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'Must think for themselves'

FOTO: Line Nagell Ylvisåker

'Must think for themselves'

Red Cross and and other officials are afraid an avalanche warning system can be an excuse for inaction, and are encouraging people to think for themselves.



"An avalanche warning system will be a tool for making better assessments, but even if we get an avalanche warning system people must still think for themselves and make their own assessments about whether it is safe or not," said Jørgen Haagensli, director of the Longyearbyen Red Cross.

The warning system used on the mainland by the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE) rates the danger level from one (small) to five (very high).

"Those who die in avalanches die most often when there is danger level two or three. The rating applies to an entire area and does not necessarily match the mountainside you are driving on," Elke Morgner, a coordinator for the Red Cross.

Two weeks ago on Saturday she took a snow stability test for the Svalbard Satellite Station along the road up to the station. It showed no signs of instability. On the same day a fatal avalanche occurred in Fardalen. After that rough day another Red Cross snow profile was taken next to to the SvalSat road that showed fine, stable conditions.

Taking responsibility for yourself

Morgner said she fears a warning system could make people lax.

"Everyone has responsibility for their own safety," she said. "Avalanche warnings are a useful tool, but can't substitute for your own assessments."

Morgner said she believes it is important people take into account how much avalanche knowledge they have.

"If one cannot assess avalanche danger, one should stay away from steep areas," she said

"If one has knowledge, one can consider a slope and determine if it is safe to drive there or not."

Getting criticism
In an article in today's newspaper, Wesley R. Farnsworth writes there is a lack of avalanche-related training in the Longyearbyen community.

Haagensli said both the Red Cross and The University Centre in Svalbard are big participants in preventative activities when it comes to avalanches. Each year, the Red Cross offers avalanche courses for all wishing to participate. This year's course ended on Monday. In addition, there are courses for university students. Many businesses also pay for avalanche courses for their employees.

"There is a lot of information for those who want it," he said. "So it's a matter of how far we should strive. This is something we use our spare time on."


Considerations before your trip

• How has the weather been during the three days before your trip? Has there been a change in the weather? Has there been precipitation? If yes, how much snow has fallen? Has there been much wind and wind-drift snow? If yes, what has the wind direction been and what will be the leeward side? If the answer is yes to these questions, the risk of avalanches will increase.

• How is the weather forecast for the coming days? Is there a report of a change in the weather? Is much precipitation forecast? Are there predictions of windy conditions and opportunities for wind-drift snow? If yes, there is a likelihood of avalanches during the coming days.

• Talk with knowledgeable people who have been in the area recently and find out what the conditions are.

• Examine how steep the terrain is along the route you have chosen. Avalanches normally occur on mountain slopes with an inclination of 30° or more, but can occur on gentler terrain as well (especially slush avalanches).

When avalanche danger exists:
Choose safe routes that go into flat and open terrain. Avoid narrow gorges and areas known to be prone to avalanches. This is especially important during the dark season. In the dark it is difficult to assess how much snow is on the mountainside. The dark season is also the period of the year when conditions and highly variable and unstable. (Those seeking additional information about avalanches in the area around Longyearbyen can download a Cryoslope report at http://arc.lib.montana.edu/snow-science/objects/issw-2009-0044-0047.pdf.)

Immediately before the trip starts:
• Provide notification about where you are going, when you are proceeding further and when you expect to return.

• Buddy check: Make sure everyone has a shovel, probe and transceiver – and that the transceiver is turned on and working.

• Transceivers should be on the body.

During the trip:
• Never wander off alone.
• Observe the wind direction, wind transport of snow and avalanche activity. Recent snow slides are a sure sign the snow layer is unstable, which equates to avalanche danger. Avoid the leeward sides.

It is acceptable to stop in a safe place to check the snowpack by:

• Listening for rumblings in the snow, looking for excess cracks, taking a compression test.

• Avoiding driving on terrain steeper than 30°.

• Considering at all times if you are in an outlet zone for avalanches.

• Being aware of terrain traps. Terrain traps can be: narrow valleys, riverbeds and avalanche-prone areas. Keep a good distance between snowmobiles so assistance can be provided if an incident occurs.

Source: www.snoskred.no

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