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Season starts for Colorado Avalanche Information Center

Daily forecasts posted online

Early season snow can quickly pile up and create avalanche risks in the Colorado mountains.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The Colorado Avalanche Information Center is up and running for the season, offering daily weather forecasts tailored to specific geographic mountain areas and general early season avalanche information. Zone-specific avalanche updates and warnings will start to flow as soon the snow starts piling up, at the latest by Thanksgiving, said CAIC director Ethan Greene.

Avalanche and weather info is available via the CAIC website and also on recorded messages at regional telephone hotlines:

Front Range 303-275-5360 Denver
Front Range 970-498-5311 Fort Collins
Vail Summit 970-668-0600 Breckenridge
Sawatch 719-395-4994 Buena Vista
Sawatch 719-520-0020 Colorado Springs
Aspen 970-920-1664 Aspen
North and South
San Juan
970-247-8187 Durango

All the regional offices also are feeding Twitter accounts. For Summit County, the feed is at @CAICSummit. You can find links to all the regional Twitter feeds at this CAIC web page.

“We’re trying to do more with the tweet feeds we’re using … if people send us info via Twitter, we’ll try to get those out there,” Greene said.

There haven’t been any major changes to the CAIC website this year, but Greene said there have been some minor tweaks, especially in the observer database.

“We’ve make it easier for users to give us info and to share info,” Greene said, adding that observations from the field are an important source of information for forecasters trying to evaluate regional and statewide avalanche conditions. Information can be reported via this CAIC online form.

With very little snow, no avalanches have been reported yet this year, but that will change soon, with the first major winter storm of the season expected to drop up to two feet of snow in the southwest Colorado mountains.

Avalanches have been reported during every month of the year in Colorado, and November slides are not uncommon. There have several fatalities in November, sometimes in areas where the season’s first snow falls onto old and slick summer snowfields. Last year, a snowboarder died November 13 near Snowbird, Utah, after the first big storm of the season.

Ice climbers can be especially at risk to early season slides, but all backcountry travelers, including hunters and hikers, need to be aware of the potential hazards.

Early season is a good time to think about avalanche education, with a variety of classes and seminars scheduled around the state. A full list is online at this CAIC web page.

Greene said the CAIC’s budget is holding steady this year at about $800,000. Most of the budget goes to paying the staff of 15 avalanche pros.

The biggest single chunk of funding (about $400,000) comes from the Colorado Department of Transportation to help pay for evaluating and forecasting avalanche hazards on Colorado’s many slide-prone mountain highways. Keeping those mountain passes open and safe is one of the CAIC’s key missions, along with providing safety information, hazard bulletins and education and outreach programs for recreational backcountry users.

About $200,000 comes from the state’s oil and gas severance tax fund. The rest of the money comes from a wide variety of sources, including the ski industry (Vail Resorts is the biggest single contributor), local governments, the U.S. Forest Service and grassroots support groups and fundraising events. One of the biggest fundraisers of the year, the CAIC benefit bash, is coming up Saturday, Nov. 10 at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge.

 

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