In the winter of 2018 / 2019, the Colorado high country experienced historic snowfall. Measuring stations and ski areas reported record snow depths. Heavy snowfall in our high country almost always means a high probability of avalanche danger and last winter was no exception. The mass volume of snowfall caused havoc with monumental avalanches that caused eight deaths between Jan and March of 2019.
According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) which offers public avalanche education and avalanche forecasting, Colorado accounts for one-third of all avalanche related deaths in the United States. The 2019 deaths ranged from back-country re-creators to a Crested Butte man who was shoveling a roof in the path of an avalanche. Closer to home, a male snow-cat ski guide was killed in a slide on Jones Pass.
While avalanches may appear unpredictable and spontaneous many are caused by people. Educating yourself about conditions, being cautious, and preparing for the possibilities of being caught in an avalanche could mean the difference between life and death. In a recent National Geographic story, an avalanche specialist for the Northwest Avalanche Center in Washington and the Forest Service’s National Avalanche Center offered the best way to prepare for recreating safely in snow packed high country includes forecast, training and gear. The International Snow Training Academy (ISTA) also subscribes to these same principles with an emphasis on training, snow condition information and rescue gear.
Countless reports, personal stories, and videos have been made about avalanche dangers and safety precautions. Most suggest the same advice, even if you’re a Colorado Native familiar with the snowy terrain. The CAIC web-page provides a wealth of information including regional avalanche forecasts, weather forecasts, watches and warnings. The page also has an exceptional short Know Before You Go (KBYG) video that does an outstanding job in covering precautionary measures that avalanche specialists recommend. It’s worth a watch!