AVALANCHE FORECAST FOR BACKCOUNTRY SKIERS
Møre og Romsdal County Council (www.morotur.no), supporting Snøskredvarsel.no in Norway, working with mountain guides in Romsdalen (for snow stability evaluation in the field), Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (runs a national avalanche forecast project), the Norwegian Public Roads Administration (partner in the national avalanche forecast project, also part time employer for the General Manager in Snøskredvarsel.no concerning avalanche problems for roads).
WHO WAS MEANT TO DO IT?
The general public, young people, particularly backcountry skiers.
WHAT DID THEY DO?
It was intended to provide better security for the rapidly growing amount of backcountry skiers via a website, www.snoskredvarsel.no, giving:
- Updated information about the avalanche danger.
- Specific tips on which trips/mountains to go to under different danger situations according to a method called The Afterski method. This method tells how steep slopes it is smart to go skiing in according to the danger rate.
- Information about what causes avalanche danger giving people more knowledge and ability to make their own smart decisions. The goal was to influence the behaviour of the users when they are planning a skiing trip and also their decision-making in the field when they are out skiing.
HOW DID THEY DO IT?
The avalanche forecast was based on the international avalanche danger scale (1-5). The forecast was designed and presented for backcountry skiers. The forecast was presented as the highest danger grade for the area, an avalanche rosette describing differences according to height above sea level and exposition, and a thorough text explaining the evaluations behind the forecast and the expected development of the avalanche danger. The forecast was based on mountain guides doing evaluations of the snow stability in field. These guides provide an education in avalanche danger evaluation and in addition they know the forecast area very well.
The avalanche forecast was initially published 2 days every week (Tuesdays and Fridays), growing to 3 days a week (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays).
The website usage was analysed for statistics and feedback.
The aims of this avalanche forecast website included:
Increasing activity of people:
- There is already a substantial increase in the number of people skiing in the mountains. www.snoskredvarsel.no contributed to raising awareness of avalanche danger on ski trips. In addition, knowledge of paths and "safe" paths will contribute to lowering the threshold for people who want to try the activity but who were a bit afraid to do so on their own. There are some signs that this is the case. An increase of people making the "safe" choice seems to be demonstrated by logbooks on the recommended paths.
- An increase in physical activity provides better health. Increase in outdoor activity leads to an increase in joy of life and happiness. In addition, there is the obvious result that people avoid avalanches.
SME business development:
- www.morotur.no and other publications of skiing paths lead to more people wanting to go skiing. There is a need for an avalanche forecast. www.snoskredvarsel.no itself is an SME and was developed in this process. It was considered that Coast Alive was an appropriate vehicle to support and encourage this development. Knowledge of possibilities leads to a better market for mountain guides and so on.
Natural/cultural heritage preservation:
- Avalanche prediction/prevention and guidance to skiers helps to reduce risk to people, while an increase in outdoor activity leads to a better knowledge of nature. This leads to a greater wish to take care of nature as a resource. In addition, www.morotur.no informs of cultural heritage on paths mapped in the "articles". An increase in knowledge leads to a greater wish to take care of the resource of that cultural heritage.
- Travelling through the mountains and experiencing the landscape and untamed areas seems to provide many good experiences. Time spent in nature seems to enable people to see nature, the environment and cultural built environment in a new way, making them more environmentally and culturally aware through being much closer to nature.
HOW MANY PARTICIPATED?
There were approximately 200 hits on website per day in average, with more than 400 on good days (days with nice skiing weather and fresh avalanche forecast).
DID IT WORK?
The activity was carried out as planned.
The web analysis showed users (hits) mostly from the forecast area, but also a surprisingly high amount of users from other parts of the country, and even some hits from the rest of Europe and the world. This seems to indicate:
- That the static learning information about avalanches is also useful to the people who do not live in the area.
- That people from other parts of the country (and other countries) use the website to decide where to go skiing in Norway.
- The recommended backcountry trips by danger rate were very popular to all users.
