Italy and Avalanches

News Brief: Mar. 2010

Italy has reacted to the spate of avalanche deaths in the Alps (The Vienna Review, February 2010) by planning to introduce new draconian laws that would foresee €5,000 fines and possible prison terms for skiers and snowboarders who ignore avalanche warnings. The custodial sentences would be for those who had caused injury or death to third parties.

A spokesman for the Italian senate said the new rules, which have been backed by the country’s Civil Protection rescue services, could be in force by the end of February. Many Italians have been angered by the perceived irresponsibility of winter sports enthusiasts who leave the secured piste areas despite clear warnings that the conditions are dangerous. This year nine people were killed in a 48-hour period in avalanche incidents. Winter sports enthusiasts insist they know the risks and accept them, but often they put others at risk too. The call for tougher penalties came to a head in December last year when four rescue workers were killed while searching for a pair of climbers who had ignored official warnings.

Not everyone is pleased with the initiative. Italian mountaineering legend Reinhold Messner was quoted by Daily Mail saying that the proposals were a “hysterical overreaction” that “will simply kill mountaineering.” Others say it would be more effective for local authorities to invest in safety and education campaigns.

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