Colorado avalanche risk at a rare high rating
SUMMIT COUNTY ” The Summit Rescue Group responded to its first two avalanche incidents of the season last weekend, including a close call for a backcountry skier on Quandary Peak.
Mike Schmitt, spokesman for Summit Rescue Group, said a backcountry skier was on Quandary Peak south of Breckenridge at about 1 p.m. Monday afternoon when he caused a 300 foot wide avalanche.
The skier made it out safely, but his dog was buried in about three feet of snow, said Schmitt.
The dog was wearing a beacon and was found by his owner, but Schmitt said the outcome could have been a lot worse. Quandary Peak is a common place for backcountry enthusiasts, and a common place for the unknowing to be trapped.
“If (the skier) himself would’ve been buried, he probably wouldn’t have survived, in my opinion,” said Schmitt.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) issued an avalanche warning on Monday for all Colorado mountains and rated the backcountry avalanche danger at high. Most of the season, avalanche danger is rated at moderate to considerable, conditions that still require precautions.
Schmitt said it took his team 45 minutes to arrive at the scene at Quandary, but oftentimes after 30 minutes, it’s too late.
He reminded snowmobile riders and backcountry travelers: This is the time to be vigilant.
“This is a serious time. We’re into the season and you can easily die in an avalanche right now,” said Schmitt. “People think, it’s early season, we don’t need our avalanche gear, but you do. Someone could die just as easily today as they could a month from now when we start getting heavier snows.”
A free avalanche awareness seminar will be held Tuesday by the CAIC and Beaver Run Resort. The program will be from 7-9 p.m. at the Beaver Run Conference Center and will feature Nick Logan from the CAIC.
The CAIC does not expect the backcountry danger to subside anytime soon because of weak layers in the snowpack and cold temperatures, which keep the snow from settling.
Backcountry travelers should avoid slopes 30 degrees or steeper and steer clear of undercutting steep slopes.
The rescue group’s first call of the season was a slide on Loveland Pass Sunday evening that caused the overnight closure of Highway 6.
According to Bob Wilson, spokesman for Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), the slide happened about three-tenths of a mile below the summit just before 7:20 p.m. on Sunday.
No vehicles were caught by the cascading snow, but one motorist did become stuck after attempting to drive through the snowbank.
The pass reopened Monday before noon.
“Since there is an alternative route it’s not one of those situations where (CDOT crews) have to work until they get it done, they can wait until daylight, ” said Wilson.
Traffic was rerouted over I-70 through the Eisenhower tunnel while CDOT crews cleared the highway.
Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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