Avalanches and a broken chair lift bring misery to the frozen Alps

Skiers stranded for hours as Alpine rescuers warn of lethal risks on the slopes

A total of 88 skiers were left dangling above the slopes when a chairlift broke in the Alps over the weekend.

The jammed mountain lift in Italy's Aosta Valley left them trapped 10 metres above piste for three hours in temperatures of minus 11C, as two helicopter crews battled the bitter cold to rescue them.

The incident follows deadly avalanches after Christmas and the death of three Italian climbers who fell to their deaths in the Lecco region of the Italian Alps.

During the chairlift incident on Sunday, rescue helicopter teams lowered the trapped skiers one by one on to the piste below, during an operation which saw the wind chill lower the perceived temperature even further.

Several of the trapped skiers said they had feared they would freeze to death. Around 20 of those trapped were under 12 – and Italian newspaper reports said many of the youngsters were treated for frozen hands and fingers. But there were no serious injuries.

The incident occurred at Saint-Rhemy-En-Bosses, just north-east of Courmayeur, by the Swiss border, on a chairlift which carries skiers and snowboarders from 1,970 metres to 2,450 metres up the mountain.

At 9.30am a power failure caused the chairlift's motor to stop. To their dismay, operators then saw the reserve diesel motor fail. Rolando Reale, president of the Crevacol skiing association, which includes Saint-Rhemy, said engineers "tried everything" to restart the motor but a safety system, designed to prevent the re-engagement of a damaged lift system, had kicked in. "At this point we asked the civil protection service to intervene," he told La Stampa newspaper.

The last person to be rescued, a ski instructor from the nearby Pila ski school, was lowered from the chair lift at 12.30pm.

It has emerged that an electrical problem also struck a cable motor further down the mountain on Saturday. Mr Reale said this was quickly repaired and had represented no danger.

Luca Mercalli, a mountain safety expert at the Italian Meteorological Society, said: "I think the safety standards of the Italian resorts are very good. There are a lot of checks. And the rescue by helicopter was done by the book."

Guido Bertolaso, head of Italy's civil protection unit, agreed: "It could not have been very pleasant sitting in the cold for hours. But the people were never in real danger."

Three Italian Alpine explorers in the Lecco region were not so lucky. The body of a 38-year-old man was found in a ravine on Mount Barro. High winds had prevented rescuers from responding to distress calls. In a separate incident, two men aged 35 and 25 were found in a ditch on Mount Grigna.

The temperatures were exceptionally cold again in the Italian Alps at the weekend, with the mercury plunging to minus 26C at Point Helbronner, 3,500 metres high, near Courmayeur.

Experts, however, said that the greatest danger in the mountains remained that of avalanches, particularly when skiers went off-piste against the advice of authorities.

This was underlined last week when four rescue workers died after going to the aid of two tourists who had ignored avalanche warnings to go climbing in the Italian Dolomites. Five more died at the weekend, four in the Bernese Oberland and one in Valais, both in Switzerland.

Reckless skiing and skiboarding were widely blamed.

Mr Bertolaso said: "We can't allow this kind of incident to go on. We will continue to make our warnings clearer and louder. But if people still disregard them we may have to introduce fines."

Mr Mercalli said: "We have to keep repeating to those people who go off-piste that snow is a constantly changing and unstable substance, and that the risk bulletins must always be followed. They are there to prevent entertainment from turning into tragedy."

But he added that so far this season the number of deaths had not been exceptional, and by following advice the risk could be further reduced.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions