NEW YORK -- Avalanches in the central European Alps plagued ski
resorts, skiers and U.S. operators specializing in the region.
More than a dozen fatalities had been reported in Austria,
Switzerland, France and Italy during the last few weeks, and a
major avalanche Feb. 23 in Galteur, Austria, killed at least 27
Some Alpine roads and resorts have been temporarily shut
Chips Lindenmeyr, owner of Lindenmeyr Travel, a European ski
tour operator in New York, said she has been trying to find
alternate accommodations and transportation for clients already in
Austria on ski vacations.
"I have been making a lot of phone calls and assuring clients
that somehow, things will work out, and I have given them the names
of people to contact. I also have been keeping in touch with the
hotels and [ground] transfer companies," Lindenmeyr said.
"With one group of 22, I didn't hear about any of the problems
until they came back. They had a great time, so it all depends on
In another instance, a group of 22 couldn't get to into the
resort town of Lech, Austria, for two days, she said.
"The hotel in Lech [transferred] them to a four-star hotel
outside [nearby] Vorarlberg and gave them a champagne party there,"
The group's bus driver stayed with them for the two days they
were stranded, took them for a day of skiing one day, and then got
them to Lech," she said.
Another operator, Adventures on Skis, in Westfield, Mass., said
that a few of its clients were unable to get in or out of some ski
"We are changing our itineraries on a day-by-day basis according
to road conditions," said ski department manager Laurie
She reported a group in Davos, Switzerland, whose problem was
not so much danger as boredom.
"All except the beginner slopes were closed, so we tried to find
other things for them to do," she said.
Despite a number of calls asking about the avalanches, McKinnon
reported a "busier-than-ever" ski season.
Other operators agreed that this year has been a good one for
European ski vacations, thanks to heavy snowfalls in the Alps and
disappointing conditions at some U.S. ski regions.
"The [avalanches] have not affected our sales; in fact we are
having our best ski season ever," said Gary Haverkamp, director of
marketing operations for DER Travel Services.
"[European] resorts are doing everything they can to mark
possible dangerous or avalanche areas, and they are posting guides
all over the place for people to follow," he said.
Haverkamp said that in Switzerland, the road and train lines to
Zermatt are closed, but were expected to reopen "by Feb. 27 at the
"DER had a couple of people who could not get into Zermatt, [so]
had a nice vacation in Zurich instead. They were taken care
Central Holidays in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., reported no
cancellations and only a few inquiries as a result of the
Swissair had no reports of people unable to get home and only
one trip cancellation, a spokeswoman said.
She added that some Swiss resorts are offering helicopter
service to Zermatt and Grindelwald.
A spokesman for the Austrian National Tourist office in Vienna
said the risk of being affected by an avalanche depends on where
"Some areas get locked in every winter for a couple of days, and
that's normal," he said.
This year, in some areas such as Lech, however, the risk is high
and local officials are taking precautions such as closing roads
While the situation in Lech is unpredictable, "on a scale of one
to five, the chance of an avalanche is five," the spokesman
DER's Haverkamp added that the firm received an update from its
supplier Feb. 25, "and it appears that Lech, which is accessible by
tunnel, is closed off. They expect the tunnel to be open by
tomorrow, and the resort will be open."
The international press has reported that some 20,000 tourists
are trapped in Austria.
However, the Austrian spokesman indicated that the figure
includes those who are not in avalanche areas but are affected by
nearby road and highway closures.
According to Summer Seigel, director of tourism for the
Rhone-Alps Tourism Board, "In France, when they temporarily close a
road to clear it or take precautionary safety measures against
avalanches, that doesn't [necessarily] mean that people at a nearby
resort are stuck.
"There is always a certain amount of risk doing any mountain
sport, but overall the risk is low," she said.
Referring to the one recent avalanche at Chamonix, France,
Siegel said, "The avalanche was devastating and tragic, but we have
had calls from people who thought the village was destroyed, and it
Cathy Carroll and Dinah Spritzer contributed to this report.