11/01/2012 15:33 GMT

Austria's Snowfall Traps Hundreds Of British Skiers In Alps (PICTURES)

Hundreds of British skiers have been trapped in Alpine ski resorts across Austria, southern Germany, France and Switzerland as a freak snowfall has seen drifts of up to 18ft cause chaos in some mountain resorts.

In the winter that went “from zero to a hundred,” in terms of snowfall, heavy drifts have blocked roads and railways as the whiteout left tourists marooned in hotels. The snow is now so high it is equivalent to four cars piled on top of each other.

Dutch tourist Romke Loopke told the Daily Mail how falling snow forced him to tunnel out of his vehicle when a drift covered his car, while inexperienced skiers had to be airlifted down a mountain by Austrian Army helicopters when a ski lift froze, stranding holidaymakers in the Alpine resort of Mayrhofen.

Austria’s Ischgl has been among worst affected, after 10ft of snow fell in 48 hours. Roads are closed for fear of avalanches, while high alpine winds could cause snow-slides on the slopes. Up to 1000 British holiday-makers are thought to be trapped in this ski resort alone.

Avalanche warning service spokesman Rudi Mair said: “This is a type of snowfall we have not seen for years. Combined with that, there are very high winds which are making conditions especially dangerous.”

Some of the first British skiers are making their way home, as tour operator Ski Total arranged 50 holidaymakers to be driven from Ishgl to an airport in Munich.

Chief executive Andy Perrin spoke to the Evening Standard about the freak snowfall: "This is the advantage of people staying with a tour operator rather than a low-cost flight. They are being properly looked after on their way back to the UK."

One wealthy Russian man is reported to have organised a helicopter to pick him up after becoming desperate.

St Anton, Galtur and Arlberg have also been affected, as well as resorts in southeastern Switzerland. These resorts are listed by as having the most snow, at 545cm. It is still snowing in Austria, but the weather is less extreme over other alpine countries.

Businesses are in chaos, as snow ploughs work around the clock to clear the drifts. Staff and deliveries are struggling to reach places of work and fresh milk and vegetables are in short supply.

The snowfall comes a month after ski resorts voiced their worries about too little snow falling on the slopes. Austrian ski resorts had to cancel their opening weekends amid fears about lack of snow. Cannons were firing out artificial snow to combat unseasonably green mountains in Isbal, and slope managers were concerned. Now several ski resorts have reported their heaviest snow fall for 30 years.

Ankie Kathrein, manager of Solaria Hotel in Ischgl, told the Mirror that some tourists were beginning to panic.She said: “Since Saturday, the roads have been completely closed.

“For guests not used to it, it’s hard. There is panic that you can’t get out.

“You are not allowed to leave Ischgl. Police are guarding the exits to the town because of a fear of avalanches. It is very dangerous.

“But perhaps the nightlife is maybe a little bit more ‘up’ because people think, ‘Well, what else can I do while I’m stuck here?’”

Heavy Snowfall in Austria