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A-Basin’s Beacon Bowl coming up this weekend

A contestant in the 2012 Beacon Bowl at A-Basin zeroes in on a buried beacon.

A contestant in the 2012 Beacon Bowl at A-Basin zeroes in on a buried beacon.

In it’s 11th year, the popular A-Basin event morphs into a two-day rescue clinic; proceeds benefit the CAIC

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The two most recent avalanche deaths in Colorado show the continued need for avalanche education and rescue training in the state that historically tallies the majority of accidents each season.

Both deaths occurred in remote areas, where the skiers had to rely on their own rescue skills to try and recover buried victims. In those situations, speedy location, recovery and timely first-aid can make the difference between life and death.

One of the best ways to prepare for the almost unthinkable is to practice rescues in the field, simulating a real-life rescue scenario, and this weekend, Arapahoe Basin and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center offer a chance to do just that with the annual rescue clinic, which has morphed into a two-day event (Feb. 8-9) from the traditional Beacon Bowl. Continue reading

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Missing hikers found in good condition in Glacier NP

Heaven’s Peak in Glacier National Park. File photo courtesy National Park Service.

Three-day search ends successfully

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — After a three-day search, rescue crews located a pair of missing hikers in Glacier National Park Monday afternoon.

According to a press release from the National Park Service, Neal Peckens and Jason Hiser were reported as missing since Friday when they failed to board their return flight to the East Coast.

The men are reportedly in good condition with no injuries. They were flown out of the backcountry and met family members anxiously awaiting their return.

Peckens and Hiser were hiking on the east side of the park near Two Medicine. Park rangers started the search when family members reported them as missing.

Search and rescue crews encountered winter weather conditions and up to 18 inches of snow on trails, snow drifts, limited visibility and very windy conditions.

Organizations assisting Glacier National Park with the search include Flathead County Sheriff’s Office, Flathead Country Search and Rescue, North Valley Search and Rescue, Flathead Emergency Aviation Resources, and US Border Patrol.

Colorado’s avalanche safety program going strong at 40

Annual workshop highlights history of avalanche education, outreach and warnings, along with updates on weather and technical info

Colorado skiers and avalanche experts are revving up for the season, and the annual snow and avalanche workshop is always a big part of the preparation.

Avalanche deaths by state, 1950-2011. Graph courtesy CAIC.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Avalanches were a serious threat in Colorado’s mountains long before people started cruising through powder on skis and snowboards. Early pioneers, miners and railroaders all faced the White Death on a regular basis way more than 100 years ago, and during the state’s mining era, entire towns were wiped out by devastating slides.

But 40 years ago, snow experts started providing formal, science-based avalanche bulletins to the public with the formation of the Colorado Avalanche Warning Center. It was the birth of the modern avalanche safety program in the state and the precursor of today’s Colorado Avalanche Information Center, which will kick off the 40th year of forecasting with an all-start lineup at the annual Colorado Snow and Avalanche Workshop.

The one-day professional development event is aimed at  snow and avalanche professionals, including ski patrollers and backcountry guides, but is also of interest to the wider backcountry community, with talks on some of the latest science and the traditional ski season weather outlook.

This year’s CSAW is October 19 at the National Mining Hall of Fame in Leadville, Colorado. In addition to the CAIC, the meeting is co-sponsored by the Friends of the CAIC and The Summit Foundation.

Pre-registration for the workshop is open online at the CAIC website. Advance registration, available through Oct. 15, is $25, but it will cost you $40 if you wait to pay on the day of the workshop at the door.

Colorado’s avalanche forecasting program is the oldest in North America, and possibly the oldest anywhere outside of Europe, said CAIC director Ethan Greene. To explore the roots of the program, the workshop will include a talk by Art Judson, considered one of the “godfathers” of avalanche forecasting in the state. Judson will describe the early days, and former CAIC forecaster Nick Logan will follow up with a talk about the more recent years of the program.

Staying with the historical theme, Ray Mumford will discuss the state’s highway avalanche safety program, and Colorado state climatologist Nolan Doesken will give a talk on 40 years of snowfall stats.

Technical talks include information on some of the latest Avalauncher ammunition, as well as new research on the effects of explosives on different types of snow.

Colorado: Avalanche center switches to spring mode

Zone forecasts end, statewide forecasts issued three times per week

Debris from a March 30 wet snow avalanche that killed a skier near Ophir, Colorado. PHOTO COURTESY COLORADO AVALANCHE INFORMATION CENTER.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Colorado Avalanche Information Center has switched to a spring forecasting mode, ending zone-specific updates in favor of a statewide forecast emphasizing overall spring avalanche awareness.

The CAIC will continue to issue weather forecasts twice a day, through April 30, with statewide avalanche statements Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday, by 5 p.m. through the end of April and into May if conditions warrant.

CAIC director Ethan Greene said the change came a couple of weeks earlier than usual, prompted by a March snowpack meltdown that left many mountain areas nearly high and dry. Continue reading

Colorado: Snowboarder dies in Telluride avalanche

Avalanche deaths in Colorado by county, 1950 - 2011. COURTESY CAIC.

