IDC Natural Hazards 3-day field trip to the Western Alps, Valais, Switzerland

from 05.-07.09.2023


The main target of the field trip is the avalanche test site in Vallée de la Sionne, Switzerland, which is managed by the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF). On the way to Valais and back we will stop at further mass movement related sites, such as the Illgraben mudflow test site of SLF, the Flims rockslide, the Glarus overthrust and at the Rhône glacier.

Accommodation will be arranged at a local camp-site in Valais and potentially at the SLF avalanche observation bunker (please consider your personal comfort zone). Two electric cars and an e-bus have been reserved for the trip. In case of bad weather we may have to depart on alternative days and drive with private cars. Since the trip is long it would be nice to have as many potential drivers as possible. If you are interest, please let us know if you already have permission to drive the UIBK e-cars (or are willing to get one) and/or if you have a private car that you can contribute. Transport and accommodation costs are covered by the DP Research Grant 2023. Food costs and other expenses are not covered.


  • The Vallée de la Sionne (VdlS) avalanche test side is in operation since 1997/98 and is equipped with an unique setup of sensor systems and measurement devices, like geophones, optical sensors, temperature sensors, Doppler and FMCW radars. The experiments at VdlS delivered new insights in avalanche dynamics, for powder cloud and wet snow avalanches, and lead to improvements in model development. With a drop height of over 1000 m, VdlS is one of the biggest avalanche test sites in Europe.


  • The Flims rockslide occurred about 10,000 years ago in eastern Switzerland and is considered the largest known landslide event in the Alps (at the UNESCO World Heritage site: Tectonic Arena Sardona). It moved approximately 8-9 km3 of rock, or up to ~11 km3. The slide surface is clearly visible towards the west, while south of Flims is a large hilly, forested debris area. The rock face of Flimserstein stands 350 meters high to the north. The valley floor in front of the rock avalanche was raised by over 100 meters due to bulldozing, and pieces of the valley flank as well as the older Tamins rock avalanche deposit were moved.


  • The Illgraben catchment with the SLF and WSL test site is located near the village of Susten (Leuk) in the Canton Valais. From the summit of Illhorn mountain (2716m a.s.l.) the catchment follows the Illbach river to the confluence with the Rhone River (610m a.s.l.). The debris flow prone sub catchments area of 4.6 km² is most active following convective rain storms generally between May and October up to five times per year. The Instrumentation of the Illgraben with rain gauges, Geophones, Radar and Laser flow height measurements and also a force plate allow to characterize debris flows in great detail.


  • The south exposed Rhône glacier near Oberwald, Switzerland is a glacier near Furka Pass. Regarding hazard processes the Laboratory of Hydraulics, Hydrology and Glaciology (VAW) did find that because of increased glacier melt of the Rhône glacier and its retreat over a solid rock ridge no direct icefall threat exists. Nevertheless, blockages of the Rhône and therefor outburst floods could still be possible. Documented events of ice dammed river outbursts and icefall between 1900 to 1947 list 9 casualties and 9 people injured. Observations at the site show the effect of anthropogenic climate change forcing and allow for possible exposition to future hazard events at other locations.



Flims rockslide (


Tentative time schedule
Day 1: Tuesday, 05.09.2023

  • 07:00 h: Early start from Innsbruck University
  • 10:30 h: Excursions in the area of the Flims rock slide/ Glarus overthrust
  • 13:00 h Lunch break on the way
  • 18:00 h Arrival at camp ground, tent assembly and dinner

Day 2: Wednesday, 06.09.2023

  • 08:00 h Individual breakfast and stop for buying lunch/dinner snacks
  • 10:00 h Visit and guided tour at the full-scale test-site Vallée de la Sionne
  • 18:00 h Night at camp site or in avalanche observation bunker of VdlS

Day 3: Thursday, 07.09.2023

  • 06:00 h Individual breakfast and dismounting tends or return from test bunker
  • 07:30 h Departure from Arbaz (VdlS)
  • 08:30 h Visit of Illgraben
  • 09:30 h Departure from Illgraben
  • 12:00 h Lunch break and little excursions in the area of the Rhône glacier
  • 13:00 h Departure from Rhône glacier
  • 20:00 h Arrival at Innsbruck University


Please contact Nora ( as soon as possible, but latest by the end of June, if you are interested to join! 

We can take up to 9 additional students along. First come, first serve! :) 


If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to direct them to Nora or to Johannes (

We are looking forward to exploring the Western Alps together!


Your field trip organisation committee, 

Nora Krebs, Johannes Branke, Marcel Ortler, Anna-Katharina Sieberer, Clemens Hiller, and Michael Neuhauser




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