The threat of avalanches – Making Austria’s slopes safe | DW Documentary

Avalanches are difficult to predict, highly destructive and often deadly. These masses of snow fall at high speeds down mountainsides, sweeping away anything in their path. “Avalanche blasters” use explosives to trigger controlled avalanches.

Up to 10,000 tourists a day visit the glacier ski resort of Kitzsteinhorn in Austria, where heavy overnight precipitation can result in half a meter of fresh snow in the morning. That’s when René Zisek and his team get to work. At dawn, before the crowds start to arrive, the “avalanche blasters” head out with explosives to the slopes where the fresh snow has fallen. “When there’s heavy snowfall, we have to make sure that no avalanches endanger anyone on the ski slopes,” says René Zisek, as he lights the fuse on the explosives. He and his team set off controlled avalanches when the slopes are empty, thereby averting more serious ones. Avalanche researcher Engelbert Gleirscher studies the destructive force of avalanches at a test site in the Stubai Valley. Avalanches here start at an altitude of 700 meters and end up in a safety net fitted with sensors, providing researchers with useful data for the development of avalanche defense systems. These efforts are designed to ensure that avalanches like the one that occurred in the small mountain village of Galtür in 1999 never happen again. A total of 38 people were killed in what went down in history as one of the worst-ever avalanches in the Alps.

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