newsCO.com.au–‘Significant’ avalanche at Mount Hotham as heavy snow blankets Victoria’s Alpine region

August 13, 2017

Two skiers narrowly avoided a “significant” avalanche at Mount Hotham on Tuesday morning, skiing down the slope minutes before it collapsed.

The avalanche happened about 11.30am, outside of the patrolled ski area, on the side of the Mount Hotham summit.

Senior Sergeant Doug Incoll said police were in a meeting about avalanche preparedness with Mount Hotham ski patrol director Bill Barker, when the avalanche occurred.

“He had to leave the meeting and it turned out two fellows had just skied that run and they had to walk back up, because there’s no lift access,” Senior Sergeant Incoll said.

“They’ve waked back up to the top and one of the fellows was two metres away when the avalanche happened.

“They were very lucky that they weren’t caught up in it.”

The avalanche measured about 50 metres wide and 350 metres long.

Snowboarders Martin Buckland, 33, and Daniel Kerr, 32, were killed by an avalanche at nearby Mount Bogong in July 2014.

Senior Sergeant Incoll said the incident highlighted the need for backcountry skiers to take extra precautions, particularly after weekend heavy snow.

“Heavy snowfall, coupled with warmer weather conditions, can lead to an avalanche,” he said.

“Anyone that’s contemplating skiing beyond the ski field needs to make a proper risk assessment based on weather conditions, the steepness of the slope and the depth of the snow.

“Make a proper judgment, because we’re literally talking about life and death.”

The resort’s ski patrol team performed daily controlled avalanche work, and had noted in Tuesday’s snow report the “danger of sizeable wind slab avalanches at higher elevations.”

“Ski patrol attended the scene and assessed the avalanche, they ensured the area was clear,” a Mount Hotham resort spokeswoman said.

Mount Hotham ski patrol director Bill Barker said skiers should remain inside the resort’s boundaries until the snow had stabilised.

“[Skiers should] remain inbounds where the skiing is awesome, and wait for the snowpack to stabilise in the back country before venturing out there,” he said.

Hume police Inspector Paul Hargreaves said the avalanche was “quite significant” because it occurred in the resort boundary.

“The risk is present at the moment and reiterates the message that people need to stay out of those unpatrolled areas.”

A Falls Creek spokeswoman said there had not been any uncontrolled avalanches in their back country this week.

“Our ski patrol is monitoring the situation before we get people out there. Advice is to ski on-piste and not go out of bounds,” she said.

A heavy fall of 50 to 80 centimetres of snow was dumped across the Alpine region over the weekend.

Skiers reported blizzards, as high winds combined with the heavy snow dumps.

Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Beren Bradshaw said winds reached 90km/h in the region on Sunday.

The Falls Creek snow report named the event “Blizzard of Oz” and said Falls received 100 centimetres of snow on the weekend.

Chris Hocking took photos of cars buried in snow at Falls Creek on Sunday, and said one holiday-maker took more than an hour to dig his vehicle out of the resort’s car park.

Overnight on Monday about nine centimetres of snow fell at Mount Hotham, and 15 centimetres at Falls Creek.

Roads around Mount Hotham were closed, including the Great Alpine Road, which reopened about 2.30pm.

VicRoads said Benambra-Corryong Road, between Nariel Valley and Benambra, and Omeo Highway, between Mitta Mitta and Glen Wills, remained closed on Tuesday afternoon. 

Inspector Hargreaves said tourists heading to the mountains this weekend should remember to ski within the patrolled areas.

“We’ve had significant snow dumps over a metre, and the areas of Mount Feathertop and Mount Bogong, these are the areas that they go to for extreme skiing,” he said.

“In the past, lives have been lost out there, so we reiterate the importance of awareness and heeding the warnings.”

All ski resorts remain open. For information on road closures visit traffic.vicroads.vic.gov.au or call 13 11 70.

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