Friends of Berthoud Pass help kick off ski season with avalanche awareness class |

Friends of Berthoud Pass help kick off ski season with avalanche awareness class

A group of individuals prepare to participate in one of the on-snow educational sessions with Friends of Berthoud Pass.
Courtesy photo

Snow is finally starting to pile up in the high country, resorts across Colorado are opening for the season and up on Berthoud Pass backcountry riders are already grabbing deep powder turns.

The ski season is upon us and with it the looming threat of avalanches. Last Thursday night Friends of Berthoud Pass, a local nonprofit that works to “preserve the legacy of public recreation at Berthoud Pass through safety, access and education”, put on a free avalanche awareness class at the Vintage Hotel at Winter Park Resort.

The avalanche awareness class was led by Brian Pollock, Director of Education for Friends of Berthoud Pass, and included a short presentation from representatives of Grand County Search and Rescue explaining the role they play in backcountry rescue operations. Pollock’s two hour long awareness class, which brought out around 40 attendees, featured a dizzying array of avalanche related educational information.

Pollock delved into basic avalanche information, detailing avalanche data for the various states, months of the year and categories of backcountry users. He noted that Colorado is the deadliest state by far in terms of avalanches and pointed out that avalanches in Colorado have killed people during every month of the year, including summer months.

Pollock reviewed a bit of basic avalanche science, explaining what is known as the “avalanche triangle” and the interplay of the three primary factors involved in avalanches: snowpack, weather and terrain. He delved into the red flags backcountry users should be careful for when traveling through the high country and spent a significant amount of time reviewing what Pollock asserted was one of the biggest dangers posed to backcountry skiers: human factors.

During his presentation Pollock repeatedly returned to avalanches themselves, discussing various types of avalanches and the local conditions that would precipitate specific avalanche events. He showed numerous clips of avalanches as well as examples of people who narrowly escaped and reviewed several fatal avalanche incidents as well as the factors that helped lead to death in those circumstances.

Throughout Thursday night’s presentation Pollock stressed the importance of being educated before attempting to venture into the backcountry. Specifically Pollock recommended that anyone looking to get into backcountry skiing, snowmobiling, or any other winter backcountry activity, take a level one avalanche class. He also stressed the need to find experienced and knowledgeable riding partners, especially for beginning backcountry adventurers.

As he wrapped up his presentation Pollock noted other educational opportunities for backcountry enthusiasts including Friends of Berthoud Pass’ upcoming On the Snow Avalanche Awareness Class, which will be held Jan. 26 and 27 early next year.

Also speaking Thursday night at the avalanche awareness class was Friends of Berthoud Pass Board Secretary Carl Dowdy who reviewed Winter Park Resort’s uphill access policy. Dowdy noted that Winter Park Resort has “one of the most open uphill policies” in state and that with a few exceptions people are allowed to skin, or hike, up into Winter Park Resort before skiing back down.

Dowdy confirmed that a ski pass is not required to enjoy Winter Park Resort’s uphill access but added that anyone looking to hike up into the resort should employ “common sense”. You can find out the specifics of the resort’s uphill access policy by reading the resort’s two-page policy document, which can be found by searching for “Winter Park Resort uphill access policy” on Google.

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