Avalanche at Schröcken / Bockstein area, Austria


"I was a member of the Austrian search and rescue service at OS Schröcken and completed an avalanche specialist course to become a member of the local Schröcken-Warth avalanche committee. Therefore it is a great concern for me to report about my experiences with an avalanche.

Due to the weather conditions (persistent and partly strong Chinook winds) and our concern for the safety of our ski companions, Gerhard S. and I met with Fritz S. (also a member of the avalanche committee) at the Hotel Körbersee. After briefly discussing the situation, we decided to take ski route 9 in the Bockenstein area. This area seemed to us to be relevant for testing in order to get a clear picture of the conditions. By chance we met the former head of the avalanche committee and immediately equipped him with a radio so that he could close the ski route for us.

After checking our 3 avalanche beacons, we got into position. Since I was equipped with an ABS® avalanche airbag and a ski helmet, I first went to the crucial area to cut the slope with my skis and possibly release a layer of snow (this has been practiced for many years).

Nothing happened, and the slope seemed quite safe. Therefore, Gerhard followed. While he waited in my place, I continued down to the left and wanted to stop there, but at that moment the entire slope went off 2 meters above me. I tried to turn around and leave the slope, but I did not succeed. Immediately after this realization, I pulled the avalanche airbag at my last chance and realized that I was already carried away by the avalanche.

From that moment on, I went down with incredible speed, sometimes partially buried under the snow, but always able to resurface. I saw trees coming towards me, and then I was again carried away by the avalanche. I kept hitting my head on something hard (rocks, frozen chunks of ice or similar objects). Thanks to the helmet and the avalanche airbag (I'm convinced it not only tried to keep me afloat, but also saved me from injury during the fall), I survived this 250-meter avalanche, descending over steep rocky and wooded terrain, relatively unscathed. Only afterwards did I realize the forces at play in such an action. I lost my skis, my goggles, my pager in my pants pocket was damaged, the buckles on my ski boots were torn off. Even one of my airbags was partially torn off my backpack, which partially opened and accumulated snow. All my clothes were soaking wet and full of snow.

Many thanks to my two friends who immediately started searching and helped me dig out my lower body. I was only buried up to my hips. For anyone involved with such organizations, please keep the following in mind: Only perfect equipment, well-trained escorts and a little luck can prevent a worse outcome."

Harald, R., Schröcken