Avalanche Alert: Heavy Snow Has Alpine Towns Struggling to Dig Out

Earlier this winter, Alpine residents complained about a dearth of snow. But in recent days many find they now have more than they can handle. Avalanche danger has forced the closure of several roads in southern Germany and Austria, where several villages also remain cut off from the outside world.

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Prior to Christmas, many ski areas in the northern Alps were complaining of a lack of snow. Brown ski runs, cancelled holidays and warm weather had many fearing a bleak winter.

This week, though, many towns and villages in southern Germany and Austria are crying uncle. Even as Wednesday saw the sun come out for the first time in days, the process of digging out from winter's arrival could take some time yet. Several mountain hamlets in Austria were completely cut off from the outside world and a high avalanche danger has resulted in the closure of several roads in both Bavaria and across the border in Austria's Tyrol region.

"It is a winter that's gone from zero to 100," Andreas Steibl, head of the tourism association in the Austrian town of Paznaun-Ischgl, told German news agency DPA. Some ski areas in Tyrol measured snowfall upwards of 4 meters (13 feet) in the past several days, with some resorts reporting closer to 5 meters.

Dozens of Alpine passes have had to be closed as a result of the arrival of winter, with 53 of the 200 most-used passes having been shut. In Austria, military helicopters were used to blow snow off trees lining some roads due to fears that they could fall onto passing cars.

Officials on Wednesday said that the avalanche danger in many parts of Tyrol and Bavaria was less than earlier in the week. But tourists in several ski resorts remain snowed in and unable to return home. That, though, is likely to change soon. Weather forecasts predict clear skies and sun until snowfall returns this weekend. Meteorologists say, however, that there won't be nearly as much snow this time.

cgh -- with wire reports

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