Thousands of avalanches occur each winter in the mountains of Colorado. With the enormous popularity of winter sports in Colorado, this poses a risk to skiers, snowboarders, hikers and snowmobilers. On average, 6 people die in avalanches in the state of Colorado every year. Anyone who travels into the high country in the winter should be prepared for avalanches and know how to avoid them.
The first thing to know is most avalanches occur during or just after snowstorms and most occur on a slope of 30 to 45 degrees. A significant snowfall may result in an unstable snowpack. By waiting 36 hours after a big snowstorm you may allow the snow to become more stable. If you stay in valleys away from avalanche chutes, in stands of dense trees, or on gentle slopes you can minimize your avalanche risk.
If you are a skier or snowboarder at a commercial ski area there is little danger of avalanches. However, respect their rules and do not stray out of bounds. Ski areas work to reduce the danger from avalanches within their bounded terrain, but out of bounds a serious avalanche risk may exist. Minimize your risk by staying in bounds.
If you want to enjoy the great outdoors in areas prone to avalanches, you can minimize the danger by following a few simple rules...
Check the current avalanche forecast to get information on current and forecast avalanche conditions. Also check the latest weather forecast to see if conditions are likely to change while you are in the backcountry.
Never travel alone. Always have one or more companions. Even small avalanches can be fatal. If you are alone and get trapped, you may not be found until spring.
If crossing a slope that may be prone to avalanches, do it one person at a time. You want to minimize the impact on your party if an avalanche is accidently released.
In avalanche country, all members of your party should carry avalanche rescue equipment including an avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe pole. This increases your chances of a successful rescue and finding your friends alive.
Avalanche conditions and forecasts in Colorado are provided by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC). You can get more information on avalanches and avalanche safety from CAIC at 303-499-9650 or http://avalanche.state.co.us.