Skiing: Backcountry snowpack touchy in Colorado

Monthly Breckenridge ski patrol talk to focus on backcountry travel techniques and terrain choices

There's plenty of good backcountry powder skiing in Summit County, but it's best to stay on low-angle terrain right now, like this 28-degree slope on Baldy, Photo courtesy Matt Krane.

There’s plenty of good backcountry powder skiing in Summit County, but it’s best to stay on low-angle terrain right now, like this 28-degree slope on Baldy, Photo courtesy Matt Krane.

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CAIC forecaster Tim Brown examines the crown face of a large avalanche in Montezuma Bowl, at Arapahoe Basin. Photo courtesy CAIC.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — With forecasters warily eying backcountry avalanche hazards and more snow on the way this week, Breckenridge ski patrollers will focus on safe backcountry travel techniques, route-finding and terrain selection during their monthly talk this Thursday evening (Village at Breckenridge, Tenmile Room, 6 p.m.).

The topic is especially timely following recent close calls and a cycle of natural slides in the backcountry, said Breckenridge ski patroller Matt Krane. Last week, a party of four backcountry travelers were involved with a sizable slide on Peak 6. Continue reading

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

Avalanche warning issued for Colorado’s South San Juans

Backcountry travelers need to stay tuned to avalanche warnings the next few days. Photo by Dylan Berwyn.

Backcountry travelers need to stay tuned to avalanche warnings the next few days. Photo by Dylan Berwyn.

Chilly storm to bring more snow early in the week

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Forecasters are expecting a natural avalanche cycle in the south San Juans, where heavy snow and strong winds Saturday night loaded avalanche starting zones. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center has issued an avalanche warning for the south San Juans.

“Large and dangerous avalanches are likely,” the CAIC forecasters said, urging backcountry travelers to avoid avalanche terrain.

About 10 to 15 inches of dense snow piled up, with southwest winds building slabs at higher elevations. At all elevations and all aspects, the new snow sits atop layers of old persistent slabs and non-cohesive faceted kernels of snow at the base. Slides in the storm slab layer can step down into older snow, resulting in big avalanches potentially running long distances. Continue reading

Colorado: Avalanche warning in the San Juans

backcountry skier

The latest storm has increased the backcountry avalanche danger in the San Juans and western Colorado mountains. Bob Berwyn photo.

Natural avalanche cycle expected, with large and dangerous slides possible

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Snowfall rates of up to 1 inch per hour, strong winds and a weak base layer have upped the avalanche danger in the San Juans to the critical zone. Forecasters with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center Friday issued an avalanche warning for the northern and Southern San Juans, where large and dangerous slides are likely and travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended.

The avalanche danger is rated as high on west, northwest, north, northeast and east aspects at all elevations. The danger is considerable on southeast, south and southwest aspects at all elevations in the San Juans. The avalanche warning is in effect through Saturday morning, but the threat of slides will persist through the weekend.

By Friday morning, up to 14 inches of snow had already piled up in parts of the San Juans, with winds gusting as high as 80 mph. The biggest snow totals were reported around Red Mountain Pass, Coal Bank Pass and the Weminuche Wilderness. 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’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.

Backcountry: Preseason party to benefit the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and other winter nonprofits

Annual fundraiser features ski flick, raffle and ski expo

A large wet snow avalanche along I-70 between Frisco and Copper Mountain.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO —The buzz for the upcoming ski season will get a jolt this week, as Bent Gate Mountaineering hosts a ski season kickoff party benefiting the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and several other winter-oriented nonprofit groups.

The annual fundraiser is set for Sept. 27 at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden. Tickets are $20 at the door, including admission to a showing of the Oakley film, The Ordinary Skier, a ski expo with ski industry reps and backcountry organizations, silent auctions, and a killer gear giveaway including skis, beacons and bindings. Continue reading

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