Avalanche danger dims sunny Easter

Norway’s traditional Easter skiing holidays in the mountains got off to a mostly sunny start, but the ongoing danger of avalanches hung over them like a dark cloud. Another man was killed during the weekend and a 12-year-old boy rushed to hospital after both were buried under mounds of snow in Tromsø and Sauda on Sunday.

Brilliantly sunny weather and fresh snow on the mountains, like here at Vesterålen late last week, can actually be a dangerous combination because of avalanche danger. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Brilliantly sunny weather and fresh snow on the mountains, like here at Vesterålen late last week, can actually be a dangerous combination because of avalanche danger. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

They were the latest victims of extreme avalanche danger in mountainous areas all over the country. Geologists, meteorologists and slide experts have issued repeated warnings for weeks, but worry that skiers aren’t taking them seriously enough.

“The weather is fine and there are lots of people in the mountains,” Markus Landrø of the avalanche warning site Varsom.no told news bureau NTB. “Now the accidents are happening.” He urged skiers to stay away from steep mountainsides: Don’t ski down them or under them.

The avalanche warnings remained at their highest levels in Finnmark, Troms, Lofoten and Vesterålen in Northern Norway and at only slightly lower levels in the mountains of central and southern Norway. The warning level of “3” up north means that there’s a high risk that skiers can set off avalanches themselves.

Gorgeous, but potentially hazardous: The mountains of Vesterålen in Northern Norway. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Gorgeous, but potentially hazardous: The mountains of Vesterålen in Northern Norway. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Nearly 30 skiers have been killed in avalanches during the past three winters in Norway, and several have been caught in massive slides just in the past few weeks. The vast majority of avalanches occur in March and April, reported NTB, with most of the victims skiers and snowboarders.

The man killed near Lunheim in Tromsø on Sunday was out skiing with a friend and both had devices meant to make them easier to find in the event of avalanche. Even though the friend managed to dig out his fellow skier fairly quickly, the victim in his mid-30s was declared dead at the scene by a doctor in a search and rescue unit called to the scene.

The young boy who was caught in an avalanche at Sauda in Rogaland County, western Norway, was still conscious when dug out of the snow and rushed to Stavanger University Hospital. He had been out skiing with his father, who reported the accident immediately and quickly got help from a search and rescue team arriving by helicopter.

There's no avalanche danger in areas like this in Nordmarka, just north of downtown Oslo, but skiers are also urged to stay on marked trails when heading over frozen lakes, since the ice can be getting thin. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

There’s no avalanche danger in areas like this in Nordmarka, just north of downtown Oslo, but skiers are also urged to stay on marked trails when heading over frozen lakes, since the ice can be getting thin. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

It’s difficult for many avid skiers to resist the temptation of mountains covered with fresh snow, especially when the sun is shining brightly. Norwegian media have been reporting for the past week that “a dream Easter” was awaiting all those who add to the official five-day-long Easter weekend that starts on Thursday and head for the high country for the whole week.

Temperatures were remaining well below zero in most areas, at least at night, keeping the ski trails and slopes in good condition. The danger lurks mostly in “off piste” areas that aren’t groomed or marked as safe trails and slopes.

The sunshine was predicted to be so strong in many areas that doctors were warning against both sunburn and snow blindness, and urging pale skiers to use plenty of sunscreen and dark sunglasses for protection.

The forecasts were especially bright for the first half of the holiday week, with clouds expected to roll in from Thursday in southeastern Norway. The weather was also much more cloudy with snow predicted through much of the week in Tromsø and other portions of Finnmark and Nordland counties. At Lofoten, the weather seemed to change every hour, from snow to clear sunny skies.

False sense of mobile phone security
Red Cross officials were also warning Norwegians not to rely on their mobile phones and various apps offering everything from trail maps to weather forecasts and basic communication. They urged all skiers to also carry printed maps and have a compass, because sudden changes in the weather can reduce visibility to zero and quickly disorient those outdoors.

“Mobile phones can definitely be a useful tool, but it’s still a fact that you need to be in good shape, be able to use a compass and have maps when out trekking,” Ole Gladsø of the Red Cross told newspaper Aftenposten. He stressed how mobile phones also rely on power and coverage, and without them, they’re useless. Extreme cold and dampness can also affect their functions.

Some mobile apps also warn of avalanche danger, but are of little use if their user wanders out of areas with mobile coverage.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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