2 skiers die in Austrian avalanches

/ Source: The Associated Press

Avalanches killed two skiers and seriously injured another Monday, and experts warned that recent storms have created unstable conditions ripe for more snow slides in Austria’s Alps.

A 41-year-old American and a 39-year-old German died in an avalanche in Lech am Arlberg in the southwestern province of Vorarlberg that also critically injured the American’s wife, also 41, the Austria Press Agency reported.

Officials did not immediately release the names or hometowns of the victims, who were located after a 30-minute search by 15 mountain rescue experts using a pair of specially trained dogs. They said the German was dead at the scene and that the American died later at a hospital where he had been airlifted by helicopter.

The victims were skiing off-trail in deep powder and were not wearing avalanche beepers that emit a signal that helps rescuers locate people buried in snow, Austrian television reported.

An earlier avalanche that swept down a mountainside in St. Gallenkirch, also in Vorarlberg, trapped an attendant in snow so deep it took rescue workers half an hour to free him, Austrian radio reported. That victim was taken to a hospital for treatment for shock and exposure but was not seriously injured.

On Sunday, a ski instructor narrowly escaped injury when he was caught in an avalanche on another mountain in Vorarlberg, APA said.

The instructor managed to ski beneath a waterfall as the avalanche, described as about 80 feet wide, thundered down the mountain. He was able to dig himself out of deep snow.

A crust of new snow ranging in depth from six to 18 inches has rendered key skiing and hiking areas “particularly accident-prone,” said officials with the Avalanche Warning Service in the western province of Tyrol.

Conditions were especially acute in the northern Alps in and around Kitzbuehel, a top resort area that draws tens of thousands of skiers and snowboarders, the service said in a statement.

It said strong winds had created drifts that could break away from a base of older snow and trigger potentially deadly snow slides.

Dozens of avalanches strike Austria each year, many of them in early winter or spring when higher temperatures create unstable conditions.