Snowmobiling season is keeping Longyearbyen Hospital busy this year. A total of 38 patients were treated for snowmobile-related injuries between Jan. 1 and March 25.
"We have received many more injured snowmobilers than usual," said John Aksel Bilicz, the hospital's medical leader.
Statistics detailing the types of injuries are not clear, but Bilicz said there appears to have been many bone fractures, especially ankle fractures, in classifications ranging from minor to moderately serious.
"That is something that requires treatment on the mainland so part of it has involved extra ambulance flights to Tromsø," said Bilicz, adding at one point the hospital ran out of crutches.
"We had to have a large load sent up," he said. "I've never experienced that before."
A total of 21 patients were treated by the same period last year and there was a total of 58 injured snowmobilers injured during the season. The record is, in other words, at odds with the trend of previous years.
"A doubling is a lot so early in the season and it will be interesting to see if this continues," Bilicz said.
He said it is difficult to come up with obvious reasons for this year's jump in injuries, but bad weather may be a contributing factor.
"There has also been, among other things, very bad conditions," Bilicz speculated. "One possibility is that overturnings that typically had not caused problems are now overturnings causing injuries Moreover, there have been at times poor visibility."
It's hard to draw a show showing the trend in injuries over a long period of time. Injury statistics from previous years are lacking and must be taken with a grain of salt.
"We had good record keeping in 2002, when there were 32 snowmobile injuries during the entire year," Bilicz said. "Other years I have also seen thirtysomething, but I'm unsure if record keeping was good enough then."
Boom in rentals
Individuals renting snowmobiles has increased sharply in recent years, said Margrete N. S. Keyser, tourism advisor for The Governor of Svalbard.
Organized tour traffic has been more stable, and significantly lower than the peak years of 2007 and 2008.
"Individual rentals were doubled in 2013 compared with the years before," she said, but added it is impossible at the moment to say if that may explain the increase in injuries.
"Figures from the hospital do not distinguish between private tourists and residents, so it is difficult to conclude that it is due to more visitors," Keyser said. "We need more data."
Translated by Mark Sabbatini