Avalanche danger hangs over holiday

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Avalanche warnings have been posted in mountainous areas all over Norway, just as thousands of Norwegians headed to ski centers for the annual winter holiday called vinterferie. The danger was expected to last through the entire week.

The warnings were strongest in the western mountains of southern Norway and in the mountains along the coast of Nordland.

Two killed near Tromsø
On Saturday, two men were killed after being caught in an avalanche while skiing at Middagstinden on Kvaløya outside Tromsø in northern Norway. Both men, aged 56 and 47, were said to be experienced mountain skiers and well-equipped while skiing in a group of four friends.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported that it took nearly an hour for the survivors to report the accident because of a lack of mobile phone coverage in the area. The bodies of both victims, who were cousins, were found after a major search and rescue operation around two hours later, and they were pronounced dead at the scene.

Several other avalanches have occurred at ski centers near Voss in western Hordaland County, at Hemsedal in Buskerud County and at Harpefossen in the county of Sogn og Fjordane in recent days. State meteorologists warn that more can occur as well.

They blame the unstable weather of the past week, with rapidly changing temperatures that also destabilize snow and ice. Strong winds and precipitation in the form of both rain and snow heighten the danger of avalanches.

Also caused by people
Avalanche experts note, however, that more than 90 percent are triggered by people themselves who have skied or hiked into areas with unstable snow. “It’s very seldom that people are caught in avalanches that are set off by something other than human influence,” Christian Jaedicke of Norges Geotekniske Institutt (NGI) told Aftenposten.

With so many people in the mountains this week, experts were warning skiers to stay on prepared ski trails and slopes, avoid steep areas and be especially careful after fresh snowfall, a rise in temperature and strong winds.

They also urged against skiing alone but advised persons in groups to keep their distance if they must traverse over steep slopes or under cliffs, to avoid everyone in the group getting caught in a slide.

Those venturing into wilderness areas should carry shovels and the long collapsible rods used for searching for victims under the snow.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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