The Bear Creek drainage turns deadly once again

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Colorado Avalanche Information Center reported the fifth avalanche death of the season, as a snowboarder died in the Bear Creek backcountry near Telluride on a day when the avalanche danger was rated as high, with both natural and triggered slides likely.

According to the preliminary CAIC report, the solo snowboarder, identified by the Telluride Watch as Nate Soules, was traveling alone. He was carried about 800 vertical feet in steep, rocky terrain. Continue reading

Colorado skiing: Test your avalanche search & rescue skills and some new gear at Arapahoe Basin’s annual Beacon Bowl

Pros and amateurs test their beacon skills; along with joining clinics and demos of new gear

Arapahoe Basin Beacon Bowl

A participant in the 2010 Beacon Bowl at Arapahoe Basin prepares to deploy a probe after locating a buried signal with an avalanche transceiver.

A beacon search during the A-Basin Beacon Bowl, 2010.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY —If you got a new avalanche beacon for Christmas but haven’t taken it out of the box yet, this coming weekend might be a good time to test it at the Feb. 11 Beacon Bowl at Arapahoe Basin.

The annual event is huge fundraiser for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, and a chance to measure your beacon search skills in a competitive setting, with the adrenaline flowing — the follow up with ongoing practice sessions, because statistics show that rescue experts who practice on a regular basis are about twice as fast at finding and uncovering a buried victim than the average recreational user.

That’s critical in an avalanche rescue situation, because the odds of surviving a burial drop rapidly after the first 15 minutes, and outside help is unlikely to arrive within that that timespan after a backcountry slide.

“That 15 minutes goes by really fast,” said Dale Atkins, president of the American Avalanche Association. Continue reading

Colorado: Backcountry avalanche danger persists

Numerous slides reported from the Vail-Summit and Front Range mountains

Beautiful tracks in a dangerous spot.

SUMMIT COUNTY — A few days of sunny and relatively warm conditions haven’t eased the backcountry avalanche danger by much, according to forecasters with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

The hazard is rated as considerable in nearly all the mountains of Colorado — with the exception of the south San Juans. With dense slabs sitting atop a weak base of faceted sugar snow, natural slides are still likely in some spots, and backcountry travelers can easily trigger avalanches by hitting weak spots in the snowpack

Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making are all required for safe travel in the backcountry, according to the CAIC’s latest bulletin. Continue reading

Colorado: CAIC reports first avalanche death of season

Sidecountry rider caught in slide in sidecountry near Snowmass Ski Area

Much of the Colorado backcountry is prone to dangerous avalanches.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Colorado Avalanche Information Center is reporting that the first avalanche death of the season occurred Thursday, Jan. 18 in the sidecountry, near Snowmass.

The slide reportedly happened on Burnt Mountain, just to the east and outside the Snowmass Ski Area, where the terrain is generally northeast-facing. According to the first report posted on the CAIC website, the avalanche was described as a small slide that ran into a gully or terrain trap. Continue reading

Three avalanche deaths in Montana

New snow and strong winds made for unstable conditions in the mountains around Cooke City. This side was triggered by a snowmobiler which resulted in a fatality. PHOTO COURTESY GALLATIN NATIONAL FOREST AVALANCHE CENTER/ JON MARSHALL. Click for more images.

New snow atop faceted base equals unstable snowpack

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Winter recreation turned deadly in the Rocky Mountains of Montana during the New Years weekend, as two snowmobilers and a backcountry skier died in separate avalanches, according to the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center.

With a thick layer of faceted crystals near the ground, the avalanche hazard spiked Saturday after a snowstorm hit the northern Rockies, and powderhounds ventured out into the backcountry in search of fresh snow.

Similar conditions are likely to prevail in Colorado when the snow comes. Visit the Colorado Avalanche Information Center online for more info. Continue reading

Colorado: Backcountry avalanche danger is ‘considerable’

Faceted sugar snow, fresh windslab combine to make triggered releases likely on many slopes in the Summit-Vail area

Tricky avalanche conditions prevail in the backcountry.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — With clear and calm weather expected through the Christmas weekend and throngs of skiers and boarders expected in the high country, avalanche experts are warning  not to underestimate the dangers of  the thin and tricky early season snowpack in the backcountry.

The avalanche was rated as considerable as of late Wednesday, which means that triggered slides are likely and natural avalanches are possible.

“Small, human-triggered avalanches are likely in many areas,” in the Summit-Vail zone, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecasters wrote in their bulletin following the latest storm. And given the sparse snowpack, even a small avalanche could potentially step down to the ground and drag backcountry travelers through rocks and trees.

The most recent storm also brought easterly winds to the area, potentially loading areas that aren’t generally considered to be avalanche starting zones under the more prevalent westerlies. Fresh and brittle windslabs on east aspects are sitting atop unstable layers of faceted snow that offers almost no cohesion.

The most likely places to trigger avalanches are lee and cross-loaded slopes of more than 35 degrees, according to the CAIC.

With chilly temperatures expected to linger into Friday, the avalanche danger probably won’t subside much until later in the weekend.

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