File photo. / © AFP PHOTO / KANTONSPOLIZEI GRAUBUENDEN
Avalanches in Austria and Switzerland have left five people dead, leading officials to warn on Saturday of the risks posed by particularly unstable snow cover.
Three of those killed were visiting Austria's Alpine regions.
"One winter sports enthusiast was killed in an avalanche in Kaltenbach on Saturday," a police spokesman told AFP, without giving further details of the accident in the small Alpine village.
Austrian news agency APA reported that the victim was a 17-year-old New Zealander who was skiing off-piste.
On Friday, a 32-year-old Chinese man, who was also said to be skiing away from the designated routes, died in an avalanche in the resort of Soelden.
A third victim was found dead Saturday after being reported missing the previous day. APA reported that the man, in his 50s, had died in the Kleinwalsertal valley on Austria's border with Germany.
In Switzerland, two off-piste skiers were killed by an avalanche Saturday morning in the southeastern canton of Graubuenden, the cantonal police said.
A third member of the group was caught up in the flow of snow but managed to escape unharmed, local police said in a statement.
The two skiers who died were a 56-year-old woman and a 52-year-old man, said police.
The rescue operation there was hampered by poor visibility and bad weather conditions, police said.
Over the past two days, intensive snowfall and wind have increased the avalanche danger.
The officials in Austria have warned winter sports enthusiasts to exercise caution.
Despite the alert level being set at four on a scale of five however, many holidaymakers have ventured off the marked slopes, authorities said.
The avalanche situation also led to numerous rescue operations on Saturday, which were themselves made more dangerous by the weather conditions.
With the February school holidays underway in Vienna, Austria's resorts have filled up, after a poor start to the season because of the lack of snow at low and medium altitudes.
In recent years, in Austria, a leading winter sports destination, avalanches have killed around twenty people a year.