Colorado is a state well known for its towering, snow-covered peaks. While these mountains are beautiful, they come with serious threats in the winter. Since the 1950-51 winter season, Colorado avalanches have claimed more lives than any other state in the U.S. With COVID-19 disrupting the 2020-2021 season, avalanche experts feared that the forecasted rise in backcountry users this winter could result in a higher-than-average fatality statistic. For Colorado, this sadly came true.
Over the last ten winters, an average of 27 people died in avalanches each winter season in the United States. This season alone, the United States has reported 36 avalanche fatalities. This winter, the state of Colorado alone has experienced twelve of these fatalities, more than double the state’s average over the last five seasons. This statistic marks the highest amount of avalanche deaths in the centennial state since the winter of 1992-1993 and tied for most Colorado has seen in over a century.
In the past week, Colorado mountains, the front range especially, have seen a great refresh of spring snow. While sadly closed as of April 18th, Eldora saw eighteen inches fall between the 13th and 18th. That is not including my estimate of fourteen more inches of snow in the last 24-hours. Before this snowfall, Colorado finally saw a state-wide stabilization of the snowpack. Almost all elevations and basins were showing low avalanche danger.
While this snowpack that existed before these recent storms has relatively stabilized, this new snow adds complexity to possible avalanche danger. The April 20th, 2021 CAIC report shows low to moderate avalanche danger depending on the region. While low or moderate danger is better than high or considerable, this does not mean that the possibility of triggering an avalanche is 0. In the end, if you are venturing out into the Colorado backcountry in the next few weeks, stay vigilant and stay safe. Remember to:
- Know the forecast (Check out the Colorado Avalanche Information Center daily)
- Have the necessary gear (Beacon, Shovel, Probe)
- Have the education and training to utilize your gear properly
- Have a plan