Guardians of the snow minimize chances of avalanches during Battle Griffin 05
Major Bakke testings how much pressure the snow can take. The threat of avalanche presents a real danger to Marines training in Norway's sub arctic climate and rugged terrain. (Photo by Lars Erik Solend)
1 photo: Major Bakke testings how much pressure the snow can take. The threat of avalanche presents a real danger to Marines training in Norway's sub arctic climate and rugged terrain. (Photo by Lars Erik
Photo 1 of 1: Major Bakke testings how much pressure the snow can take. The threat of avalanche presents a real danger to Marines training in Norway's sub arctic climate and rugged terrain. (Photo by Lars Erik Solend) Download full-resolution version

GRONG, Norway - They have turned every snow crystal in the region. Every day the Norwegian Armed Forces' avalanche group produces updated avalanche reports for Battle Griffin, ensuring the safety of the 14.000 participating soldiers. More than 1,200 U.S. Marines are scheduled to participate in the exercise.

Exercise Battle Griffin 2005 is a Norwegian invitational exercise testing a multi-national peacekeeping forces ability to provide humanitarian assistance and security and sustainment operations in a cold weather environment. Armed forces from 15 nations are scheduled to participate in the exercise.

Maj. Knut Bakke and Maj. Svein Olav Husby stand with a shovel and a meter in front of a wall cut out in the snow. The snow is to be tested and measured - - a science of its own. "Having tested the different densities of the snow, we go through each layer to see what kind of snow crystals it consists of," Bakke explains, while studying the snow through an enlarging glass. "It seems as though snow isn't just snow after all."

During the exercise the avalanche squad will deliver hazard reports for the entire exercise area. Each day they produce avalanche reports for the exercise command, the internet and the personnel in the field. The group consists of seven members, five officers and two civilian experts from the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute. The group is divided into three teams, which cover the practice area by ski, snowmobile and helicopter. The reports at this point are relatively promising.

"Our conclusion is that the snow here is quite stabile, and that applies throughout the region," says Bakke.

"Today the avalanche hazard is estimated to be moderate, or level 2. The hazard is scaled from 0 to 4, 4 being the greatest. This means there is little to fear, unless you move in terrain steeper than 30 degrees," Bakke explains. He recommends staying clear of steep valleys and hills.

If an avalanche should occur, the Marines are better prepared than ever before. This is the first year that all the 14,000 exercise participans are equipped with Recco-chips; passive answerers for electronic tracking and easily found trough deep snow. This will make the job easier for the readiness team from the Norwegian army, who is standing on a 15 minutes readiness during the exercise.

The two avalanche squad officers are at the same time asking for cautiousness in case of movement over frozen lakes and rivers. The snow, on the other hand, will stay stabile during the weeks to come, they believe.

"It seems as though the weather is on our side. We can't give any guaranties, but we have pretty much covered the whole practice area. So far, it looks promising," said Major Husby.

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