Avy hazard builds with early snow
For skiers and snowboarders, Halloween in Colorado was all treats and no tricks as Mother Nature opened up her bag of goodies, handing out generous portions of her finest frozen concoction.The bounty of snow sent several ski resorts scrambling to move up their opening dates. But backcountry enthusiasts don’t need lifts, and high passes around the state have been buzzing with early season activity. Loveland Pass has been so busy that that it can be difficult to find a parking spot along the road at times.There are definitely pockets of good skiing, but with a generally unconsolidated snowpack at higher elevations, skiers and snowboarders need to be aware of hidden obstacles and avalanche hazards. In late October, a backcountry skier was carried about 75 yards by a slide in the backcountry near Crested Butte, and two snowboarders were caught in separate slides on the west side of Berthoud Pass on Monday, Nov. 4.Don’t be lulled into a fall sense of security by the calendar. In past years, there have been some dangerous and deadly avalanche accidents in November, involving hunters, miners and backcountry skiers."We already have the potential for avalanche conditions out there," says Nick Logan, a forecaster with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Logan says observers have reported a total of 12 slides to the center so far this season. The CAIC will begin offering daily forecasts and avalanche hazard evaluations on its statewide hotline network Nov. 8 (call (970) 668-0600 for the Summit County-Vail area).Logan says settled snowpack depths around the state range from about 25 inches at Wolf Creek Pass and 33 inches at Wolf Creek ski area to anywhere from 17 to 20 inches in the central mountains. So far, reports from the northern mountains have been limited, Logan says.The slides may not be massive this early in the season, but there is still the potential for serious injury. "There’s a good possibility of getting dragged along the rocks," Logan says. Along with rocks, there are also buried stumps and logs to contend with, not to mention terrain traps like unfrozen creek beds."We’re seeing some pretty strong winds at higher elevations. That could make for some good recreation later on, but we’re also looking at the possibility of some slab formation on lee slopes," Logan says. With more snow predicted to fall atop the windblown layers, the snowpack could soon display mid-winter characteristics, with the potential for triggered releases on mid- to high-elevation slopes where wind-blown snow has accumulated.To take advantage of the good conditions out there, brush up on your avalanche awareness. Replace the batteries in your beacon and get out with some friends to practice a beacon search a few times before heading out into avalanche terrain.Review safe travel and route-finding techniques and make sure you have all the recommended emergency gear, including a first-aid kit, food and water and extra warm clothes.
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