As Colorado experiences warmer conditions, the risk of avalanches in the mountains is on the rise, with the state just one death away from tying its 30-year record for avalanche fatalities. The increased risk comes with an elevated likelihood of “wet avalanches” during spring snowmelt. With Colorado’s snowpack currently 38 percentage points above the median for this time of year, the potential for avalanches is higher than usual.
Brian Lazar, deputy director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, explained that the abundant snowfall this winter has contributed to the heightened risk of wet avalanches. He emphasized that despite wet avalanche activity likely decreasing once higher temperatures become consistent and snowpack melts, the risk for backcountry skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts will remain significant in the coming weeks.
A recent avalanche near Breckenridge claimed the life of a 31-year-old solo skier, marking the 11th avalanche fatality in Colorado this snow season. One more death will tie the state’s all-time record of 12 recreational fatalities, set in 1993.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center reports that avalanches have occurred every month since December this season, with a total of 20 people caught and 16 buried. The abundant snowpack, repeated heavy snowfall, and wind-loading deposits are cited as contributing factors to the increased avalanche deaths in the state this season.
To reduce the risk of avalanches, experts recommend the following avalanche safety measures:
- Check the detailed avalanche forecast on the center’s website (avalanche.state.co.us) before your trip and continue to monitor conditions at your location.
- Travel in groups, but have only one person traverse potential avalanche terrain at a time, increasing the chance of rescue should a slide occur.
- Ensure all group members are equipped with avalanche safety gear, including an avalanche transceiver, probe pole, and shovel, and are trained to use them effectively.
As the avalanche risk in Colorado remains heightened, residents and visitors must exercise caution when venturing into the backcountry to prevent further tragedies and avoid tying the state’s 30-year record for avalanche fatalities.