Red Cross wants mandatory guides

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Another serious accident involving tourists who go skiing in potentially hazardous mountain areas has set off new alarms among search and rescue experts. A Red Cross chapter in northern Norway is now calling for mandatory use of local guides and stricter reporting requirements.

The steep mountains that rise from the sea at Lofoten are popular with extreme skiers but can also be extremely dangerous, as a group from France found out on Monday. PHOTO: regjeringen.no

The steep mountains that rise from the sea at Lofoten are popular with extreme skiers but can also be extremely dangerous, as a group from France found out on Monday. PHOTO: regjeringen.no

The call from the Red Cross in Nordland County comes a day after a group of French tourists got caught in an avalanche on Lofoten. The group of 12 French tourists had set off on the ski trek at Hammarskaftet despite warnings of extreme avalanche danger. None of them was familiar with the steep slopes above the picturesque fishing village of Reine.

“Around half of those in the group of 12 were caught in the avalanche,” Tore Wangsfjord of the main search and rescue center for Northern Norway (Hovedredningssentralen) told news bureau NTB. They were all found and no lives were lost this time, but two suffered injuries including fractures and had to be taken to hospitals in Gravdal and Bodø.

The accident also required another complicated and hazardous rescue operation, ending with the skiers being airlifted out of the area after search and rescue personnel were lowered themselves from a helicopter in an effort to reach the victims. A team from the Svolvær alpine rescue group was also sent to the site.

“This could have gone really badly,” Kjetil Wiik of the 330th squadron that took part in the rescue operation told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “For one thing, the slide occurred high up on the mountain and under a cliff overhang so we couldn’t lift the injured up to the helicopter. There were steep mountains on all sides.”

Alarming accident trend
It’s the latest in a series of accidents involving tourists who venture into unfamiliar and hazardous mountain areas for extreme skiing experiences. Espen Haugerstuen of the Red Cross in Nordland told NRK on Tuesday that he’s worried.

“We see year after year that there are bigger and bigger challenges because of those who head into areas and situations where they don’t realize the dangers of the snow and avalanches,” Haugerstuen told NRK. He thinks tourists, some of whom he called “daredevils,” underestimate the danger, much too often.

He wants to impose mandatory guiding and reporting requirements that could discourage extreme skiers from heading into especially dangerous areas. Local guides, Haugerstuen said, “should be obligatory for those wanting to ski in areas where they’re unfamiliar, and they should register themselves to get information on conditions.”

The accident on Monday involving the French tourists was the second in the last week involving foreign tourists, after a group of British skiers had to be rescued when they got caught in a storm at Saltfjellet. Norwegians unfamiliar with local conditions are at risk as well. Five Swiss and French skiers were killed last winter in an avalanche at Lyngen in Troms.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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