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Colorado Avalanche

First Avalanche of the Season Reported in Colorado’s Sawatch Range: 5 Tips to Stay Safe

DENVER, COLORADO – The first reported avalanche of the season occurred in Colorado’s Sawatch Range, according to a field report published by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC). The avalanche took place in a north-facing gully on the NW Ridge of Mountain Boy Peak. Triggered on October 15, 2023, the avalanche serves as an early-season reminder of the inherent dangers and unpredictability of backcountry skiing and winter mountain activities.

According to the CAIC report filed by Paul K, the avalanche was remotely triggered by Skier 2, who was probing the snow depth just below the ridgeline at an elevation of approximately 12,800 feet. The skier was on a slope with a 15-degree angle near the ridge top when the avalanche initiated. The slide propagated around 100 yards across the slope, covering a distance of about 300 feet before coming to a stop. The debris measured approximately 3-4 feet in depth. At the time of the avalanche, the weather was 37 degrees with winds from the Northwest at 10 mph and gusts up to 20 mph under a clear sky.

Skier 1, who was on a connected slope on the other side of the gully, observed the slide from a distance. Fortunately, neither skier was caught in the avalanche. According to the report, the avalanche was a result of a wind-loaded slab lying on top of facets from late September and early October storms. Observers noted moderate cracking and minor collapsing of the snowpack, as well as the presence of surface hoar in some spots.

The report underscores the need for caution even in early-season conditions. The presence of wind-loaded slabs, facets, and surface hoar create a volatile mix that can result in avalanches even when skiers are at a distance from the slide area. The distinctive “whoompf” sound and cracking across the slope served as clear indicators of instability in this particular incident.

Mountain Safety Tips

Given the occurrence of this early-season avalanche, backcountry enthusiasts should take extra precautions when planning outings:

  1. Check Avalanche Forecasts: Always consult the CAIC or other trusted sources for current avalanche conditions before heading out.

  2. Carry Safety Gear: Make sure to carry essential avalanche safety gear, including a beacon, probe, and shovel. Know how to use them effectively.

  3. Get Educated: Consider taking an avalanche safety course to familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of snow science and safe backcountry practices.

  4. Slope Assessment: Learn how to assess the angle of the slope and the condition of the snowpack. A slope steeper than 30 degrees is more prone to avalanches.

  5. Be Alert to Weather Conditions: Weather can drastically alter the avalanche risk. Sudden changes in temperature or wind speed should trigger increased caution.

This incident serves as a timely reminder that, while the mountains offer great beauty and adventure, they are also environments of inherent risk. Proper education and preparation are key to safely enjoying winter activities in the Colorado high country. Learn more with our complete mountain safety guide.

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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