was scary as hell. One minute it was all white and then the next totally dark. Luckily I got a window open and managed to dig my way out.’

John Thorpe, 33, on holiday from Glasgow with wife Gill and their two sons, told an Austrian radio station in Ischgl; ‘It’s a bit like being trapped in paradise.

Better have the de-icer handy: A car in Haggen, Tyrol region of Austria, is almost completely covered in snow following the extreme fall

Blanketed: The Swiss village of Andermatt succumbed to heavy snowfall earlier on in the week

Forbidden: A street sign in Mittenwald, southern Germany, can only just been seen amongst the mountains of snow

‘We were due to head for Salzburg and home today but we can’t get down the road.

‘The railway line is out and the road is blocked. But I don’t think you will find many people complaining – it’s beautiful and thrilling to see nature this powerful this close to.’

The region’s mayor, Rainer Silberberger, said: ‘We are working to clear roads and secure the snow falls. I’ve never seen weather like it.’

One British ski rep said there was growing frustration among some holidaymakers who were supposed to be back at work yesterday and from those who were due to start their trips at the beginning of the week.

Cloudy: A snow blower, followed by pedestrians, helps to clear the streets of St. Martin near Lofer, in the Austrian province of Salzburg, following the snowfall

Standstill: Regional trains stand on platforms of Mittenwald train station, in southern Germany, after the line between Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Innsbruck was closed

He said: ‘While I think it is fair to say most people are happy to be trapped, there are those who urgently need to get home and those who want to get started on their holidays, and so a sense of frustration is mounting.’

And ski instructor Sarah Hannibal, who works in Ischgl, said: ‘The skiing conditions are fantastic, although obviously no one is going off-piste at the moment because of the amount of snow.

‘It has been very windy at the top of the mountain which means visibility can be affected by wind-blown snow – but the holidaymakers are having a wonderful time.

‘Many ski instructors who live in other parts of the valley are the ones affected most by the conditions and they have had to make arrangements to stay with friends or at hotels in Ischgl.

‘That includes me as I live in Galtur and have been stranded in Ischgl but it’s no hardship when the skiing is so good.’

What a difference: The slopes of Val D'Isere, seen here last month, had been badly affected by the warmest and driest autumn in the Alps for 147 years
Video: Austrian villages cut off by snow



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