In Norway, there is a mountain code - a set of rules for how to behave in the mountains ("fjellvettreglene"). These rules are made for people to take responsibility for themselves when hiking or particularly skiing in the mountains. The code is drilled into our heads when we are kids, and are well worth keeping in mind if you ever find yourself far away from people.

A Brief History

Norway consists of a lot of mountains, and we have a cultural bias towards using the mountains for recreational purposes. Especially during Easter, almost everyone will go to their cabin in the mountains.

At the end of the 1940s, 20 organisations came together in a committee for safety in the mountains ("Fjellsikringsnemda"). Among these organisations were Norway's Red Cross ("Norges Røde Kors"), The Norwegian Tourist Association ("Den Norske Turistforening") and NSB (the Norwegian railways). The committee released a folder, giving advice on how to behave in the mountains. It was distributed to hotels, train passangers and school pupils.

In Easter 1967, 18 people died in the mountains, in what should be a recreational holiday. After this, Red Cross and the Tourist Organsisation started a massive campaign: "Aksjon fjellvett" ("Campaign for sense in the mountain"). The campaign's motto was "Welcome to the mountain - but take responsibility". They revised the rules and spread knowledge about them through media. The campaign got lots of attention, although some criticised them for scaring people away from the mountains.

The easter 30 years after the campaign, in 1997, Red Cross had 50 searches for approximately 100 people lost in the mountain. Only 4 died.

The rules

  • 1. Do not plan a long trip without training ("Legg ikke ut på langtur uten trening")
    Do not underestimate what it takes to go far into the mountains. You should be used to skiing with a rucksack in deep snow before doing it far away from people. Make training trips in bad weather to see how it is, before trying the real thing.
  • 2. Tell people where you're going ("Meld fra hvor du går")
    If you get lost, it is important that people know WHERE and WHEN you got lost. Tell people when you expect to be back, and what route you are planning to take. This will give search crews important clues to find you. Many Norwegian tourist cabins in the mountains have special boxes where you can leave a written note about where you are heading. Use them.
  • 3. Show respect for the weather forcast ("Vis respekt for værmeldingene")
    Do not go into the mountains if you have reason to suspect a storm is brewing. Don't underestimate the effect of fog, wind and heavy snow on your ability to find your way. Still, don't trust a good weather forcast. Always prepare for bad weather. Remember that local variations won't be covered in the forcast.
  • 4. Be prepared against bad weather and cold, even on short trips ("Vær rustet mot uvær og kulde selv på korte turer")
    Always bring equipment for cold weather, an extra jumper, a good weather-proof jacket (an anorak is worth gold). Wear wind-proof mittens and a warm hat. Put this equipment on early enough! It is of no use in your rucksack. Bring a small shovel. (See 3 and 9).
  • 5. Listen to experienced mountaineers ("Lytt til erfarne fjellfolk")
    People who are more experienced than you are well worth taking advice from (I guess this is a valid point in any aspect of life...). Local people will know about special conditions, like danger of avalanches and local wind and snow conditions. They may help you find a safe route to take.
  • 6. Use a map and a compass ("Bruk kart og kompass")
    Always bring map and compass, and learn how to use them. Study the map before leaving, so you know where you are going and how to get there. Pay attention to where you will end up if you miss your target, and in what direction you can find help (in case of emergencies, aim for "long" features like a road, things that will be easy to find). Know where you are at all times when the weather is clear. If a sudden fog turns up, it can be hard to determine where you are. Keep the map in a map case around your neck to protect it from moisture and wind. In a fog, the last thing you want to do is lose your map to the wind.
  • 7. Do not go alone ("Gå ikke alene")
    Your main help in an emergency is your travelling companions. If something happens, you want to have people around you, people who can go for help, people to perform first aid, etc. Choose your companions with care - a large group where no one knows anything about mountains or first aid will not be useful.
  • 8. Turn around in time, there is no shame in returning ("Vend i tide, det er ingen skam å snu")
    Don't lose your life on pride. If the weather takes a turn for the worse, turn around. It's not worth it. Remember that other people may risk their lives trying to rescue you if you get lost. If you choose to change your plans, remember to tell anyone that might be expecting you at your original destination. If you don't have a partcular destination, it is a good idea to start the trip going against the wind. That way, it's easier to go home than out.
  • 9. Save your strength, dig yourself into the snow if necessary ("Spar på kreftene, grav deg inn i snøen om nødvendig")
    Save your strength, don't go too fast. You should not get sweaty (we're now talking about long treks in the mountain, not running on skis as a sport...). The people in front should often turn around to check on the rest of the company - it is difficult to even shouting through wind and layers of clothing. Remember to eat and drink. If you can't find your way, you may be forced to lie down to preserve your strength. Getting out of the wind is important if you want to survive the cold. This is when the shovel comes in handy. Don't hesitate to dig a hole in the snow or a small snow cave while you still have strength left. This is something that should be practiced before going into the mountains.

    God tur!

    Sources:
    History: Norway's Red Cross; www.redcross.no
    Rules and commentary: Translated by me from the rules found at The Norwegian Tourist Association web pages; www.turistforeningen.no, own knowledge and experience

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