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Spring Avalanche Risks in Colorado’s High Country Prompt Safety Warnings

DENVER, COLORADO – The transition from winter to spring in the Colorado Rocky Mountains introduces a mix of inviting sunshine and deceptive dangers, particularly for backcountry enthusiasts. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) and local rescue teams are emphasizing the unpredictable nature of avalanche conditions during this period, which can swiftly alternate between dry and wet snow hazards.

In Summit County, the allure of warm afternoons is tempered by lingering avalanche risks. Benjamin Butler, president of the Summit County Rescue Group, stresses the importance of starting early in the day for snow hikes. “The snow loses its strength as it warms, increasing the risk of postholing,” Butler explained, referring to the phenomenon where hikers sink deeply into the snow, complicating mobility and safety.

Butler also advises checking overnight temperatures. A lack of below-freezing temperatures can prevent the snowpack from refreezing, which makes it unstable as temperatures rise the next day. “If the overnight freeze is absent at higher elevations, it’s wise to consider alternative activities, like mountain biking in Buena Vista or hiking in drier areas,” he suggested.

For those venturing into the backcountry, Butler recommends carrying the 10 essentials for outdoor safety and using snowshoes or skis to distribute weight more evenly over the softening snow. He also cautioned against the deceptive ‘fool’s spring,’ advising travelers to always have extra warm layers and avalanche safety gear, including a transceiver, probe, and shovel.

Ethan Greene, Director of the CAIC, highlighted the shift from persistent slab avalanches common in winter to the springtime’s wet avalanche conditions. “Wet slab and loose wet avalanches become more prevalent as meltwater weakens the snowpack,” Greene said. While loose wet avalanches are typically smaller, they can still pose significant threats, particularly if they sweep individuals over cliffs or into gullies.

Greene pointed out signs such as “roller balls,” or small snowballs that form naturally as the snow melts, indicating increasing chances of loose wet avalanches. He advises backcountry visitors to retreat to the trailhead or seek shaded, firmer snow areas as these signs appear.

With a snowstorm anticipated this weekend followed by a warming trend, the CAIC forecasts a spike in avalanche danger across Colorado’s high elevations. “Springtime conditions can change swiftly, so staying updated with the latest forecasts is crucial,” Greene added, stressing that the dynamic spring weather requires vigilance and preparedness from all backcountry travelers.

This weekend, the avalanche danger is expected to rise to considerable levels in the Front Range and moderate across other parts of the state due to anticipated snowfall.

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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