Avalanches may also occur in Finland. If their slopes are steep enough, fells and other areas with snow cover may experience avalanches. Snowshoers or skiers who leave signposted trails may easily end up in avalanche terrain. This is why anyone who does not follow marked trails should be aware of what types of terrain are safe.
An avalanche may be fatal. If you get swept away by an avalanche, you risk being injured when hitting obstacles and being buried under snow. A person buried under the snow has very little time to survive – the chances of survival will drop considerably after as little as 15 minutes. This is why you should never go out alone in avalanche terrain. Around one hundred people lose their lives each year in avalanches in Europe while taking part in winter sports. Most of them caused the avalanche themselves.
The best way to avoid avalanches is to stay away from avalanche-prone terrain. Such areas include avalanche starting points on steep slopes, the avalanche path, and the runout zone where the snow accumulates. A hiker may consequently be at risk not only in the avalanche starting point but also on the avalanche path or the runout zone, even if they stayed away from a steep slopes. An example of a typical avalanche runout zone is the bottom of a ravine with steep sides.
How Can You Avoid Avalanche Terrain?
- Use marked trails or stay in on the slopes of a ski resort.
- The avalanche risk may affect the periods during which some trails are in use: Find out when the trail can be used and check for any warnings along the trail. Some trails may remain closed throughout the winter season.
- Stay in areas with a moderate incline (less than 25 degrees) and away from steep slopes.
- Walk or ski along ridges and other higher parts of the terrain.
- On unmanaged slopes, be particularly careful when the visibility is poor – this makes assessing the terrain around you difficult.
- Keep track of your location! Read a map and use map applications on your phone. Never rely exclusively on your phone: also bring a printed map.
These are some example of maps you can use to assess slope inclines:
Learn To Spot The Warning Signs Of An Avalanche
You cannot predict avalanches, but you can learn to recognise the warning signs.
- Slope direction and profile: The risk of avalanches is the greatest on slopes sheltered from the wind with snow overhangs as well as slopes with an incline greater than 25 degrees.
- Weather: Has it been snowing a lot, or has a high wind blown the snow around or caused snow drifts in recent days? Has it been raining? Have there been any significant temperature increases? Is the sun shining directly on the slope?
- Snow: There is a high risk of avalanche when the snow makes a whooshing sound when it compresses, or cracks appear in the snow.
Find Out If Avalanches Are Likely
Check the avalanche risk in the area where you are hiking by reading the daily avalanche forecasts of the Finnish Meteorological Institute in Finland (ilmatieteenlaitos.fi), varsom.no in Norway, and lavinprognoser.se in Sweden. More detailed avalanche forecasts in Finland are produced for Ylläs (in Finnish, ski.yllas.fi) and Pyhätunturi (in Finnish, lumiturvallisuuskeskus.fi). You can also ask those with local knowledge, local ski schools and companies providing guide services in the area about the conditions.
You should report any observations of avalanches to the Finnsh Meteorological Institute’s service (in Finnish, ilmatieteenlaitos.fi).
Learn, Get The Right Gear, Train
Anyone heading out to avalanche terrain must be forearmed with sufficient knowledge, skills, gear and training. You should check the avalanche forecasts before you go out. The most important thing you can do to avoid avalanches is staying away from avalanche terrain by reading the map, observing the terrain and selecting a route through a safe area. While you are out, you should keep an eye on any signs of avalanche risk and change your route accordingly. The safety equipment for those heading out to avalanche terrain comprises an avalanche beacon, snow sonar (probe), shovel and mobile phone. You should have the beacon’s transmission setting on when out and about in an area prone to avalanches.
On the FINLAV - Suomen lumivyörykoulutus website (ski.fi) you can build up your knowledge about avalanches and snow safety. The website also contains the offer of FINLAV snow safety courses.
If Case Of An Avalanche
It is vital that rescuers can locate a person buried under the snow as quickly as possible. If the person to be rescued and the rescuers have the right equipment and training, this will significantly improve the victim's chances of survival.
If You Get Caught Up In An Avalanche:
- If you are on the path of a starting avalanche, try to go down diagonally away from this path.
- If you are swept away by an avalanche, do everything you can to stay on the surface.
- If you end up under the snow, try to keep your mouth and nose free from snow to allow you to breathe.
When You See A Person Getting Caught Up In An Avalanche:
- Keep an eye on the progress of the victims in the midst of the avalanche. Make note of the place where the victim disappeared under the snow.
- Call 112.
- Look for visual signs of the person buried in the snow.
- When searching for victims, rescuers set their beacons to receive in order to see and hear the signal transmitted by the beacon carried by the person buried in the snow.
- A probe that looks like a long tent pole is used to find the more accurate location of a person buried under the snow.
- Once their location has been found, a shovel is used to dig the person out.
Even if no one has been caught in the avalanche, it is still a good idea to report it to the emergency response centre by calling 112.