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Winter storm winding up across Colorado

Avalanche incidents on the rise in the backcountry

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A winter storm swirls across Colorado.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A slow-moving winter storm crossing Colorado Wednesday night through Thursday could deliver several more inches of snow to soften up the slopes for the incoming wave of holiday skiers.

The National Weather Service issued winter weather advisories for most of the western Colorado mountains, where 3 to 10 inches of snow could pile up by late Thursday night. Snow started falling in the southern mountains Wednesday morning under a southwest flow, but most ski areas only reported a trace as of Wednesday evening, with the exception of Silverton Mountain which reported 8 inches (36-inch base) in the afternoon snow report from Colorado Ski Country USA.

The heaviest snow in the central and northern mountains is expected after midnight. Winds from the west and northwest could bring 2 to 5 inches of snow to favored west-facing slopes. Light to moderate snow could continue into Thursday night before tapering off as high pressure builds into the region, bringing cold temperatures for late in the week and the first part of the weekend. Continue reading

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Colorado: Judge rejects Vail Resorts’ claim that avalanches are an inherent risk of inbounds, lift-served resort skiing

Vail will have to produce avalanche safety documents for trial

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A jury trial may determine whether Vail Resorts has any liability for the Jan. 22 avalanche death of 13-year-old Taft Conlin on Prima Cornice.

By Bob Berwyn

* some discusssion of this story on the Telemark Tips forum.

FRISCO — Vail Resorts failed last week to convince a judge that avalanches are an inherent risk of skiing on the company’s flagship mountain. Broomfield District Court Judge Patrick Murphy declined to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the family of Taft Conlin, who was killed by a snowslide on Prima Cornice in January 2012.

The company’s argument that avalanches are an inherent risk of skiing inbounds at ski areas may surprise a great many skiers, most of whom probably assume that they won’t be exposed to avalanche danger when they’re riding resort lifts and skiing on marked trails. Read Vail’s motion to dismiss here.

Advocating on behalf of Conlin’s family and for all skiers, attorney Jim Heckbert urged the court to reject Vail Resorts’ claims.

“If one is to accept the Defendant’s arguments, a ski area operator is permitted to negligently or knowingly expose skiers to the danger of death by avalanches with impunity. Because the risk of avalanche on January 22. 2012, could have been eliminated through the use of reasonable safety measures, the risk was not an inherent danger of skiing,” Heckbert wrote in the response to the the Vail Resorts motion to dismiss. Read the entire response here. Continue reading

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

Colorado: CDOT eyes automated avalanche blasting system for Berthoud Pass corridor

A powder avalanche blasts down a hillside near Berthoud Pass, Colorado. Photo courtesy CDOT.

Pilot project to be considered for the Stanley slide path

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A year or so after first talking up the idea of installing an automated avalanche blasting system on Berthoud Pass, the Colorado Department of Transportation is getting ready to hold a public info session to discuss the idea with the public.

At an elevation of 11,307 feet, Berthoud Pass averages about 500 inches of snow per year, and the area has 55 identified slide paths, many of them directly threatening U.S. Highway 40. The most recognized avalanche path, and proposed site of CDOT’s pilot project, is the Stanley Slide area located on US 40 at Mile Post 249.8. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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.

Vail, Winter Park sued over inbounds avalanche deaths

Lawsuits allege resorts were negligent in managing terrain

A Google Earth view shows the location of the two gates on Prima Cornice. IMAGE COURTESY GOOGLE EARTH/CAIC.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Steamboat Springs-based attorney Jim Heckbert says Vail and Winter Park ski areas were negligent last winter when they failed to close or adequately sign avalanche-prone terrain within their operational boundaries — and that their negligence resulted in the death of Taft Conlin at Vail and Christopher Norris at Winter Park.

The lawsuits may hinge on very specific legal language in the Colorado Ski Safety Act, but the outcome could have larger implications for the sport, as a verdict favoring the plaintiffs could affect the way ski resorts manage internal closures, which, in turn, could affect access to public lands.

In the Winter Park lawsuit, filed in Grand County District Court, Heckbert alleges that Intrawest Winter Park Operations Corporation, through its employees,was negligent in disregarding forecasts and warnings regarding high avalanche danger existing within the boundaries of the ski area, and negligent in not closing the area or warning skiers of the danger. Continue reading

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

Summit Voice: Most-viewed & week in review

Dangerous avalanche conditions persist across Colorado's backcountry.

Avalanches making news in Colorado

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —Colorado’s snowpack turned deadly again last week, as skiers and snowboarders tested the sketchy conditions in dangerous terrain and paid the ultimate price. Several climate-related stories also made the top tier this week, with one article that examined the link between wildfires and climate and an end-of-the-week story on the ongoing battle over a European Union plan to reduce airline carbon emissions through a cap and trade system. Along with environmental coverage, a photo essay on Africa by correspondent Garrett Palm was also a reader favorite.

Click on the headlines to read the stories and share on your own favorite social media channels to help nurture independent online journalism.

Colorado: Avalanche warning expanded to S. San Juans

The avalanche danger is rated as considerable to high across all of Colorado's backcountry mountains.

Vail Pass to close Monday morning for avalanche control work

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Sunday’s storm brought widespread snowfall to the Colorado mountains, with the deepest accumulations in the San Juans, where Silverton Mountain and Wolf Creek both reported 14 inches of  new snow Monday morning.

Vail Pass will close at 9:30 a.m. for avalanche control work, and other high mountain passes will likely remain snowpacked, icy and slushy for much of the day, with reduced visibility in areas of blowing snow. Get the latest info at www.cotrip.org.

More snowfall totals include 8 inches at Monarch, Crested Butte and Telluride, with genealyy 2 to 5 inches across the northern mountains.

As a result of the widespread snow in the southwestern mountains, the avalanche warning has been expanded to include the south San Juan zone, and extended through Tuesday. Dangerous avalanche conditions will prevail in the region, with triggered and natural slides likely in many areas, on all aspects and elevations, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended. Continue reading

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