Backcountry skiers warned of avalanche danger
October 30, 2009
Backcountry skiing enthusiasts are being warned against the temptation created by the recent heavy snowfall, because while it may look great – it may not be altogether safe.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center on Thursday issued a cautionary alert to backcountry skiers and snowboarders, urging them to watch out for avalanche potential.
“I would advise against it,” Ethan Greene, director of Colorado Avalanche Information Center, said on Thursday, referring to the idea of heading out for some skiing in the wake of this week’s heavy snows.
But, according to a statement from the CAIC and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, September and October storms have dropped several feet of new snow near and above tree line across the state.
“Even prior to this week’s major storm, some of the snow had drifted deep enough to offer eager skiers some early season turns,” the CAIC statement noted. “But conditions have also created opportunities for some early season avalanches. Already five backcountry users have reported triggering slides in Colorado’s high country.
“Right now we’re getting snow earlier than we typically do and people are really enthusiastic about skiing,” Greene continued. “Maybe they’re looking at doing things they would do mid-winter without realizing that the shallow snowpack has created tricky avalanche conditions. And because the snow is shallow, if you do trigger an avalanche, you’re more likely to get dribbled against rocks and trees.”
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Already this year, skiers and climbers have reported triggering three slides in Rocky Mountain National Park, the first on Oct. 5. Skiers have also reported triggering one slide each on Independence, Loveland, and Jones Passes.
No serious injuries were reported, but four of the slides resulted in at least one person being swept downhill.
Greene said the early snows potentially set the stage for a trying season.
“Because of the early snow, there’s a better chance that a thick weak layer will form at the bottom of the snowpack,” he said. “We haven’t seen conditions like this in the last four or five years, so people who have learned avalanche awareness during this period may not appreciate that things which were appropriate last year may not be safe this year. This could be a different and potentially more dangerous year than they’re used to.”
To learn more about avalanche safety, pick up a copy of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s free brochure, First Tracks. To get a free copy, call 303-866-2611 extension 0, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org