A group of seven local skiers and their coaches have witnessed first hand the torrential rains that have brought havoc to areas of the Swiss mountains this week.
Days of driving rain have led to swollen rivers, mud slides and destruction in several Swiss villages. The hardest hit may have been Gondo, Switzerland where 12 people were missing and feared dead
A total of 23 people were missing Monday across southern Switzerland and northern Italy. Three deaths have been confirmed in Switzerland and nine more were reported in Italy.
Luckily, the Steamboat skiers, who were part of a two-week alpine ski camp sponsored by the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, are safe in the alpine village of Saas Fee. The skiers were expected back in Steamboat on Monday, but ski camp coach Werner Schnydrig said the skiers return will be delayed until at least Friday because of closed roads and dangerous traveling conditions in the mountains.
"We can't go anywhere," Schnydrig said. "All of the routes out of Saas Fee have been closed and the police will not let us go anywhere. We are all safe and are not in any danger at this time."
The Steamboat coach said the impact of the flooding and mud slides has been felt at the lower elevations. Since Saas Fee is located high in the mountains everyone in his group feels safe.
This is not the case in the lower sections of the country. Over the weekend 24-inches of rain soaked the region where it loosened rocks, sparking mud slides and causing rivers to flow over their banks. Schydrig said two people were missing in a mountain town just a few miles from Saas Fee after the restaurant they were eating in was swept away by a wall of mud.
Schnydrig said the glacier where his ski camp was being held was closed down several days ago because of heavy snow. The peak has been buried under 12-feet of snow in less than two days.
"It's unreal," Schnydrig said. "I was talking to a 70-year-old Swiss ski champ and he told me that he has never seen anything like it."
The popular training areas were closed for fear of avalanches, but Schnydrig said things were starting to get back to normal on Monday afternoon. The rain had stopped and some of the roads in the area were starting to open. Schnydrig said the ski slopes were also expected to open today.
Helicopters have been ferrying some people in and out of Saas Fee on an emergency bases, but the local skiers will just have to wait. He has chartered a bus to take the 22 members of the ski camp out of the area on Thursday morning. He is hoping the main road to the Swiss airport will be open. If that is the case, the skiers will only have to spend about 3 hours in the bus.
If not, the skiers may be forced to take a much longer route to France were they will board a plane and head for the United States. That bus ride will take about 10 hours.
"It's my goal to have everyone home, safe sometime Friday night," Schnydrig said. "But right now we just have to play it by ear."
In the last few days the local skiers have been without electricity and water for short periods of time. But most services been restored. For now the skiers are just trying to keep things as normal as possible while they wait for the roads in the area to open.
"We are trying to make it just like any other ski camp," Schnydrig said. "We've been doing some conditioning exercises and playing some games to help pass the time."
Among the local skiers currently in Switzerland are Jennifer Shively, Carter Allen, Jeff Brown, Dmitry Chase, Peter Phillips, and Ryan and Drew Roberts. Schnydrig is joined by another local coach Ben Webster.
Two former Steamboat locals Rob and Angie Worrell are also along for the trip as well as 11 other skiers from outside of Steamboat Springs.
To reach John F. Russell call 81-4209 or e-mail him at email@example.com.