Segments in this Video

Introduction: Alpine Avalanches: The World's Worst Disasters (02:35)


Avalanches are caused by snow at the top of a mountain being dislodged. Most caught in the path of an avalanche will be crushed or suffocated by the snow.

Alps Fatalities (02:45)

Mont Blanc, the most dangerous mountain in the Alps is the site of 75% of Alps fatalities. The winter of 1950-1951 became known as the winter of terror because of the 649 avalanches that came down from the Alps.

Avalanches During War (03:22)

In 218 BC, when Hannibal was leading his troops through the Alps to battle the Romans, all of his troops, horses, and elephants were wiped out by an avalanche. During World War I, 70,000 were killed after both sides realized that avalanches could be used as a weapon, and deliberately shot heavy artillery at the top of the mountain. In 1995, Mount Everest was hit by an avalanche that devastated Nepal and the sounding area.

Slab Avalanche (02:01)

The slab occurs when a large slab of snow breaks loose from the mountain. This large slab can break up while it travels down the mountain, but each slab is large enough to destroy a building and kill anyone in its path. Slabs can be triggered by temperature change, heavy rains or winds, or a loud noise.

Huascaran Avalanche (01:16)

One of the most devastating slab avalanches occurred in Peru in 1962 when a large slab of ice broke loose from the top of Huascaran and slid down the mountain. This avalanche went down the mountain and into a gorge, and picked up large amounts of rock and other debris throughout its path.

Wind Avalanche (02:18)

A dry or wind avalanche is formed when the dry powder on the top of the snow is blown down the mountain, grabbing snow and momentum. These avalanches can be one of the largest avalanches and can grow extremely fast and strong. Prince Charles escaped a wind avalanche in 1988 but it claimed the life of his companion.

Wellington Avalanche (02:20)

In 1970, snow trapped a passenger train and a mail train. An electrical storm and immense rains caused a slab of snow to break off. The resulting avalanche trapped the train cars under 40 feet of snow, killing 93 and leaving only 23 survivors.

Blons Avalanche (03:32)

In 1954, a wind avalanche hit the city of Blons in western Austria; while rescue operations were underway another avalanche hit, killing many of the rescue workers. Rescue efforts came from across the globe but the death toll was still close to 200.

Mount Rainier Avalanche (03:42)

In 1981, an avalanche cascaded down Mount Rainier in Washington State, hitting a group of hikers and guides who were headed up the mountain. Soon after the avalanche, a rescue team headed up the mountain to help and they managed to find a majority of the group alive, but eleven people died.

Galtuer Avalanche (04:40)

In 1999, a dry snow avalanche gained speed as it roared down the mountainside destroying the city below. The avalanche made it impossible for outside help to reach the city, but there was one rescue dog in the village that was put to work uncovering people who had been buried alive.

Hazard Zones in Galtuer (03:04)

Galtuer, like a lot of European cities, had hazard zones that were marked by the risk of an avalanche but this avalanche ignored the zones and kept going through them all, straight to the green zone. This avalanche destroyed the houses; the snow got in through windows and then destroyed what was left of the houses.

Harsh European Winter of 1999 (01:56)

Two Americans that were in Europe were trapped in a house when snow from an avalanche came in through the window and trapped them against the side of their house. By the end of the winter, 70 people were dead, 12 of them in the Chamonix ski area where the mayor was charged with second degree murder for failing to evacuate people from the town, and was found guilty.

Avalanche Defenses and Survival Techniques (03:33)

The best natural defense from avalanches is trees; metal fences or piles of rocks can also help slow the momentum before the avalanche reaches civilization. Preventative measures include using explosives to create a small controlled avalanches. Most avalanches are caused by skiers.

Avalanche Rescue Efforts (02:10)

Once at the sight of the disaster, rescuers look for clues of where a person is, such as electronic beeper signals, clothes, or other items. If rescuers are unable to find anyone on the surface, they use either collapsible metal poles that they stick into the snow or rescue dogs, which can hear more sounds can cover a lot larger area in less time than humans, to find them.

Avalanche Research (03:02)

Scientific advances have made it possible to predict where an avalanche is going to occur and sometimes when it is going to occur as well. Switzerland was the first country to set up a place to study avalanches, the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research, which hoped to reduce the impact of avalanches. Some scientists from this research institute decided to build a bunker in the middle of a mountain and then set off an avalanche above them, putting themselves in possible danger, but also gathering information that would not have otherwise been possible.

Predicting and Preventing Disaster (03:07)

When researching avalanches it is important to look at snow characteristics. Avalanche researchers all over the world research the same characteristics of an avalanche, and then use these characteristics to provide warnings to people who may be in the mountain.

Credits: Alpine Avalanches: The World's Worst Disasters (00:49)

Credits: Alpine Avalanches: The World's Worst Disasters

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Alpine Avalanches: The World's Worst Disasters

Part of the Series : The World's Worst Disasters
DVD (Chaptered) Price: $300.00
DVD + 3-Year Streaming Price: $450.00
3-Year Streaming Price: $300.00



This film explores the world’s most destructive avalanches, from Hannibal’s 218 BCE crossing of the Alps and thee use of avalanches as weapons in World War I to deadly avalanches of the late 20th Century. Viewers will learn what conditions create avalanches, how rescue efforts proceed after and avalanche, and finally, safety tips for avoiding and responding to avalanches. A BBC Production.

Length: 47 minutes

Item#: BVL95240

ISBN: 978-1-68272-347-0

Copyright date: ©2008

Closed Captioned

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Not available to Home Video and Publisher customers.