Tourists evacuated from Alpine ski resort

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Skiers stranded due to heavy snow and avalanche risk

Helicopters are airlifting stranded tourists from the upmarket Swiss ski resort of Zermatt after about 13,000 visitors were stranded in the mountain village for two days by heavy recent snowfall and an exceptional risk of avalanches.

With even more snow to come, the airlift is taking out about 100 people per hour who urgently need to leave, to the nearby village of Täsch, a three-minute flight, from which rail replacement buses await for their onward journey.

The access road to the car-free mountain village, which has a resident population of about 5,500, has been closed because of the extreme avalanche risk and trains are unable to reach the station.

Ski slopes, hiking paths and cable cars around the village remain closed due to too much snowfall, a problem being faced in numerous Swiss and French resorts.

A mild wind has brought unseasonably high temperatures to lowland areas, but places above 1,400m have seen one to two metres of snowfall in recent days.

“Very large avalanches”
In Zermatt, near the Matterhorn, there is no immediate risk to the 13,000 tourists who remain there, which is approaching the village’s maximum capacity.

Electricity in the village has now been restored after an earlier power cut, although the resort continues to warn of “possible power breakdowns all over Zermatt”.

“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,” one visitor told the Guardian newspaper.

Expected further snowfall on top of lots of old snow risks “numerous large and, in many cases, very large natural avalanches”, warns the Swiss federal institute for forest, snow and landscape research, WSL. Such avalanches could reach “an exceptionally long way”, it added.

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