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Snowshoer Triggers Avalanches

Colorado Snowshoer Survives Double Avalanche Ordeal Near Breckenridge

BRECKENRIDGE, COLORADO — A dramatic series of events unfolded on Bald Mountain near Breckenridge this past Sunday, when a snowshoer fell off a cornice and triggered two separate avalanches, narrowly escaping serious injury. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center reports the individual became disoriented during a sudden white-out storm while exploring the area.

The snowshoer, visiting from outside Summit County but familiar with the region, ventured out early at 8:30 a.m. but quickly faced treacherous conditions as the weather deteriorated. Charles Pitman, a Summit County Rescue Group member, recounted, “All of a sudden, the weather just turned into a white-out. It was massive snow, lots of wind, and the snow conditions were a little sketchy. He couldn’t tell one direction from another. One more step in the wrong direction had him on top of the cornice.”

After sliding approximately 900 feet down the slope, the individual triggered a D1 storm slab avalanche—the smallest on a five-point scale—while trying to climb out and had to contact emergency services. During his attempt to traverse to another ridge, a second avalanche was triggered, fortunately without dragging him with the debris.

The rescue operation involved setting up snow anchors and 200-foot ropes to reach and safely extract the snowshoer, who was equipped with warm clothing, food, and water. Pitman emphasized the importance of carrying a GPS device in such conditions to help avoid hazardous areas like ridgelines and cornices.

Springtime can often give a false sense of security, Pitman warned, noting that snow conditions can become unstable and reactive with warmer weather, increasing the risk of wet avalanches. “Storms can also come in with little to no notice,” he added.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center has issued a warning about the increased avalanche danger following the recent storm that caught the snowshoer off guard. “Statewide, you can trigger avalanches in wind-drifted snow at higher elevations,” the center advised. In the last week alone, 14 people were caught in avalanches, most due to wind-drifted snow. The center recommends avoiding stiff, smooth drifts on steep slopes below corniced ridgelines and in cross-loaded alpine gullies, and choosing wind-sheltered or wind-scoured terrain instead.

For current avalanche conditions and safety information, the public is encouraged to visit

Avalanche Awareness and Safety Tips

  1. Always Check Conditions: Before heading out, check the latest avalanche forecasts and weather conditions.
  2. Carry Avalanche Safety Gear: Always have an avalanche transceiver, probe, and shovel, and know how to use them.
  3. Avoid Solo Trips: Travel with a partner and maintain visual or verbal contact.
  4. Know the Terrain: Be aware of the terrain traps and avoid steep slopes and cornices.
  5. Take an Avalanche Safety Course: Understanding how to read the terrain and snow conditions is vital for safety.
  6. Listen to Your Instincts: If conditions feel unsafe, they likely are. Don’t hesitate to turn back.

By adhering to these guidelines, snowshoers and skiers can help ensure their safety and enjoy the winter landscape securely.

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.

Learn more about how we protect public lands and prevent SAR calls through education & advocacy.

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