DENVER, COLORADO – In the past week, Colorado has experienced a surge in avalanche activity, with 90 avalanches reported, including 18 human-triggered slides. These incidents have resulted in six people being carried by avalanches and three partial burials, as per the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC).
One particularly notable incident occurred off Raspberry Ridge near Aspen on November 25. A group of nine backcountry travelers encountered a large avalanche, which caught and partially buried three skiers. The CAIC’s report detailed the harrowing experience: “A group of nine backcountry travelers… Three skiers descended the upper slopes and regrouped near the bottom of the path. The fourth skier triggered a large avalanche and was caught, carried, and partially buried but able to self-extricate… Luckily nobody in the party was seriously injured or killed” – CAIC report from Raspberry Ridge.
Other incidents include a backcountry rider on Berthoud Pass and a skier on James Peak near Winter Park, both of whom triggered and were carried by avalanches. The CAIC reported on the James Peak incident: “I unintentionally remotely triggered a small persistent slab avalanche about 50’ above me. I was carried for 100’ before arresting. The slide continued to run another 400’, about 550’ total” – CAIC report from James Peak.
The CAIC has consequently raised the avalanche risk to ‘moderate’ in most mountain regions, with areas like Grand Mesa and Aspen at a ‘considerable’ level. This increase in risk is particularly concerning considering the 11 avalanche fatalities in Colorado last winter, surpassing the long-term average. Nationwide, the USA recorded 30 avalanche deaths last season, while Canada reported 15.
The CAIC warns: “The current early season conditions are more dangerous than you might expect for November. You can easily trigger a large and dangerous avalanche… To reduce your chances of triggering a potentially deadly avalanche, avoid traveling on or underneath steep slopes… Safer travel options exist on south, southwest, and west-facing slopes or by sticking to slopes less than about 30 degrees without any similarly steep slopes overhead” – CAIC forecast for November 28.
With one fatality already reported in North America this season, the CAIC emphasizes the need for caution and awareness among backcountry travelers.
Safety Tips for Avalanche Awareness and Prevention
In light of the recent avalanche activity, here are some essential safety tips for backcountry travelers:
- Check Avalanche Forecasts: Always review the latest avalanche forecasts for your area at colorado.gov/avalanche before heading out.
- Understand and Respect Ratings: Pay attention to the avalanche danger ratings and avoid areas with moderate to high danger levels.
- Carry Proper Equipment: Ensure you have an avalanche transceiver, probe, and shovel. Know how to use them.
- Avoid Risky Slopes: Steer clear of slopes steeper than 30 degrees, especially those facing northwest through north to southeast.
- Travel One at a Time: When crossing potential avalanche terrain, do so one person at a time to minimize risk.
- Stay Educated: Take an avalanche safety course and stay updated on the latest safety techniques and strategies.
- Be Prepared to Turn Back: Don’t hesitate to abandon your plans if conditions seem unsafe.
- Stay Alert to Changes: Weather and snowpack conditions can change rapidly, so remain vigilant and ready to adjust your plans.
Remember, safety in the backcountry starts with awareness and preparedness. Stay safe and enjoy the beauty of Colorado’s winter landscapes responsibly.