Residents of the Austrian resort of Lech won’t say it for the cameras but as soon as they’re turned off, the general consensus is that “it was just bad luck,” and what happened to the Dutch prince “could have happened to anyone”.
The Dutch royal family has been taking their winter ski vacations in Lech am Ahlberg since the late 1950s and are well known in the village. People in the Austrian resort guard the village’s exclusive reputation as the playground of the very rich who want to enjoy themselves away from the paparazzi. Discretion is a requirement for everyone living and working in Lech.
The Gasthof Post, where the Dutch royals have been coming since 1959, has been extremely busy since Friso's accident. Photographers have been swarming around the building, hoping to get shots of the young royals in their ski suits before they hit the slopes or of the queen and Friso's wife Mabel as they get into the car that will take them to visit the prince in hospital in Innsbruck. The press has now been requested to leave them alone.
All of Queen Beatrix's children - and grandchildren - learned to ski while vacationing at the Gasthof Post; the classes still gather out in front of the building before being led off to the slopes.
According to rumours circulating in the village, Friso went skiing off-piste with Florian Moosbrugger, owner of the Gasthof Post, on Friday afternoon. The two men have known each since childhood. They were seen together on Friday but police have refused to confirm the identity of the 42-year-old man who was with the prince when the avalanche hit. Police are investigating the incident, which is standard procedure in Austria when a skier is injured.
What happened on the afternoon in question? The mountains around Lech are not known to be particularly dangerous, neither are they very steep. The resort boasts the largest number of lifts and prepared pistes of anywhere in Austria. According to a few men gossiping at the bottom of Route 48, the slopes are a bit boring. Route 48 in the neighbouring village of Zürs – where the accident happened – has been closed since the avalanche. The route is popular with experienced skiers because it more challenging than other routes.
There are two ways to get to Route 48: one is a 10-minute run down a blue piste and the other is three-minutes down a steep, challenging off-piste route. The prince took the adventurous route, despite the level four avalanche alert.
Conditions in the mountains can be treacherous: as Friso and his companion took the first curve, the snow began to slide and the pair were caught in the avalanche. The prince was buried under about 40cm of snow and unconscious when rescue teams found him 20 minutes after the avalanche. Rescue workers performed CPR and he was taken to hospital in Innsbruck and has been in intensive care since he arrived.
The hospital authorities have refused to comment on Friso’s condition and the Dutch press is seething with speculation about possible brain damage.
Meanwhile, Dutch people holidaying in the region are continuing to enjoy themselves on the slopes. The large number of Dutch journalists is a bit of a talking point but holiday-makers mostly wonder what the journalists are doing: “what is there to report,” asks one person, adding, “It was his own fault, but what good does it do to say that”?
Another tourist says, “Let’s just stop talking about it and hope that Friso wakes up soon”. Even the mayor has had enough: after three press conferences in three days, he says Sunday’s press conference will be the last one as there is nothing more to say. Lech is waiting for further news
The Dutch Government Information Service says more information on the prince’s condition and a possible prognosis won’t be available until the end of the week.