It seems that backcountry skiers and riders are heeding the advice to stick to low-angle terrain as the number of avalanches reported in Colorado dropped significantly this last week. The last avalanche that involved a backcountry rider was on February 21. We have gone eight days without a reported avalanche incident in Colorado. It’s been thirteen days since our last serious avalanche accident.
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The snowpack is slowly adjusting to heavy snow in mid-February, and it is getting harder to trigger an avalanche. BUT this is not the main reason we have seen a decrease in avalanche involvements. The main reason is YOU!
Backcountry riders are traveling cautiously and sticking to conservative terrain throughout Colorado. This is why we aren’t seeing people caught in avalanches. Let’s keep up the good work! Continue to get the forecast at colorado.gov/avalanche and avoid slopes that forecasters are highlighting in your zone.
As you can see from the diagram below comparing statewide avalanche activity from last week to this week, we are seeing a substantial decrease in avalanche activity across Colorado. Don’t be fooled. If you are traveling on slopes steeper than about 30 degrees, especially near and above treeline, you are rolling the dice. You may get lucky and avoid the weak spots or you may get unlucky and trigger a monster avalanche. When conditions are like this it doesn’t matter how much you know about snow and avalanches or how many years you have spent in the backcountry, if you are recreating on near and above treeline slopes steeper than about 30 degrees it’s purely a game of chance.
Yes, it’s getting harder to trigger avalanches, but if you hit the wrong spot on the wrong slope you can trigger an avalanche that breaks very wide and brings the entire season’s snowpack down. There is no way to see these weak areas when you are standing at the top of a slope ready to drop in or at the bottom of a slope thinking about climbing it on your snowmobile. You will not see signs of instability such as cracking and collapsing. You may not see any recent avalanche activity. You may not get scary results in snowpack tests. The only way to avoid this type of avalanche is to stay off these slopes. Let’s work together to put this horribly deadly February behind us by staying off steep near and above treeline slopes today. Check colorado.gov/avalanche for conditions in the zone where you will be traveling.
Saturday saw the 33rd avalanche fatality of the 2020/21 winter season in the USA and the 27th avalanche fatality in only 29 days in the USA.