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CAIC Forecaster Caught in Slide

Inherent Risk: Avalanche Forecaster Rescued in Colorado After Being Caught in Slide

DENVER, COLORADO – In a stark reminder of the unpredictable nature of avalanches, a Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) forecaster found himself in a precarious situation after being caught in an avalanche near the Interstate 70 tunnels on April 8. The incident, which occurred on the northeast slope of Mt. Bethel, emphasizes the inherent risks associated with navigating backcountry terrain, even for professionals.

The forecaster, whose identity has been kept confidential, was partially buried by a D2 size avalanche, significant enough to bury, injure, or even kill a person, at an altitude of approximately 11,800 feet. The slide happened in the early afternoon as the forecaster was descending from a field site. He was swept a short distance and pinned against some trees before being rescued.

The CAIC, always vigilant about the safety of its staff, initiated a rescue operation after the forecaster failed to check in at a predetermined time. A Garmin inReach satellite device played a crucial role in establishing contact with the trapped forecaster, highlighting the importance of carrying satellite communication devices in areas without cell phone coverage.

The rescue mission, led by the all-volunteer Alpine Rescue Team, unfolded over several hours. The team, alongside CAIC staff, faced challenging conditions including darkness and thick snow to safely extract the forecaster from the avalanche debris. After enduring the early stages of hypothermia, the forecaster was transported to safety and is currently recovering without major injuries.

Brian Lazar, Deputy Director of the CAIC, noted the incident as a humbling experience that underscores the fact that “you can never reduce [avalanche] risk to zero.” Dale Atkins of the Alpine Rescue Team further stressed the significance of the event, pointing out that it showcases the unpredictable and unforgiving nature of backcountry terrain.

This close call serves as a critical reminder of the dangers posed by avalanches, not only to recreationalists but also to those who venture into the backcountry as part of their profession. It underscores the necessity of thorough preparation, including checking the avalanche forecast, carrying the appropriate safety gear, and understanding the terrain.

Avalanche Awareness Tips

  • Check the Avalanche Forecast: Before heading out, consult the CAIC or your local avalanche forecast center.
  • Carry the Right Equipment: Ensure you have an avalanche transceiver, probe, and shovel. Consider additional safety gear such as an airbag pack.
  • Stay Communicable: Carry a satellite communication device, like a Garmin inReach, especially in areas without cell service.
  • Be Visible: Wear bright clothing and consider using a RECCO reflector to increase your visibility to rescuers.
  • Educate Yourself: Participate in avalanche safety courses to understand how to navigate and survive in avalanche-prone terrain.

The incident is a powerful testament to the unpredictable and inherently risky nature of the backcountry, reminding even the most experienced of outdoor enthusiasts to approach the wilderness with caution and respect.

For more details on the incident and safety recommendations, visit Summit Daily.

Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.

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Hi, I'm Alex!

In 2018, I watched in disbelief as dozens of people hiked into a storm on Longs Peak, unaware of the extreme danger. Soon after, I started The Next Summit to educate and empower the public to safely and responsibly explore America's mountains.

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