Colorado officials warn avalanche risk increasing
DENVER ” The Rocky Mountain, Colorado, avalanche season shaping up to be especially deadly is likely to get worse ” and the culprit is rain in the fall.
Officials with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, which forecasts avalanches in the state that leads the nation in avalanche deaths most years, say a rainy fall in the region has increased avalanche risk.
Already, avalanches have killed four people in Colorado and a skier at a Wyoming ski resort. On Monday, at least seven snowmobilers were killed when they were swept away by avalanches in British Columbia’s Elk Valley, about 550 miles east of Vancouver.
“From an avalanche forecaster’s perspective, this is a very dangerous winter,” CAIC avalanche forecaster Scott Toepfer said.
“This is going to be a particularly nerve-racking winter.”
Avalanche danger usually rises in spring, because of heavy, wet snows. But this year, forecasters say, snow and rain in October and again on Election Day Nov. 4 created what Toepfer called “some very weak layers in the snowpack.”
He said those early season snows are less stable and less likely to adhere to snow that fell later.
“It’s not your typical Colorado winter ” and a typical Colorado winter is dangerous enough,” he said. Colorado averages six avalanche deaths a year.
A suburban Denver firefighter and a teenage boy were killed Saturday in an avalanche near Rocky Mountain National Park. Two others, including a snowboarder, died near Aspen in December in separate avalanches.
“It looks like we may be stuck with this at least through January, and it could haunt us through the rest of the winter,” he said.
The risk of avalanche has also led Colorado authorities to call off until spring plans to recover the bodies of two Canadians who died in a place crash at Vermejo Peak in southern Colorado. Local law enforcement says it’s simply too dangerous to attempt recovering the plane and the bodies of 67-year-old Gerrit Maureau of Calgary and his 65-year-old wife, Sheila Malm.
Much of Colorado’s mountains have been placed under “considerable” avalanche risk this week. That’s lower than “high” or the “extreme” categories, which are called rarely.
Toepfer warned that more people die when the risk is listed as “considerable” than when it’s listed in the higher categories.
“We’re all very nervous and cautious when it is high, but when people start seeing it is trending lower, we start to drop our guard,” he said.