[VIDEO] The Deceased 6 Backcountry Skiers’ Desperate Fight for Survival at Tête Blanche near Zermatt, Switzerland


In a desperate attempt to survive the night, the backcountry skiers had dug a cave. | Image: Screenshot from police video / Kantonspolizei Wallis

A video released by the Cantonal Police of Wallis/Valais shows how the deceased backcountry skiers, who had gone missing on a tour from Zermatt to Arolla in Switzerland, fought for their survival in the extreme elements. On Saturday, March 9, six backcountry skiers set out on a tour to train for the Patrouille des Glaciers challenge, which leads from Zermatt via Arolla to Verbier. They never arrived in Arolla and it is assumed that all six have perished in the mountains.

In the backcountry group were three brothers, their cousin and uncle, and one of the brother’s girlfriend. Aside from the girlfriend, all skiers were local residents and familiar with the area. They were all very experienced backcountry skiers and one of the brothers had completed a Patrouille des Glaciers in 2018, a tough backcountry race organized every two years by the Swiss Army. The group had packed light for the training but were otherwise well equipped. They knew what they were doing, yet the weather changed from a clear morning to a treacherous storm that left the group disoriented in the Tête Blanche area.

At 5:19 p.m. on Saturday, the female backcountry skier set out a distress call for help, but conditions were unsafe for search and rescue teams to get to them. It is hard to imagine what was going on in their heads when they called for help and were told that help could not get to them. Rescue workers advised them to dig a cave but their small, light shovels could not dig well enough to create a big cave.

On Sunday night, search and rescue workers were finally able to access the area safely and found four people in the small cave they managed to dig, two on top of the snow and two others buried below the snow. A fifth person was found near the cave however the sixth skier, the female who had sent the distress call, could not be located. Her backpack and skis were found in the cave, so it is possible she became disoriented or panicked and left the cave and fell into a crevasse.

The missing skier could not be found. | Image: Screenshot from police video / Kantonspolizei Wallis

Anjan Truffer, Director of Zermatt Mountain Rescue and an experienced mountain who was part of the search and rescue on Sunday night said in interviews with Swiss newspapers: “It was dark and very windy. First, we found two people who were very cold on top of the snow. Thanks to probing poles and avalanche detectors, we later found two more people who lay under the snow cover. We had to dig them out with a shovel. Another person was about 30 meters (90 feet) away, but it took some time for us to find them. Around 1 a.m., the search was abandoned because it became too dangerous, as it was very windy.” He confirms they did attempt resuscitation on site but all help came too late for the group.

Search and rescue has been searching for the sixth skier for the last four days. The helicopter footage from the search efforts shows the cave the group dug in a desperate bid to survive the cold. It is unclear for how long they managed to survive as the official autopsy is still outstanding, but the situation must have been dire. Christian Varone from the Cantonal Police Wallis/Valais confirmed in an interview with Swiss TV, “It must be horrible to find yourself in such a position. They did everything they could to protect themselves, but unfortunately were unsuccessful.”

On Thursday, March 14, the police announced that the active search for the missing backcountry skier has been abandoned. In a press release the Cantonal Police Wallis/Valais confirmed that despite their best efforts, the female skier in the group could not be found.

It is the worst tragedy in the area since April 2018, when seven people perished in a storm on the Haute Route.

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