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Avalanche at Schröcken, Bockstein Area / Austria

 04.01.2008

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

Due to the weather conditions (persistent and sometimes 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 the 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 to block the ski route for us. 

After we had checked our 3 avalanche transceivers, we went into position. As I was equipped with a ABS® avalanche airbag and a ski helmet, I first went to the crucial area to cut the slope with the skis and possibly release a snow cover (this has been practiced for many years). 

Nothing happened and the slope seemed to be pretty safe. So Gerhard followed. While he waited in my place, I continued down to the left and wanted to stop there, but at that moment the whole slope went down 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 noticed that I was already carried away by the avalanche.

From that moment on I went down with incredible speed, sometimes partly buried under the snow but always able to come up to the surface again. I saw trees coming at me and then I was swept under again by the avalanche. I kept on hitting my head on something hard (rocks, frozen ice chards or similar objects). Thanks to the helmet and avalanche airbag (I am convinced that it didn’t just try to keep me afloat, but also saved me from injuries during the fall) I survived this 250m long avalanche, which went down over steep rocky and forested terrain, relatively unharmed. Only afterwards I realized the kind of forces involved during such an action. I lost my skis, my glasses, my pager in my pant pocket was damaged, the buckles on my ski boots were torn off, even one of my airbags was partly ripped off of the backpack which in turn partly opened and collected snow that was so densely packed that it was hard to remove by hand, all clothing was soaking wet and full of snow. 

Many thanks to my two friends who immediately started the search and helped me to dig out my lower body. I was only buried up to my hips. For all those who are involved with such organizations, please consider the following: Only perfect equipment, well-trained guides and a little luck can prevent a worse outcome."

Harald, R., Schröcken