Skiers set off 70% of all avalanches

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Extreme skiers seeking thrills set off the vast majority of avalanches in the mountains of Norway, and one Norwegian woman admitted she learned that the hard way during the Easter holidays. State officials posted new avalanche warnings over the weekend, meanwhile, especially in Nordland County.

Topptur at Tyin

So-called “top tours” up a mountainside, with the aim to ski down it again, have become extremely popular in recent years, but experts worry that skiers have become too extreme. They advise only taking part in top tours with local experts and guides in organized groups. PHOTO: Den Norske Turistforening/Hallgrim Rogn

Officials at NVE (Norges vassdrags- og energidirektorat) boosted the risk of avalanches from “moderate” to “considerable” in Lofoten and Vesterålen on Sunday, and in Narvik, Salten and Svartisen on Monday. The avalanche risk was already posted as “considerable” in Sunnmøre, Romsadalen and Trollheimen, despite a lack of snow in many areas at lower elevations. Rapidly changing temperatures and more wind, often said to be a result of climate change, have greatly increased the frequency of avalanches in Norway in recent years.

‘I couldn’t breathe’
A young woman setting off on a so-called topptur (a trek up to a summit for a daring ski run down again) in Sunnmøre on Friday afternoon also was part of setting off an avalanche at Kolåstind in Ørsta. It was relatively minor and she survived it, but the thundering snow carried her 100 meters down the mountainside.

“I panicked, my mouth filled with snow and I couldn’t breathe,” Rut Undheim told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). She had met another skier on her way up the mountain who believed the area was safe and she relied on his judgment. “It didn’t go so well,” she later admitted. Shortly after she started skiing down the mountain “I set off the slide and was thrown around in the masses of snow.” Fortunately her head was above the snow when the slide subsided. Both her skis were gone. She managed to dig her way out and get off the mountain on her own.

“I have really learned the hard way,” she told NRK, but she added that she refused to be scared off. The next day she was out skiing again, but claimed she will pay more attention to local experts and NVE warnings.

‘More extreme’
Several other avalanches were set off by skiers during the Easter holidays, and on Saturday, 14 skiers had to be rescued by helicopter after a slide in Rauma. Police were appealing to the public to be careful.

“Avalanches are dangerous, and folks need to show respect for the mountains,” Ole Bjørn Harang, operations leader of the Sunnmore Police District, told NRK. “It’s possible to have a fine holiday without taking unnecessary chances.”

Åsen Havnelid, secretary general of the Norwegian Red Cross, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) last week that she worries about how thrill-seekers are taking greater risks. “Many groups use the mountains in another manner than they did earlier, they’re more extreme, like with these ‘top tours,'” Havnelid told DN. “They have to learn to listen to local experts. Fully 70 percent of avalanches are set off by people.”

The Red Cross otherwise could report few major accidents or other problems in the mountains during the long Easter holiday. Traffic was heavy back into Oslo Sunday afternoon and evening and more traffic congestion was expected on Monday, the last day of the five-day official holiday weekend.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund