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Colorado: Avalanche danger ramps up with new snow, wind

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There’s already a layer of unstable faceted snow crystals at the base of the snowpack, potentially setting up avalanche hazards in the backcountry. Bob Berwyn photo.

Avalanche awareness classes being offered all around the state

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO —There haven’t been any avalanche accidents yet this season in the Summit County backcountry, but avalanche control work around Loveland Pass triggered several slides that broke all the way to the ground and ran considerable distances, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

More than a foot of new snow combined with steady west-northwest winds have quickly ramped the backcountry avalanche danger up into the high end of the warning scale across most of Colorado’s northern and central mountains.

This season’s snowpack is starting out almost as poorly as last winter’s when snowslides claimed seven lives in Colorado. With skiers and riders eager to get out and sample some of the fresh powder, avy pros emphasize that education and awareness are the key to safe travel in the backcountry. Continue reading

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Avalanches: Companion rescue class offered at A-Basin

Speedy partner rescue is the key to surviving avalanche burial

A large slab avalanche in Uneva Bowl, a popular backcountry skiing area near Vail Pass.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Even when backcountry ski and snowboarders are equipped with beacons, shovels and probes, most buried avalanche victims die, according to statistics compiled a couple of years ago by avalanche expert Dale Atkins, a long-time forecaster with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center who now works for RECCO.

Atkins’ research, covering 10 years of accidents, highlights the critical importance of speedy partner rescue in backcountry burials, a skill set that will be covered in a Dec. 10 avalanche class at Arapahoe Basin.

If a victim survives the initial slide, his chances of living are high — 90 percent — if he can be uncovered within 15 minutes. After 30 minutes, only about half the buried victims survive, after 45 minutes, only a 25 percent. Continue reading

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