Surviving An Avalanche In The Back Woods

By: James Hopkins Email
By: James Hopkins Email

While avalanche fatalities are pretty rare in Colorado, with less than 6 a year, avalanches are quite common.

Experts say the sports of back country skiing and snowmobiling are on the rise. Many people are looking for different areas to explore, getting off the beaten path. Areas like Cirque–Peak in the San Juans. "We were just skiing in that area and for us the snowpack was pretty stable," says Joel Arellano, Powderhorn Ski Patrol.

Officials at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center say the biggest risk posed to these enthusiasts is human caused avalanches. "There has been a number of slides at least 5 human trigger slides in the past three days around the Telluride area," says John Snook. And it can happen with just a little snow. "You can have surface slides that are only one or two inches deep all the way to full depth slides that are one to two meters," says Arellano.

The different types of snow that the area has seen this winter is causing the risk to be a little higher than normal. "This heavy snow that fell on top of the lighter snow is causing problems, like a brick on top of potato chips," says Snook. So if you plan to go out and ski or ride the back woods, preparation is the best defense. "Avalanche awareness classes are available in Grand Junction and all across the state," says Arellano. It is also recommended that you learn the history of the area, ski with people who know the terrain and never venture out alone. "That way if you do get caught you potentially have a partner there that can rescue you," says Snook.

There are certain things you can do if caught in an avalanche that can increase your chances of coming out on top. "The best thing you can do is get rid of back packs and skis because they can act a anchors," says Arellano. Also, try to swim with the flow to keep you towards the surface of the slide and try to form an air pocket in front of your face as you come to a stop. "Because while backwoods skiing, asphyxiation is the leading cause of death during an avalanche," says Arellano.

Click on the link below to go to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center's web site.

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