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: 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

A-Basin patroller dies while hiking Aspen Highlands

Leif Borgeson. PHOTO COURTESY ARAPAHOE BASIN.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —Sadness amidst the bounty of powder today at Arapahoe Basin, as the ski area reported that snow safety director Leif Borgeson died while hiking along a ridge at Aspen Highlands. Ski patrollers on the scene were not able to resuscitate him after he collapsed.

Borgeson, 50, was a long-time A-Basin patroller and well-known statewide for his work on snow science and avalanche safety. He was training director for the National Ski Patrol between 2001 and 2004.

He is survived by his wife, Denise Schmidt-Borgeson, two sons, Ian and Aidan, his parents and a brother. More details are reported in the Summit Daily News and at 9NEWS.com.

A-Basin general manager and chief operating officer Alan Henceroth also posted a short notice on his blog, saying simply, “We lost one of our best today. Rest in Peace my friend.”

Part of the close-knit A-Basin ski patrol family, Borgeson always greeted everyone cheerfully, and was on a first-name basis with scores of loyal A-Basin skiers. He always greeted me with a jovial, if slightly skeptical, comment about ski journalists. I always felt just that much safer jumping into one of the East Wall chutes or Gauthier knowing that he was in charge of controlling that terrain. He will be missed by all.

Many people are visiting A-Basin’s Facebook page to leave messages of condolence.

Most avalanche victims have some training, safety gear

A competitor in A-Basin's Beacon Bowl skates out of the starting gate on his way to try and pinpoint a buried avalanche transceiver in the search area. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN. Click on the photo to link to some historical pictures at the Westwide Avalanche Network photo page.

Report on avalanche deaths in the past 10 years  profiles victims, accidents and highlights some ‘reckless’ would-be rescue efforts; more pictures from the Beacon Bowl at the end of this post

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Most of the people who died in snow slides the past 10 years were wearing beacons and many of them had at least some training in avalanche safety procedures, according to Dale Atkins, who recently analyzed avalanche fatalities between 1999 and 2009 and compiled the results in a paper that paints a vivid statistical portrait of recent trends. More statistical information is compiled at the Westwide Avalanche Network.

During that 10-year span, 280 people died in 232 fatal avalanche accidents. Ninety percent of the victims were men, the mean age for all victims is 33, with the ages of victims ranging from 11 to 67. About 72 percent of the victims had some level of avalanche awareness training, and about 30 percent had a significant amount of training, Atkins said.

“For years it was thought these … people possessed little or no avalanche awareness training, but this is no longer true … (M)ost victims’ avalanche training generally lags far behind their activity skill level,” Atkins said. Continue reading

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