Snow pros gather in Leadville for 10th annual Colorado Snow and Avalanche workshop; education session open to anyone interested in gaining avalanche knowledge
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — With the first few winter-like storms already passed, avalanche experts in Colorado are starting to prepare for the coming season. Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecasts will resume Nov. 1 but before that, the snow-savvy forecasters will gather Oct. 14 in Leadville for the 10th annual Colorado Snow and Avalanche Workshop.
The fall powwow is billed as a professional development session for snow and avy pros but is open to anyone with an interest in avalanches, snow science and mountain weather. Advance registration is $20 ($30 at the door). Check the CSAW website for more details, including a map to the location, a full agenda and online registration.
This year’s workshop features presentations by local and international experts, as well as the eagerly awaited winter weather outlook from National Weather Service forecaster Joe Ramey.
“It’s the kickoff for our winter season. It’s usually not long after CSAW that we start to see our first avalanche incidents,” said CAIC forecaster Scott Toepfer. “We really wanted to have a good one this year since it’s the 10th one,” Toepfer said.
Among the featured speakers is Jürg Schweizer, of the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research. Schweizer will give a technical talk on snow stability and avalanche fractures and will also present a historical overview of avalanche research in Switzerland.
That talk should dovetail nicely with Dale Atkins presentation on historic avalanches in Colorado. Atkins said he wants to link the historical data with today’s circumstances, including changes in Colorado’s population and changing economic conditions. For perspective, Atkins said there have been 727 total recorded avalanche deaths in the state, and 177 of those — about 25 percent — have come in the last 31 years during the recreational era.
“When you go back to the old mining days, the reasons for avalanche deaths still apply today,” he said.
Former Summit County ski patroller Pat Ahern will discuss the use of a remote-controlled snow-compaction roller used at Telluride ski area to try and tame the avalanche dragon in the steep and popular terrain of Prospect Basin. Many ski areas have long done early season packing to break down the formation of unstable crystal layers at the base of the snowpack that can lead to avalanches later in the season. Those efforts sometimes are labor-intensive and in some conditions, can expose patrollers to avalanche risks or the chance of early season injuries.
Toepfer, along with Sara Simonson, will discuss findings from a large avalanche that ran last spring in the Peru Creek drainage, above Montezuma. The huge wet snow slide shattered centuries-old trees and ran near the valley floor as one of the biggest recent spring snow slides on record in Summit County.
And forecaster John Snook said he’ll talk about some of the CAIC’s new forecasting tools — first and foremost an array of new computers that will help the center fine-tune snowfall rates and other factors, enabling more precise and timely forecasts.
Read some coverage from last year’s CSAW on the role of communications and technology in avalanche rescues.
This story from last year’s CSAW is on Joe Ramey’s outlook for a snowy winter.
Experts at last year’s CSAW also talked about the need for improving safety information for skiers and riders using popular “side-country” areas like the East Vail bowls and chutes, and they also discussed the role of more frequent Southwest dust-storm depositions on the Colorado mountains and how those dust layers have been implicated as factors in dangerous avalanches.
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