Relief for tourists trapped in Swiss ski town as railway reopens

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Visitors have been stuck in the mountain resort of Zermatt for two days after snow blocked road and rail links.

Trains from popular Swiss ski station Zermatt are due to reopen on Wednesday, providing relief for some 13,000 tourists trapped there by heavy snowfall, a statement said.

Visitors have been stuck in the mountain resort for two days after snow blocked road and rail links.

Zermatt’s official site had said that the first train to the nearby village of Tasch would leave at 1015 GMT (11:15 am), but later announced that the resumption of service had been pushed back.

“The railway cannot operate at 11.15 am as planned due to the difficult removal of snow between Tasch and Zermatt”, the statement said.

“The persons in charge are working hard on the reopening and are confident to open the railway in the afternoon.” it added.

Workers clear snow from a train tunnel in Zermatt on January 9, 2018 after heavy snowfall and avalanches trapped more than 13,000 tourists at Zermatt, one of Switzerland's most popular ski stations.
Workers clear snow from a train tunnel in Zermatt on January 9, 2018 after heavy snowfall and avalanches trapped more than 13,000 tourists at Zermatt, one of Switzerland’s most popular ski stations. ( AFP )

Tasch is a small Swiss village six kilometres from Zermatt that serves as a gateway for those travelling in the Matterhorn mountain region.

The network in Tasch remains closed due to snow, but replacement buses are operating, making it possible for people to reach regional airports.

Extreme weather has caused havoc in several Swiss areas, including the Valais region south of Zermatt and in the canton of Bern, where a World Cup downhill training run had to be cancelled due to snow and high winds.

A pedestrian walks in the small resort of Zinal, Swiss Alps on January 9, 2018, after the access road cut by heavy snowfall reopened.
A pedestrian walks in the small resort of Zinal, Swiss Alps on January 9, 2018, after the access road cut by heavy snowfall reopened. ( AFP )

In the Pyrenees, a skier was killed and another injured after avalanches in Aragnouet on the slopes of Pique Poque mountain, according to local police.

In the French Alps, a slight break in the weather meant rescuers could begin looking for a British skier who went missing on Sunday in the resort of Tignes, police said.

“The persons in charge are working with high pressure,” a statement said on Zermatt’s official website as tourists and locals bedded in for another night in the resort.

But an avalanche risk at its highest level means the stranded tourists will not be able to take advantage of the abundant snow for the time being.

“It is not possible to do downhill or cross country (skiing), but that’s ok. It’s a bit romantic,” resort spokesperson Janine Imesch said, adding that “there is no panic.”

A pedestrian walks past a snow covered car in the small resort of Zinal, Swiss Alps on January 9, 2018, after the access road cut by heavy snowfall reopened.
A pedestrian walks past a snow covered car in the small resort of Zinal, Swiss Alps on January 9, 2018, after the access road cut by heavy snowfall reopened. ( AFP )

The heavy snowfall also caused power outages in some other areas of the southern Swiss canton of Valais, and a number of other villages were also cut off, with the Simplon region of Valais hit by two metres of snow over 24 hours, the ATS news agency reported.

Mud and rockslides, as well as flooding, closed a number of roads across Valais.

At lower altitudes, heavy rains forced the evacuation of around 20 people from Eyholz village with the nearby hamlet of Mottec also emptied as a precaution, Swiss media reports said.

Further to the north, snow and high winds prompted the cancellation of Tuesday’s first men’s World Cup downhill training run in Wengen, in the canton of Bern, organisers said.

Although the piste itself was unaffected, overnight winds of up to 200 kilometres per hour caused significant damage to infrastructure on the course, notably at the finish where tents and the stands were hit.