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Home* News and Stories → Snow mobi­le sea­son in Spits­ber­gen: accidents/important to know

Snow mobi­le sea­son in Spits­ber­gen: accidents/important to know

The snow mobi­le sea­son has star­ted a few weeks ago in Spits­ber­gen. Some locals start alrea­dy during the polar night, while most others and most tou­rists start their snow mobi­le excur­si­ons when the light comes back around mid Febru­a­ry. The sea­son lasts as long as snow and ice make it pos­si­ble to be out, usual­ly into the first days of May or until mid-May if it works well.

Snow mobi­le excur­si­ons make it pos­si­ble to see ama­zing pla­ces which are other­wi­se hard to reach, if not impos­si­ble for most, but they bear their spe­ci­fic risks. If you don’t know the local ter­rain and you do not have expe­ri­ence with snow mobi­les, then it is defi­ni­te­ly a good idea to join a gui­ded group. This is also the offi­cial recom­men­da­ti­on by the Sys­sel­man­nen (gover­nor).

Some inci­dents of the last cou­p­le of weeks:

  • In ear­ly March, tou­rists had to be evacua­ted with heli­co­p­ters in two cases after having suf­fe­red frac­tures while fal­ling with their snow mobi­les or, rather, tur­ning them over in uneven ter­rain. Both inci­dents hap­pen­ed near Sas­senda­len, one in the morai­ne of Rabot­breen and one in Bratt­li­da­len. Both per­sons were mem­bers of gui­ded groups.
  • On Tues­day (March 18), a man had to be air­lifted with chest inju­ries after he had dri­ven his snow mobi­le over a steep slo­pe, fal­ling down 6 metres. Other mem­bers of his group cal­led the res­cue for­ces with mobi­le pho­nes, but could not pro­vi­de a posi­ti­on as they did not exact­ly know whe­re they were. The group was not gui­ded and did not have GPS or local know­ledge. The inci­dent hap­pen­ed on the coast bet­ween Cole­s­buk­ta and Bar­ents­burg, a fre­quent­ly used rou­te, but with several steep slo­pes which are hard to see and serious­ly dan­ge­rous at ina­de­qua­te speed.

In ano­t­her case, a per­son went uncon­scious and fell from his snow mobi­le at low speed in Grønfjord, south of Grøn­da­len. First aid was given, but his life could not be saved. The infor­ma­ti­on avail­ab­le seems to indi­ca­te a heart attack or simi­lar medi­cal emer­gen­cy.

The first two cases indi­ca­te that acci­dents can natu­ral­ly also hap­pen while on tour with gui­ded groups. But at least local­ly know­led­ge­ab­le gui­des will make sure ade­qua­te speed is being used, which is espe­cial­ly important in case of ter­rain obsta­cles such as steep slo­pes which can be very dif­fi­cult to see. Ade­qua­te speed is of vital impor­t­ance. Gui­ded groups also have emer­gen­cy equip­ment inclu­ding satel­li­te pho­nes. The mobi­le pho­ne cover in Spits­ber­gen is unre­li­able or, rather, inexis­tent over wide are­as.

For safe tours with snow mobi­le and ski, the fol­lowing are recom­men­ded or should be con­si­de­red:

  • Avalan­che equip­ment (snow sho­vel, avalan­che pro­be), unless you stay in clear­ly avalan­che-safe ter­rain.
  • Local know­ledge or good advice from peop­le with local expe­ri­ence. GPS with digi­tal map, spa­re bat­te­ries (!), and prin­ted map and com­pass as a back­up.
  • Emer­gen­cy equip­ment. Pre­pa­re for a pro­lon­ged stay in the field in case of sud­den bad wea­ther or snow mobi­le break­down. Com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on equip­ment inde­pen­dent of mobi­le pho­ne grid such as satel­li­te pho­ne and PLB. Tent, slee­ping bag, iso­la­ti­on mat­tress, cam­ping sto­ve and fuel, extra warm clothes. Be rea­dy to stay out for at least 24 hours in bad wea­ther.
  • Rif­le and other polar bear safe­ty equip­ment.
  • Stay with an expe­ri­en­ced per­son or join a gui­ded group if you don’t have expe­ri­ence with snow mobi­les.
  • Make sure you know how to deal with minor, com­mon repairs such as exch­an­ging the v-belt.
  • Snow mobi­les like to break down, espe­cial­ly when it is most unwel­co­me. Con­si­der this for any trip fur­ther away than you can walk back.
  • If you don’t real­ly know the ter­rain: expect ter­rain obsta­cles that are dif­fi­cult to see.
  • Obser­ve regu­la­ti­ons: you need hel­met and dri­ving licen­se, zero alco­hol and, for lar­ge parts of Spits­ber­gen, insuran­ce cover and noti­fi­ca­ti­on to the admi­nis­tra­ti­on in advan­ce. The­re are scoo­ter-free are­as. If you don’t know the regu­la­ti­ons and bounda­ries, you have to join someo­ne who does, such as a gui­ded group.

This list is not com­ple­te, but it inclu­des some important points.

Ren­tal snow mobi­les in Lon­gye­ar­by­en rea­dy to go.

Snow mobiles in Longyearbyen

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen, Sval­bard­pos­ten, my own expe­ri­ence.

By the way, my new book is in print and it can now be orde­red 🙂 it is a pho­to book with the tit­le “Nor­we­gens ark­ti­scher Nor­den (1): Spitz­ber­gen – vom Polar­licht bis zur Mit­ter­nachts­son­ne”, with Ger­man text Click here for fur­ther details!

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last modification: 2014-07-01 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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