OCTOBER 31, 2023 – DENVER, COLORADO — The state’s backcountry enthusiasts are being urged to exercise caution and stay informed as the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) is set to restart its daily avalanche forecasts on November 1st. This decision comes in the wake of a season that saw a higher than average number of avalanche-related deaths.
During the 2022-2023 season, the CAIC reported a total of 5813 avalanches, with a staggering 11 deaths – four more than the average over the preceding decade. Additionally, 96 incidents were documented, where 122 individuals found themselves caught in avalanches. This number surpassed the ten-year median, which typically sees 56 incidents and 84 people caught. Of those avalanches, 18 involved multiple victims, six of which resulted in fatalities.
A particular cause for concern has been the increasing number of victims not equipped with avalanche transceivers, a key tool for survival and rescue. Four of the eleven fatalities from the last season involved victims without these devices. Following two consecutive years of such alarming statistics, there are growing fears that these might not be mere anomalies but an indication of a growing trend.
As the season ushered in its first significant snowstorm, which slammed Colorado from Friday night through Sunday, the CAIC’s statewide report from October 27 highlights the impending avalanche risks, particularly in the Northern and Central Mountains. Areas such as the Sawatch Range, Elk, and West Elk Mountains, already with significant snow layers, are expected to face heightened avalanche dangers, especially at elevations exceeding 11,000 feet.
While it’s still early in the season, the CAIC advises against complacency. Many areas will soon boast over a foot of settled snow, enough to conceal ground cover, making avalanches a genuine threat. Terrain features like grassy slopes or steep rock slabs require very little snow accumulation to pose an avalanche risk. With these early-season conditions, even small avalanches can have dire consequences, dragging victims across rocks and other concealed obstacles.
Backcountry enthusiasts, including hunters navigating the highlands, are urged to treat steep, snow-laden terrains with respect and caution. Every autumn, avalanches catch many off-guard, underscoring the importance of awareness and preparedness.
To aid backcountry travelers, the CAIC is resuming its daily forecasts and urges the community to share their observations, promoting a collaborative approach to safety
Avalanche Safety Tips:
With avalanche season upon us, CAIC shared the following best practices and tips to help protect yourself and the rest of your group from getting caught in or triggering a slide.
- Always check avalanche forecasts before venturing out.
- Carry essential gear: an avalanche transceiver, shovel, and probe.
- Train in avalanche safety and rescue techniques.
- Avoid steep slopes, especially those with wind-drifted snow.
- Be cautious of slopes steeper than 30 degrees.
- Travel one at a time in avalanche-prone areas, ensuring others in the group are watching.
- Know the signs: recent avalanches, cracking or collapsing snowpack, and audible whumping sounds are danger indicators.
- Always inform someone of your planned route and expected return time.
- Consider traveling with an experienced guide, especially if unfamiliar with the terrain.
By taking these precautions, travelers can ensure a safer and more enjoyable experience in Colorado’s stunning backcountry. Learn more in our comprehensive mountain safety guide. Safe travels on the trail!