AVALANCHE ABOVE GJESTEHUSET 102: Snow stops short of evacuated guest lodge; Level Three avalanche risk for area through Tuesday


An avalanche directly above Gjestehuset 102 was triggered Sunday afternoon, but the snow did not reach any of the structures that have been evacuated since Friday, according to The Governor of Svalbard.

Cornices up to seven meters high produced by heavy snow and wind storms the past few weeks resulted in the evacuation of more than 100 people from the guest lodge and other buildings including student dorms, which the governor has stated will last until the hanging snow disappears. There have been numerous avalanches in Nybyen and elsewhere throughout Svalbard the past few weeks, although none have destroyed structures or trapped people.

A Level Three (“considerable”) avalanche risk is forecast Monday and Tuesday, reduced from the Level Four risk since Friday, by the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate. But the a statement by the governor emphasizes the danger is still high for anyone at or travelling in mountainous terrain.

“Avoid and keep distance from all avalanche terrain due to a very unstable snow pack,” a warning by the directorate notes. “Snowmobile- or skier-triggered large and even very large avalanches are likely.”

The current evacuation carries longer-term implications for the buildings along the mountainside in Nybyen, since they were evacuated twice during previous two weeks and studies have for years found they are exposed to significant – and in some instances unacceptable – risk of avalanches and landslides.

The University Centre in Svalbard already is planning to move all of its students to new housing near its campus at the other end of Longyearbyen. But the owner of Gjestehuset 102, which has only a corner of the building located in what’s classified as an unacceptable zone, is resisting the idea of shutting down or relocating the lodge.

Further complicating the issue is the city does not include Nybyen in its avalanche protection plan, meaning it is up to Store Norske and other largely private entities to provide sufficient remedial measures for any buildings that are occupied. What those measures might be and specifically who would be responsible for them remains largely undefined.