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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.

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Colorado: Avy experts get winter weather outlook

Second-year La Niña usually not quite as strong

A National Weather Service graphic shows a typical La Niña winter storm track.

By Bob Berwyn

LEADVILLE — Although La Niña is back for a second winter, there’s little historical evidence to suggest that Colorado’s ski towns will once again see near-record snowfall.

Based on a careful analysis of past records and trends, chances are that the state’s northern and central mountains will see normal to slightly above-normal snowfall, with amounts tapering off farther south, according to National Weather Service forecaster Joe Ramey, who offered up his best stab at a seasonal outlook during the Oct. 14 Colorado Snow and Avalanche Workshop in Leadville.

“Don’t take the powder days for granted this year. Get out there and make it happen … don’t think they’re going to keep coming,” Ramey said, presenting detailed statistics from six sites with good long-term weather statistics. Continue reading

Colorado: Time to get avalanche savvy

The debris pile from a large wet-snow avalanche in Tenmile Canyon, May, 2011.

Snow pros gather in Leadville for 10th annual Colorado Snow and Avalanche workshop; education session open to anyone interested in gaining avalanche knowledge

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — With the first few winter-like storms already passed, avalanche experts in Colorado are starting to prepare for the coming season. Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecasts will resume Nov. 1 but before that, the snow-savvy forecasters will gather Oct. 14 in Leadville for the 10th annual Colorado Snow and Avalanche Workshop.

The fall powwow is billed as a professional development session for snow and avy pros but is open to anyone with an interest in avalanches, snow science and mountain weather. Advance registration is $20 ($30 at the door). Check the CSAW website for more details, including a map to the location, a full agenda and online registration.

This year’s workshop features presentations by local and international experts, as well as the eagerly awaited winter weather outlook from National Weather Service forecaster Joe Ramey.

“It’s the kickoff for our winter season. It’s usually not long after CSAW that we start to see our first avalanche incidents,” said CAIC forecaster Scott Toepfer. “We really wanted to have a good one this year since it’s the 10th one,” Toepfer said. Continue reading

Dust storms implicated in Colorado avalanches

‘… A massive shift in the amount of energy being absorbed by the snow’

 

Pockets of dust and wind-pitted snow are evident in this spring scene at Loveland Pass.

 

 

University of Utah Snow Optics Laboratory graduate students, Annie Bryant and McKenzie Skiles, collect dust-in-snow samples at Swamp Angel Study Plot.

 

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Desert dust blowing on to the high peaks of Colorado is affecting stream flows and even changing tundra vegetation — and now it’s been traced as a cause of avalanches in the high country, researcher Chris Landry said Friday, addressing a packed house at the annual Colorado Snow and Avalanche Workshop.

Scientists have measured a significant increase in the number of dust-on-snow episodes in recent years. They’ve tracked the dust to it sources  in the Southwest, where dry weather and disturbance to desert soils, including off-road use, agriculture and energy development have all been tabbed as contributing factors. Continue reading

Avalanche pros pow-wow at Leadville workshop

A huge turnout at the annual Colorado Snow and Avalanche Workshop in Leadville.

Communication, organization the key to successful rescues; smart phone technology helping pinpoint victims in some recent missions

By Bob Berwyn

LEADVILLE — Good organization and communication are the keys to successful avalanche rescues, experts said Friday morning during the first few presentations at the annual Colorado Snow and Avalanche Workshop, discussing a couple of recent missions as case studies.

Summit County search and rescue veterans Dan Burnett and Aaron Parment said a series of linked decisions last May during a tricky rescue on Peak One, high above Frisco, enabled the rescue teams to move an injured snowboarder to a spot where a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter could ultimate evacuate him just before darkness.

Even though it was too windy earlier in the day for a helicopter rescue, mission coordinators stayed in touch with the choppers. When the wind died right around sunset, all the pieces were in place for a quick airlift, Burnett said.

The avalanche happened about three miles into the backcountry, and the rescue teams had to carefully evaluate the spring snow conditions to decide how best to reach the snowboarder, who suffered an open tib-fib fracture in the snow slide. In spring weather, the snow often can’t support the weight of snowmobiles, but quick temperature measurements near the staging area helped the teams decide that they could advance at least part way up the mountain with the help of the snowmobiles. Continue reading

Avalanche workshop set for Oct. 8 in Leadville

An early season slide with ski tracks nearby on a popular backcountry route at Loveland Pass.

The annual Colorado Snow and Avalanche Workshop is open to the public, costs only $20 and includes life-saving information

By Bob Berwyn

* Click here for all the info, including directions and registration

SUMMIT COUNTY — Although late-summer weather has lingered into autumn, avalanche experts from around the West will prep for the upcoming season at the ninth annual Colorado Snow and Avalanche Workshop (CSAW), set for this Friday, Oct. 8, in Leadville. The one-day seminar is a must for ski patrollers who work at local resorts, but it’s also open to anyone who is interested in avalanches — and it’s only $20.

“It started as a one-day professional development seminar,” said Colorado Avalanche Information Forecaster Scott Toepfer, explaining the background for the workshop. For years, the meeting was held at Copper, but it outgrew that venue and moved to Leadville.

“What I like about it is that it’s really affordable. It’s past the basic level of avalanche safety, but that’s appropriate for many backcountry users in Summit County who have already done a level 1 or level 2 class,” Toepfer said.

Along with a general winter-weather preview and technical talks about the placement of avalanche explosives, this year’s agenda includes several speakers who will discuss topics that are very relevant to backcountry users in Summit County. Simply put, the take-home information from the annual CSAW event can save lives. More info and pics after the break … Continue reading

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