Swiss Tragedy: The Five Haute Route Skiers Died of Cold

Details have emerged about the five family members who died ski touring near Zermatt in the Swiss Alps. According to rescuers, the victims became disoriented in a storm and died of cold while trying to build a snow cave.

“The picture we found was ugly,” Anjan Truffer, head rescuer at Air Zermatt, told local media.  “We saw that the ski tourers had tried to build a cave to protect themselves from the wind.”

Truffer said the bodies were scattered, probably in panic during the storm. He concluded that they all froze to death.

Truffer on a glacier, a helicopter behind him.

Anjan Truffer, director of Air Zermatt. Photo:

Storm expected

The skiers left Zermatt on Saturday morning in good weather, but all forecasts warned of a serious storm by afternoon. The blizzard hit the group, which included a sixth member who is still missing, while they were on Tete Blanche, one of the highest sections of the route.

They were skiing between Zermatt and Arolla, on the border between Switzerland and Italy. It is a section of the Haute Route between Chamonix and Zermatt, probably the most popular ski-mountaineering tour in the Alps.

Racers in training?

The UK’s Daily Mail quotes Truffer as saying that the rescuers found two people lying in the snow and three more buried in fresh snow. The rescuer noted that the skiers were not wearing warm enough clothes to survive the extremely high winds and low temperatures. He also said that their shovels were too small and light to quickly and efficiently dig a snow cave.

After our previous story about this incident, a Swiss reader contacted ExplorersWeb with a plausible explanation for their lack of equipment. The skiers were skimo racers who had registered for next weekend’s famous Patrouille des Glaciers. With the race so close, they might have felt pressured to get their training in before the weather turned bad.

“They planned on reaching Arolla from Zermatt in one day but never made it to Arolla; a friend was waiting for them and called for help after 4 pm,” said the reader.

A skimo racer looking down, with skis on backpack.

Participants in the Patrouille des Glaciers skimo race in 2022. Photo: Patrouille des Glaciers


Skimo (short for ski-mountaineering) racers keep their equipment as light as possible — hence the ultralight but less efficient shovels. The athletes also wear light clothing adapted to their fast pace. Their minimal kit also makes sense if they intended to reach Arolla that day. Average skiers need two days, stopping for the night in a mountain hut along the way.

Rescuers delayed by bad weather

Rescue services at Zermatt confirmed that they received an SOS late afternoon on Saturday.

“Despite the storm and snowfall, an Air Zermatt helicopter took off to fly five rescue specialists from Zermatt as far as possible into the area,” Air Zermatt reported. “However, [a ground rescue] had to be abandoned due to the very poor weather and the associated dangers.”

The helicopter only flew again on Sunday evening. It dropped five rescuers at the nearby Dent Blanche, from which they approached the Tete Blanche on skis. But by the time they found five of the six missing skiers at 9:20 pm, it was too late.

The search continues for the last missing skier. Anjan Truffer reported that the weather was good today, permitting a more thorough search. However, they have not found the sixth person so far.

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides graduated university in journalism and specializes in high-altitude mountaineering and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.