The tragic discovery of four bodies on Wednesday morning took the avalanche death toll to nine this winter. The 2013/14 winter has been one of the deadliest in 30 years, and experts said the avalanche danger remained high throughout Norway heading into the Easter break.
The four men were killed in a huge avalanche in the Sunndalsfjella mountains in Møre og Romsdal on Monday. Only the winter of 2010/11 had a higher death toll, when 10 people were killed in avalanches. Otherwise, no more than nine have died in a single winter since the season of 1986/87, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). The Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (Norges Geotekniske Institutt, NGI) said the avalanche danger remained at level three, rated significant, in many places throughout Norway going into the Easter break.
Avalanche expert and senior NGI engineer Kjetil Brattlien said most of the accidents so far this year have happened in northern Norway. “Dangerous snow created by low rainfall and cold temperatures,” he explained. “If you have both, it is extra bad. If you only have one or the other, it is bad enough.”
Brattlien said generally, most deaths occur when conditions are unstable and many people are out in the mountains enjoying nice weather. He said improvements in ski technology had driven people to seek out increasingly steeper, more dangerous terrain.
“Rescue equipment has improved, but ski equipment has too,” said Brattlien. “The ski equipment we took on Easter trips ten years ago meant there were not many who could seek out the steepest terrain. Today’s equipment has made it possible for more people to seek out steep and dangerous terrain. We must all do less dangerous things, that is the most important thing. There are many who seek out risks. Few people are willing to die with skis on, but unfortunately too many take too great chances.”
Storms in the north, clear in the south
Forecasters said the weather in southern and eastern Norway was due to clear on Wednesday and remain fine over Easter, but in northern Norway a powerful low pressure system to the north of Jan Mayen meant wind and rain. Storms were expected for Lofoten, Vesterålen and Sør-Troms.
“It has already begun to blow, and there is now a stiff southern breeze,” said meteorologist Ine-Therese Pedersen. “There is some snow in the far north, but that will change to rain over the whole region. We expect strong southwesterly breezes, increasing in strength along the coast.”
The wind was due to drop in the north on Thursday, but become colder with rain and sleet in the evening. While Friday should be a little better, Pedersen warned another low pressure system on Saturday would bring rain and gales. “Sunday and Monday, there’s hope,” she said. “Be patient and hold out.”
However, she warned considerable avalanche danger remained in Nordland and Troms, including in the popular ski touring areas of Lofoten, Vesterålen and Narvik. High winds were forecast, which are a considerable avalanche trigger factor.
Avalanche warnings for the entire country are from the Norwegian Avalanche Centre (external link, in English).