Avalanche alarms at highest level

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Fresh snowfall, wind and daring skiers in steep areas have set off avalanche alarms all over Norway, just before next week’s traditional Easter holidays in the mountains get underway. Nine persons were caught in avalanches around Norway during the weekend, and one of them was killed.

“The warning level where we are now, grade three, is clearly when most people get killed,” Kjetil Brattlien, an avalanche expert at the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (Norges Geotekniske Institutt, NGI), told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). Brattlien strongly warned skiers against “challenging nature” when the danger is so high.

Skier killed just outside Tromsø
“Accidents often happen when folks overestimate their own ability to tackle such a situation, and underestimate the slide danger,” Brattlien said. He was warning on NGI’s own website Monday that everyone needs to consider the consequences when they venture into areas where avalanche danger is high, either on steep, snowy slopes or in narrow valleys with steep mountains on both sides.

A man in his 50s who was out skiing with two others at Kattfjordeidet on Kvaløya outside Tromsø was killed early Sunday afternoon when he was buried under mounds of snow that suddenly came crashing down on the group. His two trekking partners, both resident in Tromsø in northern Norway, survived. A warning had been issued for the narrow valley on Friday and the avalanche occurred just a few hundred meters from the area’s main road.

Seven other avalanches were reported from northern Norway south to Sykkylven in the mountains east of Ålesund. Search and rescue workers were busy and experts claimed that skiers themselves set off what’s called a snøskred at Gimsdalen in Sykkylven on Sunday afternoon. One man in his 20s managed to free himself but suffered injuries and was sent to an emergency room. He was part of a group of six skiers when the snow masses thundered down the mountain.

On Saturday another avalanche injured a 14-year-old boy and skiers also reportedly set off a slide at Tolga in Østerdalen, Hedmark County. In yet another accident, a young girl was caught under a meter-and-a-half of snow for around 10 minutes but survived.

Tempting conditions
“Folks let themselves be tempted by the fresh snow,” Brattlien said, and sunshine also invited many outdoors in various areas during the weekend. But the fresh snow, wind and variable temperatures makes the snow highly unstable, Brattlien warned. He urged skiers to stay on prepared or marked trails.

State meteorologists, meanwhile, predicted that a spate of unseasonably cold weather was set to continue through the week and could lead to some of the best Easter skiing conditions in many years. Some areas late last week recorded temperatures as low as minus-37C (at Folldal) and it was even minus-17.6C at Tryvann in Oslo. Temperatures rose during the weekend but it was still minus-7C in Oslo Monday morning and more snow was predicted later in the week.

“There’s nothing in our prognoses that suggests milder weather during the coming week,” meteorologist Arild Mentzoni told newspaper Aftenposten. That can result in excellent skiing conditions not only in the mountains but at lower elevations as well, just when schools close from Friday and many take next week off.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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