Very good feedback was also received from the public, who appeared to use the information, and even more important, said that they learnt something by using the forecast.
Good media coverage was received from local newspapers, regional newspapers, and national magazine for skiers, national television (news).
The organisers were very satisfied with the activity and not much would have been changed. For next season, it is planned to change the publishing time for the forecast on the website from 4pm to 5pm to give the field observers a bit more time to report their evaluation.
WAS IT SUCCESSFUL?
This activity resulted in better security for the rapidly growing amount of backcountry skiers. Snøskredvarsel.no received massive positive feedback from the users of the forecast. The users said that they had learned a lot about avalanches and how to avoid them, especially by reading the detailed text forecast.
No avalanche accidents were reported in the forecast area during the winter.
The number of people in the mountains has increased. Many of the less experienced skiers say that they have used www.snoskredvarsel.no to find out which mountains to choose, and get out more than before because of this extra information.
Many users of the forecast from other parts of the country (outside the forecast area) reported that they go backcountry skiing more often, and in this area, because of the forecast and the information about how to choose a safe route.
More people using the mountains for outdoor activity, combined with the fact that there had been no accidents, means improved health to the people.
The Coast Alive money has been an important contribution to the small business, Snøskredvarsel.no, and increased the probability of survival and expansion of avalanche forecast to other areas.
It is planned to perform avalanche forecast in Romsdalen in the same way in the future. The feedback both from business partners and users of the service was so positive that they will keep up the good work with only few changes. The aim is to change the publication time from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., to give the observers better time to perform a report in writing after the field work. It was also being considered to raise the frequency from 2 to 3 occasions in the week, and reducing the frequency in April from 3 to 2, due to more people going out skiing early in winter when snow is colder with more challenging avalanche situation. This way, security for people will increase for the same cost.
Because of the positive result, Snøskredvarsel.no will make avalanche forecasts in Romsdalen in the future and plan to expand the work to other parts of Møre og Romsdal,if the funding is sufficient. Together with the County Council in Møre og Romsdal (Morotur.no), it is planned to establish what areas to concentrate on and to make a plan for expanding the service. The goal is to provide avalanche information to as many people as possible, helping people enjoy the natural environment safely and also stimulating more small businesses in Møre and Romsdal through this work. This work will consist of finding mountain guides to work with in the new areas (to carry out the field evaluation of avalanche danger) and to find funding/customers to pay for the service.
An English version of the webpage and forecast is being considered because of a perceived interest from tourists from other countries.
It has been found that the avalanche forecast leads to more work for the mountain guides in two ways: (a) they work in a new way as avalanche observers, and (b) more people hire them as guides because they are aware of the area because of the avalanche forecast. Other small businesses in the tourist industry, huts, hotels and so on have also had more customers during the last winter because of the increased skiing activity in the area. Quotes from businesses and tourist organisations include:
“The avalanche forecast has definitely made more people come to Romsdalen for backcountry skiing, and this is one of the reasons we took the chance and decided to start Romsdal Lodge”
“Snøskredvarsel.no has contributed to the increased attention for Romsdal as a winter destination, made the winter portfolio more complete and contributed to expanding the tourist season which results in articles like this: http://kurbits.org/blogg/romsdalen-nordens-chamonix/”
“The avalanche forecast helps people use our mountains in a safe way. This contributes to getting more visitors to our cabins, better knowledge to our guides, sets a focus on safety and shows the opportunities for backcountry skiing.
“Snøskredvarsel.no has contributed to increased attention for the winter opportunities in our area and therefore contributed to expanding the tourist season and an increase in visitors to our accommodation businesses”
“The avalanche forecast has made engineer students more aware of Moldeand Romsdal as an interesting place to work with both business opportunities in addition to world class mountains for skiing”.
Potential future revenue sources are likely to continue being a mix of advertising, local business sponsors and public sources (such as the national institution for avalanches and local and regional municipalities in the forecast areas). Additionally, some consulting and contract work has been obtained.