‘ALMOST THE ENTIRE MOUNTAINSIDE HAS COLLAPSED’: Massive avalanches reported in areas near Longyearbyen; skier near one, but no incidents of harm reported

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Several avalanches up to a kilometer in length have occurred during the past couple of days in the mountains near Longyearbyen, prompting The Governor of Svalbard to issue a strongly worded warning Wednesday to people on excursions.

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A Level Three risk level (“considerable”) is forecast for the region surrounding Longyearbyen on Wednesday and Thursday, according to the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate.

A skier on Tuesday reported an avalanche on Trollsteinen about 500 meters from where he was standing, and officials responding to the area by helicopter saw another avalanche on Larsbreen, Police Chief Lt. Kjell Lundin told Svalbardposten. He said it’s not known if the Trollsteinen avalanche was triggered by the skier or remotely.

“It is up to a kilometer long – almost the entire mountain side has collapsed,” Lundin told the newspaper.

There have also been multiple avalanches in Todalen, although none across popular travel paths. But Lundin urged people to be cautious, noting avalanche danger is particularly high on west-facing slopes and the darkness mades them difficult to spot.

A Level Three risk (“considerable”) is forecast for the area today and Thursday, according to the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate.

“There is a persistent weak layer buried in the snow cover that may be triggered by a person or snowmobiles,” the forecast issued Wednesday morning notes. “Remote triggering possible on hotspots or on convex terrain where the snow cover is thinner. Wind slabs in the alpine may also form avalanches. Think consequences related to terrain traps.”

Weather conditions are expected to deteriorate beginning late Wednesday, with more than 10 millimeters of precipitation, gale-force winds, and temperatures between minus 15 and minus 20 degrees forecast through Thursday, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.